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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer

In the Hawthorne Country Store, we managed to obtain several Weird sodas along with our new Buff Orpington chick (for the full, thrilling story, see our review of Squamscot Grape). Today, we'll be trying the second of the bunch.

Being geeks, we at the Lab are all extensively familiar with a certain very popular book series describing the adventures of a certain boy wizard in Britain (all of us except Nazgul, who has not yet read the sixth and seventh volumes in the series). We all enjoyed it, and I was especially happy when I discovered that the Wizarding world has its own peculiar Weird beverages. Several are described, but the one which the main character likes best is called "butterbeer". While it is never described in great detail, we do know that (1) it foams, (2) it is often served hot, (3) it is very popular with wizards and witches of all ages, and seems to serve a role analogous to sodas in Muggle America.
As an example, here is a brief quote from the protagonist's first experience with butterbeer:

"As the hot butterbeer trickled down over Gandalf's pale skin, Galadriel trembled with anticipation. 'I cannot deny that my heart has much desired this...' she whispered. Gandalf's staff rose..."

Oops. Er...that's not it. Wrong file. I'm sorry, that's an excerpt from Hot Caras Galadhon Knights, by Edmund Wells, the well-known Dutch author. Just a moment...here it is.

"Harry and Hermione made their way to the back of the room, where there was a small, vacant table between the window and a handsome Christmas tree, which stood next to the fireplace. Ron came back five minutes later, carrying three foaming tankards of hot butterbeer.
"'Merry Christmas!' he said happily, raising his tankard.
"Harry drank deeply. It was the most delicious thing he'd ever tasted and seemed to heat every bit of him from the inside."


Butterbeer makes several more appearances in the story. In fact, I think one could write a scholarly paper exploring conflict over butterbeer reserves and supply lines as a contributing factor to the rise of Voldemort and the outcome of the war. Acquisition of butterbeer can be seen underlying many crucial plot points and character decisions in the books. I note, for example, that Harry used his invisibility cloak to escape from his school, risking expulsion, for the purpose of getting that butterbeer*.

Well, at the Hawthorne Country Store, they had "Butterscotch Beer", bottled by the Flying Cauldron.

See? See the Wizarding conflicts sparked by the mere presence of butterbeer? Dueling, elf hunting, unbridled passions...it's more than I can bear.

A slightly closer inspection shows that this actually comes from Reed's, who also bottle the Virgil's line of sodas and a series of ginger beers. Given the rather magnificent quality of their regular cream soda, I have high hopes for this.
The bottle is quite striking...the label at the top claims this to be "A Magical Brew". Between that and the logo of a cauldron riding on a flying broomstick, I can't help but feel that they're referring to something. Allow me to read from the informational panel on the side of the label:

"Since 1374, the Flying Cauldron has been making this magical brew for under aged wizards or wizards who are young at heart at their brew pub in Hogsbreath England. The recipe has changed little over the centuries. It has the perfect combination of spells and quality natural ingredients. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream to create our Giggle Potion."

I can't imagine where they got these ideas! Ah, but that's OK...since the publication of the book series made the role of butterbeer in major Wizarding conflicts plain, there has been substantial effort among epicurean fans of the series to creating butterbeer. Actually, that's not the only thing people have taken from the books; Quidditch, the leading sport in the wizarding world (a sort of rugby/football game played on flying broomsticks), has been adapted for the Muggle world as well. There are teams, leagues, and everything. My older brother coaches a Quidditch team. No, I'm not kidding. Yes, there is clearly something wrong with my genetic line.
In any case, I approve of Reed's having a go at replicating butterbeer. Perhaps they'd like to sponsor my brother's Quidditch team.

Plus, it's gluten free!

Where and when: Purchased at the Hawthorne Country Store, Escondido, CA
Color: A nice dark amber, lighter than maple syrup.
Scent: Moderately strong French vanilla scent, strongly tinged with butterscotch.
Olorin: "Smells like buttery honey."
K-i-C: "Gaaah!" *grimaces*

Taste: Wow...very sweet. The vanilla cream soda is strong underneath it, with a very powerful taste of butterscotch on top. The butterscotch is much like that in butterscotch chips. Pleasant, if potent, and certainly interesting.
Olorin: "MMMMMM!"
Nazhul: "Mmmmmm."
K-i-C: *grimace* "Tastes like butterscotch. Which, I suppose, is appropriate.
You know, adding vanilla ice cream to this would make it *less* sweet."

The Kibbitzer seems to find this overwhelming. I guess I can see that, it's powerful stuff. I'm liking it pretty well, though, and the junior staff members are asking for more.

K-i-C: "In fact, why is the sweet lasting so long? What's in this?" She looks. "Ahhh...stevia."

She's right. This stuff is sweetened with cane sugar (quite a bit of it), with added vanilla and caramel, but then the bottler seemed to think that what it *really* needed was some extra sweet, so they threw in some Stevia. Because...why not? Plus, with the gluten-free aspect, I think it's now a health food.

K-i-C: "I like the kind we made better. With cider, melted butterscotch chips, and vanilla ice cream. This would be better with Johnny Apple Treats dissolved in it."**

To be honest, I don't like it as much as their regular cream soda, but that's all right. It's still pretty good, and I have to give them extra points for going to the effort of making a strong reference to a good speculative fiction series. Plus, it's butterscotch, and that makes for a good Weird soda. Well done!

Quaff rating: 3.5. Tasty, but not magnificent.
Cough rating: 0.5. Probably too sweet. Was the Stevia really needed? Plus, just kind of overwhelming.

*Well, that and seeing his friends, visiting Hogsmeade, and eavesdropping on conveniently-located conversations about critical plot information. But I think the Weird soda was his primary goal.

**Yes, the Lab did once get together with some other families and have a cooking party in which we made recipes based on the book series, including an attempt at butterbeer. It was good. We are not ashamed.

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  2. My colleagues and I have found that adding a few pinches of salt really helps the butterscotch flavor sing! Honestly, any butterscotch or buttery flavor needs a good dash of salt to bring out the flavor, and soda is no exception. It will kill the carbonation, though.

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  3. It tastes just like a butterscotch soda and it's all natural. I liked it enough to buy it again.

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