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.
The bottle has several surprises, like this secret sliding panel that revealed…
…a portrait of the Sam Adams beer mascot, who is supposedly Sam Adams even though he doesn’t quite resemble the historical figure.
We twisted off the top, expecting access to the golden liquid inside.
Instead, we found a beer cap. How on-brand. We hadn’t expected to need a bottle opener, so someone ran and fetched one.
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.
We didn’t know what an ounce looked like. Was this an ounce? It certainly was… some amount of liquid.
After we eyeballed the liquid gold into our shot glasses, the Utopias was ready for its close-up.
Each tester grabbed their glass and started observing.
When swished gently in the glass, the Utopias formed whiskey-like tears. It had the texture and viscosity of liquor, not beer.
Nose-test reactions were mixed. One tester said the beer smelled like a weaker brandy or a port.
Another tester described it as a “stinkier whiskey.” But whether they liked or disliked the smell, everyone agreed that it was very pungent.
Down the hatch…
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.
It tasted like a port with a whiskey-like bite and an aftertaste of beer: wheaty and sweet, but not too sweet.
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.
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.
One tester said the beer tasted “like a poorly mixed flavored dark liquor of some sort.”
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.