Butterbeer is the wildly popular beverage at the wildly popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands, which are part of the Universal theme parks in Florida and California. No visit to Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley is complete without a taste of the addictive drink. (And at $7.49 a pop, it's no wonder why the folks at NBCUniversal and its parent company, Comcast, are so thrilled that Harry and the gang have taken up residence at their parks.)
But the frothy, cold beverage is not the only way to enjoy butterbeer. Before we run down other options to cure your craving, let's explore how the designers charged with bringing J.K. Rowling's books and the movies they inspired to life first concocted the habit-forming brew.
According to Ric Florell, executive vice president for revenue operations at Universal Orlando, work on the drink began in earnest in 2007 when the parks first got approval to develop the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Charged with creating the food and beverage for the new land, he started out by reading through all seven books three times and noting what could be turned into edible items. He still has his dogeared copies which include the flags he used to mark references.
"Butterbeer didn't necessarily jump right out," Florell says. "It doesn't even come up until the third book." As he and his team zeroed in on the drink, he was disappointed to discover that Rowling did not provide any description of its taste or texture. Universal, therefore, had to create it from scratch.
While they wanted the drink to look like beer, the developers also wanted everybody, including children, to be able to enjoy it. That meant it wouldn't contain alcohol. The Universal team determined that it should be smooth like shortbread, and, because of its name, it should have hints of butterscotch.
"It wasn't easy to make," says Florell, who notes that his crew went through many iterations and worked on butterbeer until just before the first Wizarding World land opened at Islands of Adventure in 2010. Finally satisfied with the recipe, Florell and his executive chef flew to Edinburgh to meet with Rowling and get her approval. Like everyone else who has tasted the beverage, the celebrated author was hooked after her first sip.
With butterbeer, Universal essentially invented the category of the themed beverage for parks. It has since rolled out other drinks, such as the Flaming Moe (a fizzy drink that smokes) and Duff Beer (a surprisingly good craft beer), both of which are available at The Simpsons Lands in Florida and California. Disney has tried to cash in on the themed drink craze, but has not been able to match the success of its crosstown rival. While there was great anticipation for it, the Blue Milk (and Green Milk) sold at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge has not caught on like Harry’s brew.
Now that you know what it took to make butterbeer, let's examine the many forms it takes at the parks:
The classic drink is made using a two-step process. There is the fizzy base, which tastes something like cream soda, and the topping, which includes notes of butterscotch. As with real beer, the foamy topping rises and gives those imbibing it a butterbeer mustache.
Florell says that by producing the drink in two steps, Universal is able to protect the recipe. "People who know what goes into the base, don't know the topping and vice versa," he notes. "The only people who know the whole recipe are the executive chef and me.
Florell says that because the first Potter park is in Florida, and because it can get so hot, he asked Rowling for permission to make a frozen version of the beverage. Although there is no corresponding drink in her books, she understood the request and agreed. The base of frozen butterbeer is like a slushy drink, while the topping is the same as the non-frozen version. On a sweltering day in Florida (or at the Hollywood park), it can be particularly refreshing. According to Florell, the two drinks are about even in popularity.
Frozen butterbeer is available alongside the original brew at all Wizarding World locations.
Butterbeer doesn't necessarily have to take liquid form. While it may get overshadowed by Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans (which, if you can believe it, includes jellybeans that taste like fish, pepper, and sausage), Chocolate Frogs, and other notable Potteresque confections, butterbeer fudge is on the shelves at the quirky candy store. Florell says that the after they made the first batch of fudge, they realized something was missing. The solution: more butterbeer flavor!
Butterbeer fudge is available at the candy shop, Honeydukes, in the Hogsmeade lands at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Hollywood.
Butterbeer Soft-Serve and Hand-Scooped Ice Cream
Florean Fortescue's offers some unusual and delicious hard, hand-scooped ice cream flavors inspired by the Potter books, including Earl Grey and Lavender and Sticky Toffee Pudding. But the soft-serve butterbeer is to die for. According to Florell, this was another item that took some time to get right. The park had to develop special equipment to infuse the butterbeer swirl into a vanilla ice cream base. The result of their hard work is heaven in a cone. In Hollywood, Universal serves a hard version of butterbeer ice cream. It comes pre-packaged in a cup.
Butterbeer soft-serve is available at Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour at Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida. The hard ice cream is served at the Three Broomsticks restaurant and from carts at the Wizarding World in Universal Studios Hollywood.
While it doesn't typically ever get all that cold in Orlando (Hollywood, on the other hand, can get a bit nippy), Florell says that he always had it in the back of his mind to offer hot butterbeer. For one thing, it is a nice complement to the parks' holiday celebrations; for another, the hot beverage is mentioned in Rowling's books.
The Universal executive says that his chefs had a difficult time developing the drink. They quickly discovered that they couldn't just heat up cold butterbeer. After working on it for several years, they came up with an acceptable formula.
Hot butterbeer is available at all Wizarding World locations only during the late fall and winter months.
Butterbeer Potted Cream
This may be the most under-the-radar butterbeer offering. A unique take on the veddy British dessert, the heavy cream base is flavored with strong notes of butterbeer. It could make a nice ending to a meal at the quick-service restaurant, The Leaky Cauldron. The eatery has many tasty dishes including Beef, Lamb & Guinness Stew, Toad in the Hole, and Bangers & Mash. Its dining room is a dead ringer for the one featured in the movies.
Butterbeer potted cream is available at The Leaky Cauldron at Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida.