We tried the $210 beer that's banned in 15 states, and the polarising drink was like nothing we'd ever tasted before

Irene Jiang / Business InsiderUtopias is no ordinary beer.
  • Sam Adams sells a $US210 beer that’s banned in 15 states: the barrel-aged Utopias.
  • Utopias has an ABV of 28% and is made using a time-intensive brewing process that combines aged extreme beers in wooden port, Cognac, and Madeira barrels.
  • We tasted Utopias, and we were starkly divided into two camps: love and hate. But we all agreed that Utopias tasted like nothing we’d had before.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

It’s that special time of year again: when Sam Adams releases Utopias, its barrel-aged beer that’s banned in 15 states.

Utopias is no ordinary beer. This year, only 77 wooden casks were brewed and a single bottle has a suggested retail price of $US210, according to a press release. That’s because brewing Utopias is a time and labour-intensive process that takes several years.

The non-carbonated beer is made by blending extreme beers from Sam Adams’ more than 25-year catalogue. The extreme beers, which have been ageing in wooden bourbon casks, are combined in Aquavid, Carcavelos, and ruby port barrels, then brewers add their own special touches unique to each year. This year’s Utopias was finished in Cognac and Madeira barrels and blended with a small amount of tart Kosmic Mother Funk wild ale.

The result is a beer that has the highest natural alcohol content – 28% – of any beer. That alcohol content makes it illegal to sell in 15 states. And even though Utopias is “reminiscent of a rich vintage Port or fine Sherry,” according to the company, it’s still technically a beer.

In true holiday spirit, we gathered around the conference table and poured out a few glasses of Utopias. But even though we thought we knew what was coming, none of us were truly prepared.


Utopias comes in a 25.4-ounce ceramic decanter that’s shaped like a Sam Adams’ copper brewing kettle. We thought it looked extremely steampunk.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The bottle has several surprises, like this secret sliding panel that revealed…

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

…a portrait of the Sam Adams beer mascot, who is supposedly Sam Adams even though he doesn’t quite resemble the historical figure.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

We twisted off the top, expecting access to the golden liquid inside.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Instead, we found a beer cap. How on-brand. We hadn’t expected to need a bottle opener, so someone ran and fetched one.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The company recommends drinking Utopias “in small-bowled Cognac or snifter glasses at room temperature in one-ounce pours.” We had snifter-like shot glasses instead. Close enough.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

We didn’t know what an ounce looked like. Was this an ounce? It certainly was… some amount of liquid.

Play GIFIrene Jiang / Business Insider

After we eyeballed the liquid gold into our shot glasses, the Utopias was ready for its close-up.

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Each tester grabbed their glass and started observing.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

When swished gently in the glass, the Utopias formed whiskey-like tears. It had the texture and viscosity of liquor, not beer.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Nose-test reactions were mixed. One tester said the beer smelled like a weaker brandy or a port.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Another tester described it as a “stinkier whiskey.” But whether they liked or disliked the smell, everyone agreed that it was very pungent.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Down the hatch…

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Some testers loved it. They described it as “warming and perfect for fall,” much like a whiskey or cognac. But since it’s less alcoholic than most spirits, Utopias is not as astringent.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

It tasted like a port with a whiskey-like bite and an aftertaste of beer: wheaty and sweet, but not too sweet.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

It was hearty for liquor and extremely rich for beer. There was a deep caramel flavour with fruity notes and a sour, light aftertaste. One tester tasted dried figs.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

However, other testers were much less enthusiastic about the beer. Predictably, those who didn’t like the smell also didn’t like the taste. They found it syrupy and disliked the strong beer aftertaste.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

One tester said the beer tasted “like a poorly mixed flavored dark liquor of some sort.”

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Reactions were strong all around — testers either loved it or hated it. Even the haters had to admit there was a strange allure, asking the next day for another glass. For anyone interested in purchasing a bottle, it’d be prudent to first sample a glass at a bar serving Utopias before making the $US210 commitment.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

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