One of the more interesting entertainments available at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the opportunity to consume such edibles (for a fee, of course) as Chocolate Frogs and Every Flavor Beans. Best of all, I could imbibe a butterbeer or pumpkin juice at the Three Broomsticks (named, of course, after a favorite haunt of characters in the books), one of the park’s restaurants. As explained by Chef Steven Jayson, corporate executive chef for Universal, the butterbeer recipe (and others) “brings to life” the descriptions of the fictional cocktail enjoyed by Harry Potter and his peers in J.K. Rowling's books. According to video reports (of which a number are available on YouTube), Jayson has offered up something reminiscent of crème soda and butterscotch. Jayson tells us that the recipe and other recipes were approved by Rowling in a tasting. (To see and hear Jayson discuss the creation of the recipe, watch the attached video from 1:36 forward.)
As a foodie, I have no problem considering the creation of a recipe to be a kind of narrative, so it seems easy enough to label the butterbeer phenomenon a variant of transmedial storytelling. No doubt many readers of the Harry Potter books have imagined to themselves how butter beer might taste, just as they might have imagined themselves playing Quidditch or riding a hippogryph. Such an experience of butter beer is common yet completely subjective, invoked by descriptive language and a reader’s embodied imagination. By contrast, the butterbeer offered at the WWOHP is storytelling that I pour down my gullet. The expressed goal of Jayson and his team was to create something “authentic,” even if based upon an imaginary flavor. It doesn’t seem possible that such a thing as authentic butterbeer could exist, especially because food and eating are facets of human behavior that exist at the crossroads of culture, experience, and libido. Add to them the affective features of narrative investment, and I have to wonder what sort of recipe could meet fan/audience expectations. Of course, Jayson and Universal have access to magic, the kind can cause fans and consumers to down the butter beer concoction and pronounce it to taste exactly how they thought it would. A part of this must be the magic of the kitchen; I am sure that Chef Jayson is a wizard in his own right.
In truth, I don’t think that Jayson’s potions are some sort of dark art (unless you are diabetic). It never takes long for audiences/consumers to start working their own spells, modifying or even countering corporate efforts to mete out a transmedia experience. In fact, transformative versions of butterbeer can be found on YouTube alongside the records of fans trying the corporate recipe and the official, promotional vids. Just as fans of a story can manifest fictions, vids or artwork on their own time and in their own way, people are beginning to produce their own butter beer concoctions – varied to suit their own tastes, of course.