As the market for craft beer has continued to expand, new breweries with cutting-edge reputations have come to the fore. Many of these companies stake their claim by producing extreme ales that push the limits of how we interpret beer and its respective slate of styles. With the onslaught of the new, it’s easy to let the old guard fade into memory.
You can’t get any bigger in the world of craft beer than first-wave mainstay Boston Beer Co. and Samuel Adams. Until the 2014 craft beer designations change that allowed beers brewed with certain heritage adjuncts to be included in the list (the current chart-topper Yuengling uses corn), they were consistently the global leader in craft beer production, sales and mindshare.
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While Samuel Adams’ flagship Boston Lager continues to be produced and consumed in large quantities, it’s difficult for the hard-core nerds of the hobby to get excited about a beer that’s so easily accessible and safe, even if it is consistently high quality and a quintessential arbiter of the style. To placate those discerning fans as well as the world-class brewers that Boston Beer Co. employs, the brand is continually experimenting and producing interesting new beers like the recent canned Nitro series, the full-flavored line of Rebel IPAs and the annual LongShot American Homebrew Competition.
But perhaps no beer in Samuel Adams storied history is as important to its legacy among beer geeks as the elusive Utopias.
Produced in limited numbers and encased in a gorgeous ceramic decanter that mimics a copper brewing fermenter, this American Strong Ale clocks in at an intense 28% alcohol by volume. Utopias has a suggested retail price of around $200 per bottle however many stores apply their own upcharges that can easily take the price to $300 or beyond, especially for a cellared previous vintage. That makes Utopias one of the most expensive beers available in the US. The fact that it comes from a major brewery best known for an affordable crisp lager makes it all the more interesting.
After opening the individually packed shipping carton, the metallic-sheened bottle is removed and the weight of it is immediate and gratifying. It looks and feels like a special object, with an individual number on the bottom along with information specific to that year’s batch as the recipe changes for each edition. Every detail has been thought out and the windows on the “fermenter” actually slide open to reveal the classic mugging visage of Samuel Adams.
The cap screws off to reveal the signature Samuel Adams bottle cap clamped onto the ceramic, an unexpected surprise that gives you the opportunity to pop the cap like any other longneck.
Once the 2015 bottle is opened, the smell immediately fills your nose with a rich alcohol burn accompanied by chocolate and dark fruits and just a bit of burned toast. It pours a clean dark caramel color and effortlessly glides into the tasting glass, preferably the branded $20 taster commissioned by Boston Beer Co. just for this beer (or available as a free mail away requiring a code included with each bottle).
Served at room temperature, the beverage is still, without any carbonation, and designed for enjoying in slow sips. Utopias is crafted by brewing a very sweet wort with maple syrup and a variety of grains which are later blended with previous years’ vintages and aged in a series of scotch, bourbon, cognac and port casks. True to the American Strong Ale style, that amalgamation is a bit of a mess, but it is a delicious one.
The experience of drinking Utopias is very similar to that of drinking a top shelf liquor of the highest pedigree. It’s complex from its soy sauce-like introduction to the rolling ebb and flow of raisins and toffee with toasted notes and exotic spices leading to the satisfying, warm conclusion as it sears down your throat. It’s technically a beer, but in reality it is so much more than that simple qualification denotes.
Samuel Adams Utopias is not an easy or inexpensive beer to acquire. But for connoisseurs, it’s a keystone beer from a stalwart brewery that should be on any beer lover’s bucket list.