Samuel Adams' 2012 Utopias Is Great or Awful, Depending on Whom You Ask
You're doing it wrong, Goody Goody.
The Boston Beer Co. has released its 10th anniversary batch of Samuel Adams Utopias, and it's starting to turn up on shelves around town. I spotted some in the cooler at Goody Goody on Oak Lawn Avenue and had a private little beer-nerd laugh -- clearly, the staff there is uninitiated.
Utopias is an extremely potent, rich and complex beer meant to be served in 2-ounce pours and sipped at room temperature as if it were port or cognac. This year's batch is an unprecedented 29 percent ABV, and 750-mL bottles have a suggested price of $160. I doubt you'll even find a bottle that cheap -- Goody Goody had it marked at $199.99.
One could make the case that this is the world's strongest true beer. Other beers have surpassed that level, and Scotland's Brewmeister just rolled out a 65-percent (that's 130 proof) thing they call Armageddon. As far as I know, every other beer that reaches such levels is ice-distilled, meaning the beer is frozen and ice is removed, leaving behind a stronger concentration of alcohol. And, at least in the case of Brewdog's Tactical Nuclear Penguin and Sink the Bismarck!, two previous world's-strongest contenders, they also pretty much taste like ass.
Utopias is brewed with malted barley, hops, water and yeast and naturally fermented. The high alcohol level is achieved over a long fermenting period with the use of very hardy yeast strains including a Champagne yeast, and adding lots of fermentable sugars -- maple syrup in years past, and judging by the taste, this year as well. This year, Utopias is a blend of beers going back as far as 19 years, including barrel-aged Triple Bock from Samuel Adams' original record-breaking 1994 batch (a now-quaint 17.5 percent ABV), and aged in casks that previously held bourbon, rum, tawny port and ruby port.
It's sticky and syrupy and very sweet and pretty hot, but once I got accustomed to it I started to appreciate the very rich bock-like maltiness. The maple syrup taste was especially noticeable. It even stuck to my fingers and face, making everything seem to smell like maple syrup as though I were a little kid who just ate a plate of pancakes. Side-by-side with some leftover 2011 Utopias, it's clear the aged bottle has really mellowed out. Last year's seems a bit drier and more bitter, a bit tannic but smoother. The newer version has more dark-fruit sweetness. I think it's very good, and it grew on me more and more with each sip. Previously I've said it tastes like something of a cross between a strong bock or barleywine and a maple-syrup liqueur, and still feel the same way. I still wouldn't buy a whole bottle for myself, but would be willing to pitch in $20 or $30 to share with friends.
Audra Schroeder: It's definitely a sipper. It has a kind of nutty, whiskey aftertaste. I probably wouldn't buy it even for $30 -- definitely not full price.
Eric Nicholson: It's good. Probably the warmness of it is what reminds me of sake. It's fruity, powerful. I would buy it if I made five times as much as I do.
Scott Reitz: I think it's more suited for incorporation into a vinaigrette dressing than drinking. I want to reduce it and drizzle it over figs and goat cheese. Buy it? No.
Nick Rallo: I really want to pour it over Belgian waffles. [His tastes are clearly maturing -- last year it was pancakes.] I feel like it's richer and more raisiny. It's amazing how much it doesn't smell like beer. I would buy it to give to family members to show how good I'm doing.
Tracie Louck: I agree, it's figgy and raisiny. It's kind of overpowering. I don't know that I would drink that. The second or third drink, I made a face. No, I wouldn't buy it.
Joe Tone: It tastes like ... the fuck does it taste like? Maple-y. I definitely do not like it. It's super sweet, then it smacks you in the face. It's intense. I feel like my face is sticky from eating French toast.
Myranda Sauters: It's really strong. It tastes like whiskey. Thick, maple-y, syrupy. I probably wouldn't buy it, but I would sip on it if somebody gave it to me.
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