Even if you aren’t a Harry Potter or theme park fan, you’ve probably heard of Butterbeer. It is the iconic drink of the book series, and has become a pop culture hit as the delicious drink is sold exclusively in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands at Universal Studios Florida (Diagon Alley) & Islands of Adventure (Hogsmeade) in Universal Orlando Resort, and Universal Studios Japan (Hogsmeade). In 2016, it will also be available at Universal Studios Hollywood (Hogsmeade). This post serves as a guide to grasping those buttery casks of this beer, so you can determine which style of Butterbeer is for you.
Now, I know what you might be thinking: “Tom, this guide is totally unnecessary! Like any reasonable person, I’m going to order one of every variety of Butterbeer to try for myself.” Good point, but if you’re not looking to get drunk off of sugar (you won’t get drunk drunk, as there is no beer in Butterbeer…unless you follow this DIY recipe) or empty your wallet, this post might prove helpful.
For starters, since many guests can’t seem to get enough Butterbeer, it has become a license to print money for Universal. Basically, Butterbeer is to Universal what Dole Whips are to Disney. Some guests are unapologetically hooked on the things, and anxiously await their next visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter not for the rides, but for that sweet nectar of the Squibs (I wish I knew more about Harry Potter so I could up my ‘clever references’ game).
Suffice to say, if you visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you have to buy at least one Butterbeer. It’s a stringently enforced Ministry of Magic bylaw, and any Muggle who doesn’t is subject to a serious reprimand. So, if you want to order a Coke here…the joke is on you, because there isn’t any!
Besides, drinking Coke in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter would be tantamount to being a follower of Lord Voldemort. You wouldn’t want to practice the dark arts and join the Death Eaters, now would you?! (Thank you, Harry Potter Wiki!)
So…what is Butterbeer and why is it so addictive?
No description can fully encapsulate the taste of the drink, but to me, it tastes like a really sweet & creamy version of cream soda, perhaps like root beer if you totally removed the bite and dialed up the creaminess to 11.
There’s a faint similarity to butterscotch (and pumpkin, I think, although few friends seem to agree with me on that one), but for those under the age of 90 who grimace at the idea of tasting butterscotch, I have to emphasize the faint in faint similarity. You’ll pick up on some common notes in the flavor, but Butterbeer is all creamy goodness.
This is the main reason why you probably won’t find yourself sampling each style of Butterbeer. Unless you have multiple days in the Universal parks, you probably won’t be able to handle 3 cups of Butterbeer plus ice cream in a single day. One cup of this sweet & creamy beverage is about the perfect serving size.
Now that I’ve done my best to explain the flavor, there’s the question of which one to buy. Let’s start with the obvious first: ice cream.
Butterbeer Ice Cream
I say this is the obvious because it’s the only style that comes in a dramatically different form than the 3 drinks, and because ice cream is one of the four basic theme park food groups, so you’re going to need a dose of ice cream during your visit, regardless of which drinks you purchase.
Butterbeer ice cream is the greatest departure from the drinks in terms of flavor, as it’s actually more like vanilla ice cream meets Butterbeer in taste. The ice cream has a certain creaminess to it, and you can definitely tell it shares bloodlines with the liquid Butterbeer, but it is in no way a substitute for the drink. In fact, I suspect this fan-recipe for Butterbeer ice cream is a more faithful ice cream adaptation. (I’ve never made it, as I can barely use a microwave, let alone prepare something with that many steps.) Still, it’s delicious and a must-try, but it’s not the full Butterbeer experience.
Then there’s the standard, liquid version of the drink. This is the “classic” variety that I’d guess most people purchase. Albeit good, it’s my least favorite of the varieties. To me, Butterbeer is something that should be sipped and slowly savored, and a regular cream soda style drink is the least conducive to that.
Now, I know that I could simply make a concerted effort to do that, but that’s easier said than done. It’s still an excellent drink, so if frozen or hot aren’t your style, this will be a suitable alternative. It’s probably the best option if you’re looking for a drink to wash down a meal (although for that, might I suggest Pumpkin Juice?) rather than something that is a snack, itself.
Next up is my personal favorite, Frozen Butterbeer. I was initially hesitant to try this, because I worried that it would just be normal Butterbeer, but in slush form (like Frozen Coke). That is not the case. For whatever reason (perhaps the cream?), the texture here is smooth and even, which is a big plus.
The flavor is virtually identical to the regular Butterbeer, but that smooth, frozen(ish) texture ups the experience for me, making this the best drink of the bunch. This is especially true in Florida, where heat and humidity can make spending a few minutes outside a miserable experience. Frozen Butterbeer is a refreshing and delicious respite from that, and great as an afternoon snack.
Then there’s Warm Butterbeer. Friends who are fans of Harry Potter tell me that this is how Butterbeer is supposed to be served, so if you’re going for authenticity, I guess this is it. Taste-wise, this is somewhat of a departure from the other versions, and I’d describe it as “creamified, butterscotch plus pumpkin cider.” That probably makes more sense in my head than it does in written form, but it’s a good drink. Creamy like hot chocolate, but with a refreshing taste like apple cider (minus the chocolate and apple flavors).
The problem is, Florida is hot! Unless you are drinking this bad boy while standing under an air conditioning duct inside Three Broomsticks, it’s not the best option in terms of an enjoyable theme park experience. At least, most of the time. I did make one early January visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter where the temperature dipped into the low 50s at night, and drinking a Warm Butterbeer while walking through a nearly-empty Hogsmeade was a sublime experience.
Ultimately, each variant of Butterbeer brings something different to the table, and I think they are all exceptional. My personal favorite is the frozen variety, perhaps not so much for taste but because it’s most refreshing in the hot Florida sun. Hot Butterbeer, by contrast, seems most enjoyable on a chilly winter evening (a rare occurrence in Florida).
If you want to see more photos from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida, read my Universal Orlando Resort Trip Report. To get some more Universal photo ideas, check out my Universal Orlando Resort Photo Gallery.
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Do you agree or disagree with any of my thoughts about Butterbeer? Which version is your favorite? Are you a fan of Butterbeer, or do you think it’s overrated? Have any questions or other thoughts? Please share below in the comments!