I thought I was lucky back in 2009 when The Boston Beer Company sent a sample-sized bottle of the remarkable but ruinously expensive Samuel Adams Utopias. But in drumming up pub for the 2011 release, the company outdid itself and sent a full 24-ounce decanter, along with a fine Riedel glass custom made for the most extreme beer offered by the company that coined the term "extreme beer."
Utopias, once the Guinness Book of World Records-recognized strongest commercially available beer in the world, is an incredibly rich and strong beer created with hardy Champagne and ale yeasts, a blend of malts and Noble hops, and aged in sherry, Madeira, bourbon and port casks. The finished product, like 2009's batch, is a 27-percent ABV, uncarbonated, tawny-red beverage meant to be served in 2-ounce servings in a snifter glass at room temperature.
The sample decanter from a couple years ago was small enough that I didn't feel bad keeping most of it for myself. But a full bottle called for a party. Or whatever you call it when a handful of food, beer, music and infrastructure nerds sit around a conference table to stare, swirl, sniff and sip at a beer as if it were a fine cognac.
After the jump, thoughts on Utopias from the Dallas Observer's Robert Wilonsky, Patrick Williams, Daniel Hopkins, Patrick Michels, Nick Rallo and IT guy and "We Forgot The Dry Cleaning" cameraman Eric Garcia, former Taco Trailblazer José Ralat Maldonado, Dallas Craft Beer Examiner and Beer Across Texas co-author Paul Hightower and Plano Craft Beer Examiner blogger Brian Brown. To put it mildly, the opinions were mixed.
Williams: I need a Coors Light to wash that taste out of my mouth.
Wilonsky: The more I drink, the less I like it. I'm a bourbon drinker and a beer drinker, but I don't like the idea of them together.
Hopkins: It's lighter than last time. It's almost a cognac-like thing.
Ralat: I get more port than cognac.
Rallo: If I reduced it on my stove, I could pour it over pancakes.
Brown: It's good. I keep trying to get all the flavors [mentioned in the accompanying press release], but there's so much maple syrup. I definitely get wood, I definitely get vanilla. It's mostly malty, but supposedly there are hops in there. I had some of the older ones, and this is definitely smoother. Now I'm getting some charred oak, that inside-the-barrel taste.
Garcia: It's pretty good. I wouldn't have guessed it was beer.
Hightower: It's a lot different than the Utopias I had previously, though it's been at least five years. This is a lot fruitier, dark fruit like raisins and plums. What I had earlier was almost whiskey-like, rougher and more alcohol heat. The previous one I would compare to whiskey. This one is almost a doppel bock.
Michels: It's not as sweet as I expected. But yeah, there is a lot of maple syrup.
Ralat: It's like a dessert wine. It's definitely good, but not what I expected. I expected more of a whiskey punch, something that hits you over the head with whiskey notes.
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Hightower (after the table speculates on how it would age after opening the bottle): I'm thinking a little oxidation might even improve it, give it a little old-ale quality.
As for myself, I definitely got a lot of maple syrup flavor from it too, along with vanilla, dark fruits like prunes, raisins and plums and sensual port notes in the incredibly complex nose. The 2009 batch was strengthened by multiple additions of maple syrup as a fermentable sugar. This year's label and press material make no mention of such an addition, but I'm sure it must have been similarly used, as maple is a big part of the flavor once again. The earthy and herbal Spalt Spalter, Hallertau Mittelfrueh and Tettnang Tettnanger sort of gradually make themselves known in the long-lingering aftertaste, though the Caramel and Munich malts are the biggest component to the taste. But the barrel-aging also clearly had a big affect, too, as distinct notes of cognac, sherry, bourbon and port are all there.
The beer has a suggested retail price of $150, but fat chance you'll find it at that ticket, if you can find it at all. The Sigel's chain had 18 bottles locally a couple weeks back, and all were claimed within hours of announcing their sale (at $179.99 each) in an email newsletter. A Samuel Adams spokesperson said Goody Goody, Centennial and Kindred Spirits also received bottles and that the Meddlesome Moth was serving it at the bar, but call to check if there's any left before heading anywhere.
So is it worth it? Ralat said he'd definitely buy it if he had that kind of money. Hightower and Brown both said they wouldn't spring for it on their own. Brown bought some a few years ago when it was around $120 a bottle, but now that it's hard to find for under $200 wouldn't go for it. I have the same conclusion I did in 2009: Only if you're splitting the cost with friends. Sitting at home and sipping one of the world's most expensive beers has little appeal for me, no matter how good it is. And it is very, very good. But if a few friends pitched in $20 or $25 apiece to share it along with a few other great beers? That, minus the conference table, would be my kind of party.