Written by Norman Miller for GateHouse News Service and Norwich Bulletin
Note: Utopia is NOT the strongest beer in the world. That honor varies between BrewDog’s End of History, to a German brewer, and to Brewmeister’s Armageddon. The Professor is not quite sure where the record rests right now, but certainly NOT Utopia. But it is an interesting story otherwise.-The Professor
Typically, Samuel Adams Utopias is released every other year, but it was released off schedule to celebrate the 10th anniversary of this remarkable beer.
“The 10th anniversary release of Utopias is proof that extreme beers have earned a permanent and respected place in the beer universe, a world now constantly evolving with new craft beers and excited craft beer drinkers,” said Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch.
“I’ve always had a passion for pushing the envelope of traditional brewing techniques and rewriting the rules of brewing, a passion which is evident in each batch of Samuel Adams Utopias bottled,” continued Koch. “We’re unveiling the adventure of complex and carefully time brewing and aging for this 10th Anniversary release.”
Utopias is a beer, but it is a beer like no other. The only similarities Utopias shares with average beer is its core ingredients – barley malt, hops, yeast and water.
After that, things get a little different.
The Utopias is 29 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), which is 58 proof. An average mass produced American beer is less than 5 percent ABV.
Along with an yeast, Samuel Adams also used Champagne yeast, which can survive in the higher alcohol better than a lot of beer yeast. Maple syrup is also used to provide additional fermentable sugars to help raise the alcohol.
The Utopias also contains a blend of beer aged for years in different type of barrels, including some of Samuel Adams Triple Bock, the breweries first extreme beer, which was released in 1993.
Portions of the Utopias was also aged in single-use bourbon casks from the Buffalo Trace Distillery, as well as several different port wine barrels from Portugal and rum barrels from Nicaragua.
Each barrel is supposed to add different character notes to the Utopias – the bourbon adds vanilla and maple; port adds fruit notes while the rum adds some chocolate and spiciness.
The Utopias comes in a black decanter, unlike the past Utopias’, which came in bronze decanters. It is shaped like a brew kettle.
Utopias is also not carbonated. It is not meant to be imbibed all at one sitting. Instead, it is meant to be enjoyed slowly, like a liquor. You can have one small glass and then close the bottle and save it for the future. Samuel Adams recommends it is served at room temperature in a two-ounce glass.
Because of the complexity of brewing this beer, only a limited amount of it is brewed. In all, less than 15,000 bottles of Utopias will be sold.
And despite the high costs (stores are selling it for as high as $260 a bottle), it will sell out, so if you want one, you have to get it as soon as possible.
Is it worth the price? That’s a question that you have to answer for yourself.
What I can tell you is I’ve had some of the Utopias, and I have tried the 2003, 2007, 2009 and 2011 versions, and this is the best one I have tried.
It’s boozy, to be sure but that is to be expected for such a high alcohol beer. But it is also smooth. It has a pleasant sweetness, and you can really taste the vanilla-oaky flavor notes from the various barrels. The taste of maple is present, but again, it does not overwhelm the other flavors. It tastes more like a fine liquor than a beer, but easier to drink than a liquor.
Simply put, its a phenomenal beer and a work of brewing art.
Norman Miller is a MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News staff writer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 508-626-3823. Check out the Beer Nut blog at blogs.wickedlocal.com/beernut. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/realbeernut