I’ve never really held with the idea that the Butterbeer in Harry Potter is basically some sort of cream soda. No way. To me, that’s a very American interpretation, with artificial flavoring, and so much sugar that it becomes horrible.
My approach, probably unsurprising to many of you, was to dip into the historical cookbooks for my inspiration. And lo, from the late 1500s, there’s a recipe for “Buttered Beere”. Clearly this was what I needed to try.
My first reaction to the finished historical brew was one of surprise: The smell doesn’t quite match the flavor, so the first sip is not what you’ll be expecting. It almost smells like a sweet dough, as you might make for cinnamon rolls, with that combination of yeast, butter, and eggs. However, the flavor itself is one of creamy, spiced beer, with all the residual hops and tinge of bitterness that go with it.
The mixture thickens, not quite to the density of eggnog, but in a similar way. Served warm in a large mug, and redolent with spices, it’s an interesting and unique winter holiday beverage. Although I can’t quite imagine myself craving a big mug of this beverage on a regular basis, I’d certainly slap down two sickles for a pint at the Hog’s Head Inn or the Three Broomsticks!
Adapted Historical Recipe for Butterbeer
Take three pintes of Beere, put five 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 Cloves 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. -The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin, 1588
Cook’s Notes: For an extra indulgence, try adding a bit of cream or whole milk to the finished butterbeer. Add no more than a 1:1 ratio, and serve the adulterated version chilled, rather than hot.
- 3 bottles of ale
- 1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 5 egg yolks (save the whites for something like meringue)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks
Heat the ale and spices in a medium saucepan, over medium heat. If it has a lot of foam, that should die down once it starts heating up.
In a separate bowl, combine the sugar and egg yolks. while whisking furiously, pour in a ladle-full of the hot ale. Whisk until it’s incorporated, then pour the whole mess back into the pot of ale, still whisking madly.
Keep the mixture just under a simmer, stirring until it thickens somewhat. Add the chunks of butter and stir until they’re melted. Whisk with a hand mixer (or a lot of arm strength), until a foam rises.
Serve hot, in heat-proof mugs.