Think you need to be a fan of J.K. Rowling's work to fall in love with the stuff? Think again!
My initial encounter with Butterbeer may have been unlike yours—I'm a relatively old man who grew up on Tolkien; by the time J.K. Rowling came along in the late 1990s, I was done shopping around for new worlds to disappear into—I already had Middle-earth, which suited me just fine.
And yet, one steamy August morning, I slipped into Diagon Alley, the second phase of Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, got in line, a pretty long line as I recall, sampled the weird drink that everyone couldn't stop talking about, and fell right in love.
Honestly, before I even got to the Butterbeer, I was already enchanted—only the stoniest of souls could avoid having their breath ever-so-slightly taken away upon entering either side of the Wizarding World, easily up there as some of the best theming ever created in any park, anywhere. (Diagon Alley is a twisted, colorful version of something like London's Borough Market, and it's basically the next best thing to actually being there.) I knew nothing of this familiar but strange world, but it looked and felt magical, and I kind of wanted to move in.
There were reports, from opening day at Hogsmeade, the first phase of the project, of people crying, or getting down on their knees and kissing the ground, the first time they sampled the Rowling-approved Butterbeer. I didn't go quite that far, but I really liked it—what's bad about a creamy, vanilla and butterscotch-flavored soda with a thick head that tastes like toasted marshmallow, that also somehow manages to have less calories per serving than a regular soda? Nothing, it turns out.
Since that first time, I haven't picked up a Potter book or seen any of the films, and yet I keep finding myself drawn back into the Wizarding World; it's just that special. Since those early days, back in 2010 (feels like longer, doesn't it), we've gone from the original Butterbeer to a whole line of Butterbeer-flavored products; the cost of a drink has also, incidentally, more than doubled.
For most grown folks (and the children that grown folks will be wrangling in a busy theme park, after the fact), a little Butterbeer will likely go a long way. Where best to get your hit? On my latest visit to Universal Orlando, I managed to taste every single product on offer. Still a neutral party, still with no nostalgia, no knowledge of the legend, my one and only concern was, did it taste good?
#6 Butterbeer Fudge
Sold only at Honeydukes—the expansive sweet shop at Hogsmeade—and the charming Sugarplum's in Diagon Alley, here we have one of the more elusive ways to experience Butterbeer; on my first try, they were out at Sugarplum's, but I ended up snagging some at Honeydukes, so it was fine. This fudge has layers—two of them, to be precise—and while the butterscotch colored base (there to represent the actual beer) does have merit, and does echo the original beverage somewhat, the other layer, meant to signify the head, had none of the creamy marshmallow-ness that to me is such an important part of the experience. It had a faint echo of white chocolate, but not enough to be enjoyed on its own merits. If you like this sort of fudge (fudge needs to have chocolate in it, in order to hold my interest for very long), chances are you'll enjoy a bite or two—I'd consider this stuff a true deep cut: mostly for hardcore fans only.
#5 Frozen Butterbeer
What a great idea, particularly on the hottest of Central Florida afternoons (and there are a lot of those), but again, as with the fudge, while you get an echo of the original, here, what you also get is a lot of ice, and probably brain freeze if you don't take it in small doses. The crème cap, or head, just doesn't work with the somewhat vague frozen drink; even the most herculean effort to stir the stuff yields only limited results. I'll definitely try it again when the weather warms up—for now, all set.
#4 Butterbeer Potted Cream
Showing up on the dessert menus at both The Leaky Cauldron (Diagon Alley) and Three Broomsticks (Hogsmeade), this jarred dessert is nicely presented—rich, sweet, butterscotch-colored cream almost outshines the original in flavor; a delicate ring of bright, deliciously salty and buttery sauce has been drizzled around the edges and could be eaten with a spoon on its own, particularly if you're a lover of things salted caramel. There's a dot of whipped cream on top, too. A fun one to share after your bangers and mash.
Asked what Butterbeer might taste like, before Universal even began working to create the stuff, J.K. Rowling was quoted as saying that she imagined it "a bit like less sickly butterscotch." Two and a half years in the making, the Rowling-approved original is as popular as ever, even with all the other available options within the Wizarding World. Just as Rowling imagined, there's more flavor here than sugar, or at least that's how it drinks—essentially, you're getting a butterscotch cream soda, with a float of something like toasted marshmallow crème; there's no escaping the inevitable foam mustache, and while you can try, you'll never outdrink the head. It's really fun, but again, with no nostalgic attachment to the stuff, a little of this still manages to go quite a long way. I can't imagine visiting the Wizarding World and not having a frosty mug of the stuff, though. Fun fact, which I learned on my latest visit: Butterbeer has less calories per serving than a regular soda.
#2 Hot Butterbeer
Ever had a perfectly flavored, not-too-sweet glass of warmed milk? That's pretty much what you're getting with this seasonal treat, designed to take the edge off those inevitable (if only occasional) chilly winter days, down in the shadows of Diagon Alley. In this comforting drink (which, if you peek under the head, comes out slightly purple-pinkish, but still echoes the original flavor), we have the first Butterbeer-flavored item on our list that will likely be a considerable hit with even the most casually curious visitors to the Wizarding World.
#1 Butterbeer Ice Cream
A generous twist of creamy soft-serve (complete with flavor burst, just to make it all extra-Instagrammable) that tastes something like butterscotch and toasted marshmallow—what's not to like? Absolutely nothing. Nothing in the world, anywhere, no matter what you say. Visitors to Universal Orlando will find the stuff exclusively at Florian Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour inside Diagon Alley; you can get it in a cup, waffle cone or souvenir glass. Get it however you want. Just get it.