Buttered Beere

Adapted from ‘The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin’ (1588)

3 pint (16.9 oz) Bottles of real Ale
0.5 tsp ground Cloves
0.5 tsp ground Cinnamon
0.25 tsp ground Ginger
5 Egg Yolks
1 Cup Brown Sugar (Demerara)
12 Tbsp Unsalted Butter

Add ale and spices to a saucepan
Bring to a boil, then immediately turn to lowest setting
Beat together eggs and sugar until light and creamy
Remove ale from heat, whisk in egg mixture, returning to low heat
Whisk constantly over low until mixture begins to thicken slightly (about 5 minutes)
Remove from heat and whisk in butter quickly until a nice foam forms
Serve warm

Notes: If you’re concerned about the alcohol level, here are some notes:  We used Fuller’s London Pride, which is 4.7% ABV.  Before adding the egg mixture, letting the beer simmer longer (20 minutes or so) should boil off all the alcohol, if that’s what you’re after.  Use your discretion.

* * *

Here’s what we’re not going to be making today:

Ginger Ale and Butterscotch Syrup
Cream Soda and Butterscotch Syrup
Cream Soda and Butterscotch Schnapps
Root Beer, Honey, and Butter
Milk and Butterscotch Chips
Milk, Brown Sugar, Vanilla, and Butter
Milk, Sugar, Marshmallows, and Butter
Vanilla Ice Cream, Butter, Sugar, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves, and Apple Cider

Yes, all of those are Harry Potter-inspired recipes for Butterbeer (Rowling’s spelling), and I do have to hand it to the last one – without the ice cream, it’s pretty close.  Nope, today is the real deal, the first written recipe for Tudor Buttered Beere.  This one comes from 1588’s “The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin”, Thomas Dawson’s follow-up to his 1585 “The Good Huswifes Jewell” (although my favorite title from Dawson is his 1597 “The Booke of Carving and Sewing”).

Much like in the late 19th century, when Jerry Thomas published the first bartender’s guide, the late 16th century was something of a boom for cookbooks.  The British Library tells us that not only was it the first time such books began to be published with regularity, it was the first time that they were specifically targeted at women.  Obtaining a volume such as “The Good Huswife” was reserved for the privileged and moneyed classes.  And this makes sense if you look at the history.

Much of the 16th century was spent with the powers in Europe, particularly the Portuguese and Spanish, exploring parts east and west.  Just before the century had dawned, Columbus had accidentally bumped into what would become the Americas.  Vasco da Gama was paving the way for Portuguese spice routes to Southeast Asia.  Cortés was conquering the Aztecs.  By the turn of the 17th Century, Spain was basking in a golden age and the Dutch were busy founding the VOC (Dutch East India Company) to unseat the Portuguese.

In England, it was the height of the Elizabethan Age.  Sure, the Spanish were causing trouble, but Frances Drake was handling that.  No, what was really exciting was all the new culture springing up.  Spices were flowing in from the far reaches of the globe, theater was being embraced by the public – the first big hit was Christopher Marlowe’s 1587 “Tamburlaine the Great”, and Shakespeare’s work would officially appear on the scene just three years later.  Good times, indeed.

But not everything was rosy.    See, this pesky little thing called the Bubonic Plague kept popping up to say hello.  True, the main plague occurred some three hundred years earlier, but it seems like England was never able to completely shake it.  Throughout the 16th century, the plague would reappear in one English city or another (the real monster epidemic came in 1665), so those who could – namely, those who could also afford cookbooks – would simply pack up and head to their country estates when merited.  And if the servant class was dying off, all the better reason to learn how to cook.

I’m suspecting that part of the appeal of Dawson’s books was also for Earl ”A” to see what Duke “B” was cooking.  Indeed, Dawson gathered his recipes from several noblemen and noblewomen, which explains why we’re provided with instructions on ‘How to keep Lard after my Lord Ferries way.’  But where Dawson and his contemporaries truly succeeded was in providing useful measurements.  Let’s take a look at one of his recipes – say one for Buttered Beere:

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.

Spelling aside, I bet you could not only read that, you could replicate most of the recipe.  And that’s exactly how the recipe was written 422 years ago.  It’s quite fascinating.  Of course, not everything translates, specifically that ‘dish’ of butter – but without that little ambiguity, you wouldn’t be reading this post today.

In the interest of full disclosure, I borrowed this post from someone else – not the content of the post, mind you, but the “Hey, It’s Real Butterbeer!” part of it.  I did (politely) ask permission.  The original Buttered Beere post that caught my eye was run a few months ago over at The Island of Dr. Gateau, one of our favorite “Destinations”.  Jess, the author behind the site, is pursuing her PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience – but she also likes to cook and bake, specifically anything red velvet.  Each of her posts has a recipe and a neuroscience lesson, and I simply can’t say enough great things about what she posts.  The Dr. Gateau site is just mad brilliant.

When Jess posted her Buttered Beere (also from the “Good Huswife”), I immediately made a batch and decided that it would be among our Christmas posts.  There was just one problem, Jess was a little uncertain as to the modern translation of some of the measurements, specifically that ‘dish’ of butter.  Fortunately, I live with another mad brilliant woman – one with the right connections.  No sooner had I asked the question, than Lesley dashed off a query to Professor Ken Albala, Food Historian at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. Ken’s written several books with titles like “Eating Right in the Renaissance”, “Food in Early Modern Europe”, and “Cooking in Europe 1250-1650” (and too many more to count), so if anyone would know how much butter constituted a ‘dish’, Ken would.  And indeed he did – sort of.

According to Albala, a ‘dish’ of butter was, in 1588… a dish of butter.  Take a 10-inch plate and see how many tablespoons of butter fit on it.  Albala figured about 12.  Given the supermodel-shaped (tall and skinny) Trader Joe’s butter we had on hand, I could have easily fit 20.  It was about this time that I first discovered Historical Foods and their interpretation of the “Good Huswife” recipe.  Doing the math, the 120g of butter they call for equates to about 9 tablespoons – a far cry from my 20.  One thing struck me about the Historical Foods recipe, however – they really didn’t seem to like the resulting Buttered Beere.  Throughout the recipe are caveats (“…we have other authentic and historic Butterbeer recipes for you to try as well”), and cautions (“…it certainly would not be enjoyed by all.”)  Plus, they recommend cutting their version with an equal part of milk.  If milk would help the taste, then certainly more butter also would.  I decided that the magic number must be somewhere between Historical Foods’ 9 tablespoons and my 20.  I took the professor’s advice and went with 12.

How does it taste?  Delicious, but there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.  Historical Foods mentions a “lingering, lasting taste on the tongue, drying the mouth, (it is almost unpleasant at first)”.  Yup, that’s there, but not so much as to put one off.  There’s also the fact that the drink itself tastes like Ale + Indian chai + unsweetened pumpkin pie filling – strange, yes, but it works.  Also, it doesn’t produce an enormous head, nor is it particularly thick – as long as you end up with something that looks like slightly thick, slightly foamy milked tea, you’re good.  Caveats aside, it really is quite tasty – certainly a new experience of something that tastes very old.

So, there you have it – as Dr. Gateau herself wrote, “Real, no-foolin’ butterbeer.”  Is it the beverage you scamper down to The Hog’s Head for?  Probably not.  But, if on some blustery eve, you happen to find yourself partaking in “The Winter’s Tale”, it might be just the thing.    As Will Shakespeare himself said of Buttered Beere, “O! she’s warm.  If this be magic, let it be an art.  Lawful as eating.”

Or, was that Harry Potter?

Counterpoint: Here, as a sort of counterpoint, is an article from the New York Times which complains about drinking in the Harry Potter movies.   As my own counterpoint to the above, here’s a list of dirty jokes in Shakespeare’s plays.  Pick your poison.


71 responses to “Buttered Beere

  1. i saw this over at Gateau’s (and promptly filed it away to try later), too, but i haven’t as yet. the tale of how much butter goes into it is very interesting, but my first question is: what’s a “penniworth” as far as a measurement goes? did they mean “however much you could buy with a penny”? or was it some physical volume measurement, like today’s tablespoon, etc.?

    • Franko, that was another point Professor Albala provided insight into but which I edited out just for sake of the flow of the post. Yes, it was “how much a penny would buy”. I used Historical Foods’ measurement chiefly because I tend to like the spices to be more forward. Albala casually suggested 1/4 tsp each of cloves and cinnamon and 1/8 tsp ginger — the same proportions as Historical Foods but half the volume. I think it safe to experiment within these loose boundaries.

      Jess and I have discussed the amount of butter over the past month of so — this certainly has a good deal more than hers. My inclination was to go with more as “Buttered” is the first word in the name. I liked the results.

  2. so by the time it’s prepared, it’s basically alcohol free? Or did I misread that?

    • I added that at the last minute and worded it badly (I’ve rewritten now). IF you’re concerned about the alcohol level, you can simmer it off with a longer cook, although some may remain. No guarantees on this, but it’s the standard method. You just want to keep the temperature low.

      Following the basic recipe, you still have proper beer in your drink.

  3. Mmmmm, I’m going to be a Good Huswife and Mum and whip this up for me and the kiddies. Should put them right to sleep….

  4. A ‘penniworth’ is the physical amount of spices you could fit on an old penny, you see the price of spices changed constantly with supply and demand, but the physical size of a penny never changed, and it was therefore like saying a teaspoonworth etc. … I own several pewter dishes from the early 1600s, 150g to 180g of butter is about right. Oh, and the ‘caveats’ are in place on the butterbeer recipe for the hordes of Potter fans that come through to it daily from a wikipedia reference, no other recipe on my site has those types of ‘warnings’ lol 🙂

    Some great drink recipes here …. nice info too.

    • Historical (if that is your real name) — sorry, don’t know what else to call you 🙂 thanks for jumping into the discussion — great and invaluable site you have there. I hope you don’t mind us using you as a reference now and again.

      As you’ll see, we also fell back on caveats as well with this one. It’s interesting that we got a different answer from Ken Albala — I’m in no position to know which is more correct — but yours makes a lot of sense, especially considering the thrust of the late 16th century recipe writers to start codifying things.

  5. There is a reference to an early 1700’s recipe from a writer in the 1800s and he explains what a ‘penniworth’ is in brackets for his readers, (I would have to trace who said it, as it escapes me for now) a penniworth of ground ginger in price would buy you a different amount almost week to week because of the intermittent seasonal supply of herbs and spices and the nature of the trade and restrictions/taxes put on it, so yes, the amount to fit on the face of a common coin would be a standardised unit as it appears in many recipes in the 1500s, 1600s and 1700s when the price of spices had altered.

    I really like the Butterbeer’s (particularly the one made with liquorish) from Robert May in 1664, which is the one I would recommend at Christmas …

    No problem with you referencing the site … I might pinch a few ideas for more modern historic American cocktails from you 😉 … I have to go to sleep now, I have to make two pork pie recipes and work on the oldest recorded recipe for a 12th Night Cake tomorrow … anyway you have a great site here, good luck with it 🙂

    • One of the main reasons I steered away from the liquorish version was it conjuring up memories of Heston Blumenthal’s Black Liquorish Salmon, which apparently still haunt me. I think I can overcome that for a go at it, however. Looking forward to the cake (and a return of Twelfth Night).

  6. How many servings does that recipe make?

  7. What an unusual drink! It looks tasty though and likely to sneak up on you if you have too many. You have a great drink blog! It’s going on my bookmarks. Thanks for commenting on the Jack Rose cocktail and thanks for the compliment on my photos.

  8. This does sound yummy, Erin. Nighty-night, kiddies . . . ;0)

  9. Thanks so much for posting a truly delicious sounding recipe for Buttered Beere. This sounds like it would be an absolutely amazing addition to the Christmas Eve menu.


  10. I have to admit: not a big fan of beer.

    But this? This sounds AMAZING!

    Great post … I’ll be trying it out myself. 🙂

  11. Buttered beer with cinnamon? Original recipe.

  12. I really enjoyed reading your blog. Great ideas for my Christmas party drinks.
    The buttered beer will definitely be on the bar menu.

  13. Pingback: Buttered Beere (via 12 Bottle Bar) | Nick and Ashley's Infinite Adventure…

  14. Great Post.Keep good work going on . Great tips for Christmas.

  15. I have never thought about making butterbeer or that it would require eggs or milk. Sounds a bit eggnog-y.

    • Oddly, it’s not that thick or eggy. I think the “slightly thick, slightly foamy milked tea” sums it up pretty well.

      If you’re looking for something more eggnog like, check back with us tomorrow.

  16. i’m lactose intolerant. though they all sound delicious, any alternative recipes? 12 tbsps of butter is a LOT.

  17. Pingback: Good or Gross? « Rambulatory Ambulatory

  18. i think if this was easily found id be an alcoholic…thanks for posting.

  19. Pingback: Buttered Beere | 12 Bottle Bar « meandering minds…

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  21. This sounds delicious– a bit like the more decadent versions of hot buttered rum, only more so. I’m TOTALLY going to try this–thanks! –Wendy

  22. looks delicious and sounds amazing! i am totally taking this recipe and going to use it. thanks!


  23. Thanks for the recipe, I’ll be trying it out tonight.

    Fuller’s London Pride \m/

  24. Not gonna lie…I initially thought you had blogged about the Butterbeer mentioned in Harry Potter, but now that I’m here, this is a great sight! Love the theme…kudos on being FP! Merry Christmas!

  25. I’ve been wondering what this tastes like since the first Harry Potter!

  26. interesting mixture..i should try this!

  27. Hey Historical Foods, You’re absolutely right that prices for spices fluctuated wildly, which is why I guess so often you see pennyweight, I think the weight of a standard penny. But I’ve never seen this 19th c. reference to an 18th c. cookbook. Can you scrounge it up? I’d really appreciate it. Do you think the spices would be piled on the penny to measure? An Elizabethan penny is a tiny silver coin. Holding probably less than 1/4 tsp.

  28. I’m glad I have Depends handy so I can strap one to my chin every time involuntary drooling happens. 🙂 I’ll definitely have to try this.

  29. Pingback: Buttered beere | Walter's Greasy Spoon

  30. wow this looks so tasty! *___*

  31. Goood, delicoius! Looks tasty!

  32. Pingback: Buttered Beere (via 12 Bottle Bar) « Moknowledge's Blog

  33. I hate beer and I hate butter but I think it’s just awesome that you shared this recipe.. anyone who has ever read Harry Potter would be impressed 🙂 cheers!

  34. Damn! I´m at work, but I need one 😀

    Merry Christmas!

  35. Awesome! thanks for sharing the recipe. I’m so jumping to the supermarket right now!

  36. Pingback: Done for another year. « What's up at Ravens March.

  37. It sounds like an odd combination on paper, but I’m going to give it a go. Thanks for the tips!

  38. I’m going to brew this up as my christmas gift!

  39. Tried this last night 🙂 It was pretty good, and smelled great, but I think for my own personal tastes I will leaves the cloves out next time!

  40. Oohh buttered beere. 🙂 I have always been curious about it since I read Harry Potter. Thank you so much for the recipe. Gotta try it for the holidays! 🙂 Very Informative post.
    Merry Christmas. Happy holidays to you! 🙂

  41. Any suggestions on “real ale” that I could easily find in the states and use? Thanks!

  42. Yummy…. Delicious 😀 😀

  43. Pingback: Buttered Beere (via 12 Bottle Bar) | the delicious foods

  44. WOWW.)) My eyes confused me and I read “buttered beer” and thought to myself “anything else there is left to add to the poor beer.” Silly me!!

  45. Wow what an, interesting drink. I had the same reaction when I first saw Kahlua and Baileys


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  47. I’ve made two batches of it over the hols, using a medium brown ale from a local micro, and have this to offer:
    1) The less hops, the happier.
    2) It’s pretty much just a thin custard, isn’t it?
    3) A very small cup is perilously close to over-indulgence. The three-pint recipe I think is meant to serve 20. *urp*

  48. Pingback: New Year, New Friends | 12 Bottle Bar

  49. Stumbled across your site through liqurious. What with the recent cold snap, I’m going to have to try this. I love introducing my friends to seemingly bizarre combinations and seeing their reactions.

    P.S. Not all cocktails inspired by Harry Potter are bad:

  50. Pingback: Mixology Monday LIX: Brown Betty | 12 Bottle Bar

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