Sam Adams Utopias isn’t really a beer…it’s an experience.
Offered in extraordinarily limited quantities once every two years (there were only 53 barrels produced for this year’s version), Utopias is considered to be one of the tougher beers out there to get your hands on, and for good reason, taking into account the intensely laborious, time-consuming process Boston Beer Co.’s brewers take to produce this innovative brew. In its fifth release, Utopias has traditionally contended with such beers as Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA as the most alcoholic beer on planet earth*, coming in at a mere 27% ABV. But the strength of the beer, while certainly unique and more reminiscent to what you’d find in a fine liquer, is not all that sets it apart in my mind.
To brew this one-of-a-kind beer (and yes, it technically is a beer), they use a blend of two-row, caramel and Munich malts with a healthy dose of maple syrup to help kick up the gravity, likely to uncharted levels that would make your average hydrometer hide in fear. To balance the insane levels of malt, they hop with several Noble varieties including Spalt Spalter, Hallertau Mittelfrueh, and Tettnang Tettnanger to add a bit of spice to the concoction. For such a potently sweet wort, they use a number of high gravity yeasts to ferment, including Champagne yeast, and much like a fine distiller, they also blend a number of batches to come up with the finished product, some of which have aged up to 16 years in various casks including brandy, sherry, cognac, bourbon and muscatel. In short, Sam Adams Utopias is to American brewing what Cantillon Blåbær and other rare lambics are to the Belgian brewing tradition with all of the patience and care involved in developing it.
Liquid aside, the bottle holding the beer is something to behold in and of itself, like a piece of art. Designed by a noted Brazilian glassware manufacturer, the container is a miniaturized copper brewing kettle with advent-like sliding doors that reveal a picture of the brewer/patriot himself, Sam Adams.
Utopias poured into a snifter (my special commemorative Riedel glass is on order!) with no perceptible carbonation. Awe-inspiring amber coloring, like staring at a beautifully crafted stained glass window in its magnetism. The beer had legs for miles that slowly sank down the sides of the glass when swirled, like a nice wine or single-malt scotch. Piercing notes of raisin, plum, honey, vanilla, and caramel in the nose mixed with a stinging wave of alcohol. Taste is immediately sweet, with an unparalleled symphony of caramel, honey and oak. The alcohol burn in the finish is really no burn at all, but rather a soft blanket of warmth gently coating the tongue. Surprisingly light mouthfeel, truly masterful in its complexity, and easy to see how the prestigious Wine Enthusiast Magazine gave Utopias its highest possible rating of 96-100 points several years ago.
It’s difficult to compare this to anything, considering the beer doesn’t really have a stylistic equal. But if you’re looking for a warming, after dinner drink that resembles something like a sherry or cognac, Utopias is your choice.
* Scottish brewer BrewDog has recently laid claim to the strongest beer in the world title with their forthcoming Tactical Nuclear Penguin. Looks like Jim Koch may have to up the ante with Utopias 2011.