Harry Potter’s Historic Butterbeer

Today, June 26, in 1997, twenty years ago, the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published in the United Kingdom. If that title looks wrong to you, that’s because in America it was titled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone because the publisher “thought that a child would not want to read a book with the word ‘philosopher’ in the title.” They may have been right, but it’s still a little sad. At any rate, in the seven novels there was something called “Butterbeer,” described as a drink that “can be served either cold with a taste similar to cream soda or frozen as a slush with a butterscotch-like foam on top.” Basically, it’s fake beer for kids. Although it’s also” described as being able to make house elves intoxicated, and having only a slight effect on wizards.” So it actually is alcoholic, although how much is uncertain.


And apparently J.K. Rowling didn’t completely make it up. A few years ago, Food in Literature writer Brayton Taylor discovered that a recipe for butterbeer, or Buttered Beere, was part of a manuscript from 1594 entitled The good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin. And all this time I’d been thinking she’d been inspired by Redhook ESB, the craft beer era’s original butter beer. Here’s the text of the original butterbeer from at least 1594:

To make Buttered Beere.

TAke three pintes of Beere, put fiue yolkes of Egges to it, straine them together, and set it in a pewter pot to the fyre, and put to it halfe a pound of Sugar, one penniworth of Nutmegs beaten, one penniworth of Cloues beaten, and a halfepenniworth of Ginger beaten, and when it is all in, take another pewter pot and brewe them together, and set it to the fire againe, and when it is readie to boyle, take it from the fire, and put a dish of sweet butter into it, and brewe them together out of one pot into an other.


Here’s Taylor’s modern recipe for Harry Potter Alcoholic Butter Beer:


  • 1 bottle of British Ale (we used Old Peculiar originally but Speckled Hen is now my favourite)
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • ⅓ cup of brown sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2.5 tbsp of unsalted butter


  1. Start by pouring the ale into a saucepan. To keep it from ‘exciting’ (foaming up), angle the saucepan and gently pour the ale down the side into the pan.
  2. Stir in the 1 tsp of spices.
  3. Gently heat until it comes to a boil, before lowering the heat and simmering for a few minutes.
  4. In these few minutes, whisk together the yolks and sugar.
  5. Lower the heat even more and add in the yolks and sugar to the ale.
  6. Let simmer for 3-5 minutes and remove from heat.
  7. Stir in the butter until fully mixed in.
  8. With a hand blender, froth the ale until foam forms. Let sit to cool.
  9. Using a spoon, hold back the froth as you pour the butterbeer into the beer stein. Leave about an inch of room on the top, spoon on the froth and serve.


And here’s another adaptation of the same recipe, from 12 Bottle Bar, although they give the date of the original manuscript as 1588.

  1. 3 pint (16.9 oz) Bottles of real Ale
  2. 0.5 tsp ground Cloves
  3. 0.5 tsp ground Cinnamon
  4. 0.25 tsp ground Ginger
  5. 5 Egg Yolks
  6. 1 Cup Brown Sugar (Demerara)
  7. 12 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
  1. Add ale and spices to a saucepan
  2. Bring to a boil, then immediately turn to lowest setting
  3. Beat together eggs and sugar until light and creamy
  4. Remove ale from heat, whisk in egg mixture, returning to low heat
  5. Whisk constantly over low until mixture begins to thicken slightly (about 5 minutes)
  6. Remove from heat and whisk in butter quickly until a nice foam forms
  7. Serve warm

Notes: If you’re concerned about the alcohol level, here are some notes: We used Fuller’s London Pride, which is 4.7% ABV. Before adding the egg mixture, letting the beer simmer longer (20 minutes or so) should boil off all the alcohol, if that’s what you’re after. Use your discretion.

B Stands For Beer, Which You Drink When You’re Dry

Education has certainly gone through a lot of changes over the centuries. We sometimes forget that our standardized school system only began at the beginning of the industrial revolution, mainly to train people to work in factories, and people quite understandably rebelled against them in the very beginning. They were especially opposed to by farmers, who relied on their children to help work their farms, and that’s the reason that school also takes the summer off, and doesn’t start each fall until after the harvest. Before that time, the rich sent their kids to boarding schools or hired tutors in their mansions or estates. The rest of us were left to fend for ourselves, and most were home-schooled. The resources available at the time were few and the quality of what was available sometimes left a lot to be desired.

One type of educational resource was the chapbook. They were “an early type of popular literature printed in early modern Europe. Produced cheaply, chapbooks were commonly small, paper-covered booklets, usually printed on a single sheet folded into books of 8, 12, 16 and 24 pages. They were often illustrated with crude woodcuts, which sometimes bore no relation to the text. When illustrations were included in chapbooks, they were considered popular prints.

The tradition of chapbooks arose in the 16th century, as soon as printed books became affordable, and rose to its height during the 17th and 18th centuries. Many different kinds of ephemera and popular or folk literature were published as chapbooks, such as almanacs, children’s literature, folk tales, nursery rhymes, pamphlets, poetry, and political and religious tracts.”

They were also used as textbooks and many were produced for that purpose. One such type of chapbook was the alphabet book, and more modern versions are still being produced today. We certainly had lots of them when my children were young and learning to read. Alphabet books were simply books with a page for each letter of the alphabet, usually with one or more pictures of things that were spelled with the letter on the page. If you’ve raised kids, or been around someone who has, you’ve seen one of these. Plus, I’m betting at one time in your life you probably were one; a kid, I mean. But they weren’t always the happy, colorful alphabet books we think of today.

For example, here are pages 6-7 of “The Silver Toy, or Picture Alphabet: for the entertainment and instruction of children in the nursery.” It’s from the Digital Media Repository at Ball State University in Indiana, but you can find it other places, too, such as the University of Washington. It was printed by F. Houlston and Son between 1820-1840, although another source places its date around 1825.


These are the only two pages of inside the chapbook that I could find. I’m as liberal a person as you’re liable to find, and hold quite progressive views on how we should educate youngsters about alcohol, but even I think they could have started out with something simpler, like a ball and a cow, or a bat and a cat, before moving on to beer and coffins to teach those letters. Still, you have to love the way they described beer. “‘B’ Stands for Beer, Which You Drink When You’re Dry.” As true today as it was in 1825.

Session #115: Beer Bookish

The 115th Session, is hosted this month by Joan Villar-i-Martí, who writes Blog Birraire. For his topic, he’s chosen The Role of Beer Books, to sum up the topic says. “I believe the importance of books for the beer culture makes them worthy of another Session.”

Here’s his full description of the topic:

The discussion at hand is “The Role of Beer Books”. Participants can talk about that first book that caught their attention, which brought them to get interested in beer; or maybe about books that helped developing their local beer scene. There’s also the bad role of books that regrettably misinform readers because their authors did not do their work properly. There are many different ways to tackle this topic.

The Session has been about books before just once, and it was about those that hadn’t already been written. I believe that their importance for the beer culture makes books worthy for another Session.

My two primary beer bookshelves today.

For me, I have to go back before I thought about beer books, and thought about just books. I loved books for as long as I can remember. I read voraciously as a child. They were a great escape from issues I had with my home life, and particularly a psychotic, alcoholic stepfather. I loved classic adventure stories — like the Howard Pyle Robin Hood, the Swiss Family Robinson and Around the World in 80 Days — but really would read just about anything. My favorite aunt (a great aunt, actually) was very encouraging about reading. She was an unusual woman, and had a degree in chemistry from Syracuse University, which was not common in the late 1910s or early 20s. She sadly never really put it too good use, but she read constantly, and usually had several books she would be reading simultaneously. She would leave them bookmarked in each room, and would read the book left in whatever room she happened to be in. I don’t know how she did it, but it was her pattern my whole life, so she had obviously worked it out so it was easy for her. About once a month, our school handed out a flier from the Scholastic Book Club, and she had graciously agreed to buy any books I wanted. To be fair they were almost always under a buck, but it was an amazing gift.

One of the last things my biological father gave me before he was out of the picture was a multivolume children’s illustrated encyclopedia. That was my introduction to the world of reference books. And I’m still obsessed with them to this day. As much as I love stories, I love non-fiction even more. There was a quote I always loved, by Desiderius Erasmus. “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” When I joined the military, and was on my own for the first time as a young adult, that was how I lived my life. After basic training and then my MOS school in Virginia, my permanent duty station was in New York City, where I played in an Army Band from 1978 through the fall of 1980. We got paid on the 1st and 15th of each month. Since I had no rent, no utilities to pay, no insurance premiums and my used car was paid for, my paycheck was almost all disposable. After setting some aside for college each month, the rest went to books, music and video games. Every paycheck, we’d pick a new Atari 2600 cartridge and then the rest was spent on interesting books and albums (remember this was before the age of the CD or digital music).

It was during this period of time I bought a bartender’s book of cocktails. In the back of the book there was an appendix that included four reasons to drink for each day of the year. It was that book that piqued my interest in collecting dates. It’s what led to there being a Brookston Almanac (http://brookstonalmanac.tumblr.com/), though it was actually first online as The Daily Globe around 1995. And until recently, I had more books on calendar systems, almanacs, timelines and collections of dates than I did beer books.

But the first true beer book I bought was detailed in an earlier Session, Session #46: An Unexpected Discovery, and it was Michael Jackson’s World Guide to Beer. I first arrived in New York City in the spring of that year, and began exploring the city, especially jazz clubs, museums and the theater. There was a great USO office in Times Square, and we could usually pick up leftover theater or movie tickets there for free.

We also visited bars, lots of them. Somebody told us to go to McSorley’s, and it was certainly fun. But what emerged as a favorite was a bar in the East Village, Brewsky’s Beer Bar. It was a little hole-in-the-wall on 7th Avenue, but it had, for its day, a great selection of imported beers. I think the owner was Ukranian, or something like that, and there were a lot of beers from central and eastern Europe. There were dozens of similar-tasting lagers and pilsners with enchanting labels I couldn’t read. But it was the darker beers that really stood out, simply because they were so different from what I’d grown up drinking. For example, I recall Dortmunder Union vividly as a beer with distinct flavors unlike any other I’d ever tried.

I liked most of what I tried, though at the time I was drawn to the few English ales I tried, I think because they tasted so much different to me than what I was used to drinking. I was certainly hooked. I already had a somewhat obsessive love affair going with beer, but to find out that it was so much richer and more varied than I’d realized was something of an epiphany.

I longed to know more about what I was tasting, but there was scant little information available. Happily, that changed one day during one of my post-payday trips to a bookstore, I happened upon Michael Jackson’s World Guide to Beer, which had been recently published. I almost didn’t pick it up, because the garish gold and green cover had a large Miller ad in the center. But then I spied the red triangle from Bass and flipped through it. Needless to say, I bought it on the spot. Finally, I had some context to what I’d been drinking lately and was able to organize my head around the various tastes I’d been trying so chaotically.

Looking back, it seems odd that there was so little available information on beer and, compared with today, how truly ignorant I was. And it wasn’t just me. Practically everybody I knew had little or no idea about beer. The regional and national breweries at the time made no effort to educate consumers. The other beer books I was able to find at the time made little attempt to codify or explain anything. There were plenty of breweriana books, books on collecting cans, things like that. Or trivia-themed, Abel’s Book of Beer (which has been mentioned online recently), a few by Will Anderson, etc. But Jackson’s book talked about the beer itself, what was in the bottle rather than what was on the label. That was pretty cool at the time.

Since then, of course, I’ve amassed quite a few more beer books, which I started picking up while working on my first book in 1991. Below is the original shelf I set aside for beer books.


And outgrew that one and added another next to it, but that’s now too full and place for a third will have to be found soon.


And here’s some stragglers, and a few often-consulted books, piling up until a third shelf can be found.


Harry Potter Beer

Today, June 26, in 1997, the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published in the United Kingdom. If that title looks wrong to you, that’s because in America it was titled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone because the publisher “thought that a child would not want to read a book with the word ‘philosopher’ in the title.” They may have been right, but it’s still a little sad. At any rate, in the seven novels there was something called “Butterbeer,” described as a drink that “can be served either cold with a taste similar to cream soda or frozen as a slush with a butterscotch-like foam on top.” Basically, it’s fake beer for kids. More interestingly, a Los Angeles artist or designer by the name of Anita Brown did a series of imaginary labels for beers based on the titles of each the seven books.


And here’s each title in order:








A fun exercise, with some fairly clever names. I wonder if the beers she chose would pair with the individual stories themselves? I only read the first two books, but didn’t really care that much for them; they never really grabbed me the way they did a lot of people. Another, somewhat similar, series that was published around the same time, the Golden Compass and the His Dark Materials trilogy was, in my opinion, was far richer and more interesting, but Harry Potter certainly was a phenomenon and anything that gets more people reading is a great thing in my opinion. Happy Harry Potter Day.

Session #95: Beer Books Yet To Be Written

Our 95th Session is hosted is Alan McLeod — his third time at the reins — who writes A Good Beer Blog. He’s chosen a very simple topic, but one with as many possibilities as their are books in the Library of Congress. The January topic can be expressed in one simple sentence. “What beer book which has yet to be written would you like to see published?” But for a bit more about what he’s looking for, read through his explanatory I Answer The Call! Again I Host!!!

What is the book you would want to write about good beer? What book would you want to read? Is there a dream team of authors your would want to see gathered to make that “World Encyclopedia of Beer and Brewing”? Or is there one person you would like to see on a life long generous pension to assure that the volumes flow from his or her pen? Let us know.


For me, what’s missing in the world of beer books, are craft beers intruding into fiction. Brands of all kinds help define characters, perhaps more so in fiction than in reality, because they can be a code for the kind of person an author has created that we all understand. It goes back, in my mind, to something that Michael Jackson used to say when explaining why beer deserved more respect. He’d use the analogy that no one goes into a restaurant and asks the waiter to bring him some food the way that people are so often portrayed in books, television and movies as sidling up to a bar and saying “gimme a beer.”

Whenever I saw Michael, one of the topics that inevitably came up was books. One of the first I remember him recommending to me was The Last Fine Time, a novel by Verlyn Klinkenborg published in 1990. It tells the tale of a family in Buffalo, New York who own a bar and how it changes over several generations. It was years ago that I read it, but I recall enjoying it a great deal.

But it reminds me that most books in which beer appears are either older and use old brands or generic beer. I have seen a few book that have beer in them, but not really as much more than an afterthought, unless they’re a memoir. That always seemed strange since beer is so popular and is the most popular adult beverage. You’d think it would figure more highly in literature, and yet it seems curiously absent. To be fair, I don’t read nearly as much fiction as I did when I was younger, so maybe I’m just missing it.

Several times over the years I’ve suggested to various beer magazine publishers that they start including short stories involving beer and have even suggested an annual contest, similar to Playboy’s annual college fiction contest, for the best short story involving beer as a central feature of the tale. Sadly, none have ever agreed, though I don’t know why. It always seemed like a natural to me.

I’ve also thought a Granta-like book/magazine, perhaps annually, that collected beer fiction could work, too, but I’m not sure I’m up to the task of taking on another project. Still, I’d really love to see more beer-fueled fiction. Somebody needs to write the Great American Beer Novel.


But failing fictive folios, what beer books would I like to see? I certainly like Alan’s suggestion for a “World Encyclopedia of Beer and Brewing,” but otherwise I’m at a loss, beyond my own list of book ideas I want to pitch.

Books shelf

I have at least a dozen book ideas in various stages of development, but personally I can’t wait to do my coffee table book featuring all of my photographs of brewery hoses that I’ve taking at breweries around the world for more than ten years. I expect to sell maybe twenty copies, but I still want to do it as a labor of love. I may have to self-publish that one. I’m fairly certain there aren’t a great number of people waiting for that one.

Goodnight Brew

Oh, how I wish I had this book when my kids were younger. I read the classic Goodnight Moon so many times that I had it memorized and didn’t even need the book to read it to them. But if I strayed from the text — which, I confess, I enjoyed doing just to mess with them — they’d invariably correct me, as they knew the story inside and out, as well. But now author Ann E. Briated (not her real name; it’s actually Aldo Zelnick) has written a beer-soaked parody of the children’s classic and re-tapped it as Goodnight Brew. It’s written for adults, with tongues firmly in cheeks, as part of their “pitcher book for grown-ups” series. The publisher’s website describes it with this introduction:

It’s closing time at the brewery. While the moon rises, the happy brewery crew—including three little otters (in charge of the water), a wort hog, and a hops wildebeest— sing and dance as they wind down for the day. Join them in saying goodnight to the brew kettle, barley and yeast, hops and mash, saison, porter, IPA, and much more.

Befuddled about beer ingredients? Puzzled about the brew process? Can’t remember the difference between an ale and a lager? Don’t miss the brew infographics that follow the story!

This humorous parody of a children’s literature classic is a “pitcher book” for grown-ups. It’s a besotted bedtime story for beer lovers everywhere!


Even though my kids are too old for it now, I ordered one anyway. I am hoping someday to have grandchildren, and I should be prepared.


It’s wonderfully illustrated by Allie Ogg. and here are a few pages from the book.


Book Burning & Beer

This week is Banned Book Week, a week-long “annual event celebrating the freedom to read,” a subject near and dear to my heart. It’s sponsored by the American Library Association, along with a number of related organizations, such as the ASJA (of which I’m a member). I was reading an article about this on the Daily Kos tonight, and here’s a portion of what author Doctor RJ wrote about how censorship happens:

Invariably, some parents somewhere are going to find a book on a list that offends them, and will decide they need to protect not only their child but all of the children in the community by marching down to the school and library to demand it be removed from the shelf. Since there is never anything too stupid if it allows certain government officials to get before a camera or send out a press release claiming they’re “protecting children” from the horrors of the world, you end up with school boards and administrators that give in to pressure. And since no one wants to be against protecting children, that leads to the other set of government officials: those too chicken shit to speak up and oppose something they know is wrong.

In his dissenting opinion in Ginzburg v. United States, Justice Potter Stewart wrote that censorship reflects “a society’s lack of confidence in itself,” and is the “hallmark of an authoritarian regime.” All censorship is done in the name of protecting and defending society from ideas or truth that are deemed dangerous, harmful, or inconvenient.

Here’s what struck me about this. Change the word “book” to “beer,” and “school and library” to “local politician” — along with a few other obvious changes — and it’s every bit as relevant for prohibition and the modern prohibitionists. I certainly agree with Justice Stewart that prohibition reflects “a society’s lack of confidence in itself,” and is the “hallmark of an authoritarian regime.” Look at the nations that still have outright bans on alcohol. And the notion that “all prohibition is done in the name of protecting and defending society from alcohol that is deemed dangerous, harmful, or inconvenient” also rings true. The banning of books seems every bit as sinister as the banning of alcohol, and uses the same rhetoric for its justification. Scary.


The Smell Of Vanilla

Adrian Tierney-Jones — who was my editor when I worked on 1001 Beer You Must Try Before You Die — had an interesting post the other day on his blog, Called to the Bar, entitled What does vanilla smell like? It’s about the difficulties of accurately describing any aroma we encounter in beer, but with vanilla as the jumping off point for the discussion. Especially interesting is the idea of how do you describe aromas without using too much cliché, an inevitable problem when you write a lot of tasting notes. Adrian specifically mentions something he read in the introduction of the Penguin Guide to Food and Drink. Editor Paul Levy notes “how you might find a raspberry note in Burgundy but no Burgundy notes in a raspberry. But what does a raspberry smell of? Raspberry.” It’s a thorny problem for reviewing beers, and worth a read if you want to write thoughtful tasting notes, or just understand the difficulties inherent in them.

Taste vs. Flavor

sense-taste sense-smell
One of the books I got for Christmas this year, and so far probably my favorite (thanks Mrs. BBB) is by British author Niki Segnit. The book is entitled The Flavor Thesaurus and is subtitled “A Compendium of Pairings, Recipes and Ideas for the Creative Cook.” Just from skimming it and starting to read it, I know I’m going to love and it will be a favorite, much referred to book.


In the introduction was this gem, which should be obvious, but we rarely think about it.

Flavor is the not the same as taste. Taste is restricted to five qualities detectable on the tongue and elsewhere in the mouth: sweetness, saltiness, sourness, bitterness and “umami” (or savoriness). Flavor, on the other hand, is detected mainly thanks to our sense of smell, by the olfactory bulb and, to a lesser extent, orally. Pinch your nose and you can tell if an ingredient is sweet or salty, but not what the flavor is. Your sense of taste gives you a back-of-an-envelope sketch of what particular foodstuff is like: flavor fills in the details. Nonetheless, in its general, broadest terms use, the term “flavor” tends to incorporate taste, as well as the “trigeminal” qualities of ingredients — that is, the sensation of heat from chili, pepper and mustard, the cooling properties of menthol and the drawstring pucker of tannins in red wine and tea.

And while she’s talking about food, flavor is flavor. Naturally, it’s true of beer, as well.

The books itself is fascinating, here’s how it’s divided up, from the book’s website:

The back section lists, alphabetically, 99 popular ingredients, and suggests classic and less well known flavour matches for each. The front section contains an entry for every flavour match listed in the back section and is organised into 16 flavour themes such a Bramble & Hedge, Green & Grassy, and Earthy.

There are 980 entries in all and 200 recipes or suggestions are embedded in the text. It covers classic pairings such as pork & apple, lamb & apricot, and cucumber & dill; contemporary favourites like chocolate & chili, lobster & vanilla, and goat’s cheese & beetroot; and interesting but unlikely-sounding couples including black pudding & chocolate, lemon & beef, blueberry & mushroom, and watermelon & oyster.

It’s set up just like a regular thesaurus, but the headings are each specific foods. Take, for example, one of my favorites: the potato, which is under the “Earthy” section. There are 44 separate flavor pairings for potato with another flavor. Some are obvious, some are surprising, but all are intriguing. It’s very well written, in a casual, funny style. Here’s what she has to say about “Potato & Bacon.”

POTATOES & BACON: Driving past the Farmer’s Market Cafe on the A12 in Suffolk, England. I saw a sign outside that read, in huge letters. Ham Hock Hash. Nothing else. No other food, no opening times, nothing. Just three little words that launched a thousand U-turns.

If you love food, and especially pairing foods,, you’ll want to pick up this book.

Below is the overall flavor wheel she created for the book, listing the 16 major flavor types in the center ring and the main kinds of food that fall under each, in the outer ring.