Saturday, 28 November 2020

Recipe: Hot Alcoholic Butter Beer to Warm up Your Winter

Disappointed with the coloured cream soda served at official Harry Potter locations, I designed this alcoholic alternative. Sweet, spicy and completely vegan, my recipe attempts to recreate the warming butter beer of the books I’ve loved since I was a kid. The perfect magical drink for a witchy Winter ritual.

For 6 medium-sized servings, you’ll need:

For the butterscotch sauce:

  • 100g of light brown sugar
  • 50g of vegan margarine (Flora, Vitalite, Pure are all great)
  • 70ml of soy milk (this is what I use but I’m sure oat, almond etc would work fine)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract


  1. Melt the margarine in a medium-sized pan.
  2. Add the brown sugar and salt, and heat over a low heat.
  3. Once the mixture starts to bubble, stir slowly for 3 minutes.
  4. Add the soy milk and stir into the mixture.
  5. Bring to a low boil, then stir slowly for 3 more minutes.
  6. Take the pan off the heat, and stir in the vanilla extract.
  7. Leave the mixture to cool. It will thicken and separate, but don’t worry. You can recombine the ingredients by whisking the mixture with a fork.

For the butter beer

  • 600ml apple cider
  • 300ml ginger beer
  • 150ml cream sherry (doesn’t sound vegan, but there are varieties available)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 star anise
  • 6 cloves

For the ‘foam' on top:

  • 100ml vegan double cream


  1. Pour the apple cider, ginger beer and cream sherry into a saucepan and stir well.
  2. Add the cinnamon sticks, star anise and cloves.
  3. Turn on the stove at a low heat, warming the mixture slowly. Keep an eye on the temperature of the liquid, and stir whenever bubbles start to appear. Try not to let the mixture boil.
  4. In the meantime, pour the double cream into a mixing bowl. Whisk it with an electric whisk until very soft peaks form.
  5. Pour a small amount of butterscotch sauce into a drinking glass, just enough to cover the base of the glass.
  6. Once the butterbeer is hot, remove the spices and pour into the glass.
  7. To create a beer-like head of foam, cover the top of your butterbeer with a tablespoon or two of the whipped double cream.
  8. Drizzle a little butterscotch sauce over the cream, and serve while it’s still hot.

This took some experimentation but, as my housemates will tell you, it was definitely worth it. Impress the mulled-wine-avoiding scrooges in your family this winter with a warming (and still alcoholic) alternative!

A Winter of Witchcraft

It’s like the lead-up to a bad joke: two lapsed Catholics, an agnostic and a universalist Anglican move into a small terrace in Nottingham. In this ragtag post-university household, it’s no surprise we talk about spirituality a lot. But even six months into lockdown, none of us expected the new Winter tradition we would take on in these uncertain times.

Raised under the roofs of religion, all of us have an appetite for ritual and reflection, even if most of us don’t fancy bringing God into it. This applies especially to my partner Lucy - one of the Catholics, if anyone’s keeping track. On our recent holiday to the Forest of Dean, she became fascinated with the seasonal traditions celebrated by modern-day pagans and Wiccans.

Wicca is a constructed religion based on the beliefs and festivals of ancient Celtic people. With this comes a deep respect for nature, stories of Mother and Father Earth, and the belief that performing certain rituals can produce real, tangible magic.

It’s a lot to process. But modern-day traditions are made to be messed with. Each of Lucy’s many books on contemporary witchcraft has its own spin on pagan rituals and traditions.

What resonates most with us is the Celtic calendar. Eight festivals that map the passing of the natural year. The Summer and Winter solstice, the Spring and Autumn equinox, and four other feast days that represent our relationship with nature. Each one comes with its own traditions, including seasonal foods to eat and deep questions to reflect on.

When September arrived, the nation braced itself for a second wave of lockdown. Meanwhile, we were busy preparing for Mabon, the feast of the Autumn equinox. The end of nature’s year and the start of the dark season. So, even as the sun shone weakly through the yellowing leaves, we prepared to welcome Winter into our lives, witch-style.

We invited round a couple of friends - creating a bubble of 6, for those with the Covid bingo cards - and had a delicious, warming lunch. Spicy roasted chickpeas, baked root vegetables with cauliflower cheese, the rich smells of sage leaves and pears poaching on the stove. 

Not the kookiest Sunday so far. Even our nice afternoon walk felt quite ordinary, though anyone looking closely would have noticed us collecting conkers, acorns and sycamore seeds. As the sun began to set, we sat around a makeshift altar in the garden. On it we placed our foraged findings, giving thanks to each element for the gifts we’ve been given this year.

We thanked the air (represented by the sycamore copters) for ideas and inspiration. Fire - a popcorn-scented tealight - was thanked for the joy and passion it brings us, and we poured wine into a bowl of water as thanks for our friendships. Finally we broke and ate bread to thank the earth for the physical harvest of this year’s efforts.

It was new, and a little awkward, but everyone agreed how lovely it was to spend time focusing on the good things in life as an uncertain Winter approaches. And this is just the beginning. Ahead of us lay Samhain and Yule, the Celtic ancestors of Halloween and Christmas.

But why choose this Winter to adopt our new tradition? Maybe it was a desire to slow down and pay attention to the passing of the year, rather than shutting out the outside world and wishing away our time spent in lockdown. Maybe it was desperation to have something in the calendar to look forward to.

Or perhaps it was a desire for something else that usually comes with Winter: the security of family. In these unprecedented days, nothing is certain, and nagging at the back of our minds was the possibility that we wouldn’t get to visit home this Christmas.

Before lockdown, the four of us had never cooked together. We were separate people, going about our separate lives, occasionally playing board games together or joining in the Big Tidy. But these days making dinner, exercising, washing up and even the weekly food shop are all collaborative efforts. Everyday rituals of their own, if you will. Preparing and performing our parts in this ancient, new-age festival felt like a natural extension of our happy approximation of domestic life.

So this weird constructed family of twenty-somethings will be celebrating our weird constructed traditions this Winter. On Samhain we built a fire and told stories of relatives who have passed on. For Yule, we’ll burn pine in a cauldron, reflecting on the past and thinking about the future.

Maybe we’re just pretending to worship gods and cast spells. But there is a real magic at work in this performance of witchcraft. Through this Winter, and beyond, we’ll observe the passing of the seasons openly and thoughtfully. And best of all, we’ll do it together.

If you want to get in on the fun of our witchy winter, why not try my very own butter beer recipe? It’s a magical mulled-wine alternative to warm any winter night!