Posted by: Idioma Extra | July 12, 2011

The Weird and the Wonderful

Butterbeer: How the Harry Potter Beverage Was Made Real


By now, even the dimmest of Muggles knows that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a smashing success. Ever since this theme-park-within-a-theme-park opened at Islands of Adventure at the Universal Orlando Resort, people have been raving about the “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” attraction as well as Hogsmeade’s highly-themed shops & restaurants.

But when you get right down to it, what’s the most successful aspect of The Wizarding World? “Forbidden Journey”‘s state-of-the-art ride system? The dazzling effects that theme park visitors experience whenever they visit Ollivander’s wand shop? Or — for that matter — the overall look of Hogwarts Castle and Hogsmeade Village. Which make you feel as though you’ve stepped inside one of the “Harry Potter” movies?

And the answer is… none of the above. Based on surveys that UOR employees have done, the greatest Guest Satisfier in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, that piece-of-the-magic that people most wish that they could take home and share with friends & family… is a beverage. Butterbeer, to be precise.

Which just thrills Chef Steven Jayson, Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Universal Parks & Resorts. Given that he and his team labored for nearly three years to come up with a workable real-world recipe for this magical, mythical brew.

You see, that’s the real problem with this particular beverage. Though Butterbeer is repeatedly mentioned in the seven Harry Potter books and the eight HP films, the favored ale of witches & wizards everywhere doesn’t actually exist. So — in essence — Jayson & Co. had to conjure up some Butterbeer. Deliver a drink that would appeal to hardcore Harry Potter fans as well as members of the general public. Not to mention meet the exacting standards of series creator J. K. Rowling.

The research started early. Steven and his team made a trip to Scotland in July of 2008. Both to meet with Harry Potter’s author, as well as to tour the various environs that had allegedly inspired J.K. (which included Edinburgh’s Hogs Head Pub). During that trip, Jayson reportedly quizzed Rowling in regards to Butterbeer. Trying to get this author’s exact thoughts on this imaginary ale.

And Steven… He has supposedly done his homework prior to meeting with J.K.; carefully combing through all of the Harry Potter books, looking for any and all references to Butterbeer.

Mind you, given that this beverage was going to be served in a family-friendly theme park, one aspect of this beverage (i.e. according to the Harry Potter books, quaffing this ale can give you a bit of a buzz) had to be dropped right off the bat. Furthermore, because Universal Orlando wanted as many guests as possible to be able to sample this brew (and that included the lactose intolerant), there could be no butter, or dairy products of any kind, in Butterbeer.

J.K. allegedly agreed to these terms as Steven laid them out, but then added a few of her own. Chief among these was that — because Rowling believed that corn syrup was about to become the next trans-fat (i.e. the ingredient that people now deliberately avoid whenever they’re making their food choices), which is why she insisted that Butterbeer be made with real sugar.

So with this info in hand, Jayson and his team returned to the States and then retreated to Universal Orlando’s test kitchens. Where these would-be culinary wizards then attempted to conjure up some Butterbeer.

“We experimented with all sorts of flavors. It took a while to get the flavor right where it needed to be. So it wasn’t too sweet. That it had this great comfortable feeling going down.”

And then — after running this prototype by his bosses at Universal Orlando and then getting their tentative approval — it was time to see if Rowling herself would actually sign off on this version of Butterbeer. So they packed up all of the necessary ingredients … and then flew them over to the U.K.

Once there, Jayson and his team rented space in a kitchen in an Edinburgh hotel. To give J.K. a variety of beverages to choose from, they allegedly whipped up four variations on their Butterbeer formula along with the version that UOR officials were hoping the author would pick. Then Jayson’s boss — Richard Florell, Universal’s senior vice president in charge of Food & Beverages — carried that tray of drinks into Ms. Rowling.

And then J.K. carefully sampled all five glasses. And upon arriving at the real glass of Butterbeer, Rowling reportedly took one sip and then reportedly broke into a big smile, saying “Yes, Chef. That’s it.”

So Steve and his team had gotten the approval of the notoriously-hard-to-please J.K. But what about Harry Potter’s fans and the general public? Would they too respond favorably to Universal Orlando’s home-brewed version of Butterbeer.

The answer to that question came during the soft opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. When the line of guests standing in front of the Butterbeer cart was almost as long as the one waiting to get into the “Forbidden Journey” attraction.

“So what exactly is the Universal’s version of Butterbeer?” you ask.

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