Today we’ll be talking about one of the most unique, but legendary beers available. That beer is Utiopias by Samuel Adams Boston Brewing company.
So what’s so special about Utopias? As Sam Adams’ website describes it, “It’s an extreme barrel aged beer that pushes the limits of barrel aging.” It comes in a bottle that looks like, if you rubbed it, a genie would come out. It’s 28 percent alcohol. It costs around $240 a bottle. And that’s assuming you can find one. Most people might come across a bottle here and there. Even fewer people buy it. To be offered a taste is a cherished opportunity.
One night last year, I got to do a vertical flight of five. Yes, FIVE different vintages of Samuel Adams Utopias. Courtesy of Aaron, an avid beer collector in Maryland who follows me on social media. Here’s how it happened:
While perusing a local liquor store, I happened to notice a bottle of Utopias, tucked in the back of a locked cabinet among thousand dollar bottles of Remi Martin cognacs. This bottle, dust and all, had a 1-year-old, yellowed price tag of $235, which was still well beyond what I wanted to spend. But I snapped a photo and posted it to Frank About Beer’s Facebook page with the caption, “You buy it, let me try some, and we’ll be legends of the interwebs.”
Honestly, I did it as a goof. There was no way anyone would be into this crazy idea, right? But 21 minutes later, there was a private message from Aaron, who was ready to PayPal me some money to go buy it and hold onto it. Which is exactly what I did the next day.
Let’s start with describing the bottle. When you buy a bottle of Utopias, it comes in a CERAMIC, bluish gold bottle that’s 25.4 ounces, so you’ll at least get more than a pint out of it. And that’s okay because, at 28 percent ABV, and 9 dollars and ounce, you’ll want it in small amounts. It’s oddly shaped, starting at the bottom that’s about 9 inches in diameter, and it quickly tapers up to a vertical spout with a chunky, screw-on lid. On the side is a small, metal sliding door about and inch and a half square that slides into the bottle to the right, revealing a portrait of Samuel Adams himself. The bottle comes in a heavy, cardboard box, so the gold and blue bottle makes quite a dramatic entrance when it’s first revealed. Interestingly enough, under the chunky, screw on lid on top, there’s a crimped-on, metal cap, much like you’d find on a normal bottle of Samuel Adams beer.
Each bottle is numbered on the bottom, and there are roughly 14,000 produced for each release. According Aaron, if you go to their website, you can enter the number and they will send you a special tasting glass for that year.
Utopias isn’t a common beer. It’s actually released every two years, with the first batch appearing in 2002. However, the beer’s origins go back much further. In 1992, Samuel Adams’ founder, Jim Koch created a triple bock style beer, which sent the then-fledgling craft beer industry reeling due to the beer’s massive 18% alcohol content. By comparison, most other bock style beer are under 6%.
Since then, every batch of Utopias has contained a small amount of some of that original triple bock from 92, as well as traces of every previous batch of Utopias. So when you’re drinking a bottle of 2019 Utopias, you’re enjoying beer that is 28 years old. Additionally, Utopias is aged in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels for years, and fed with a unique, wild yeast that is bred to continue fermenting the beer even in such harsh conditions as 28% alcohol. It is then transferred to port wine barrels in most cases. They have also recently started trying it in cognac and madeira wine barrels for a different flavor. Oh, and there’s Vermont maple syrup in the mix, too.
The thing is, with all this blending, aging, and special yeast in the fermentation stage, you don’t so much end up with a beer as something that more resembles a liqueur, even before the barrel aging. So how does it taste? Well, let’s get started with the most recent, 2019.
It’s a thick, heavy-bodied, dark, reddish-brown color that’s quite clear. There is no carbonation, so it simply slides from the bottle into your tasting glass. The aroma is strong with raisin, vanilla, and hints of that cognac and wine barrel aging. The taste is sweet, chocolatey, with notes of dark fruit like raisins and prunes. You get some mild bourbon, and a touch of maple syrup. You actually find yourself chewing this and swishing it around your mouth like you would with a fine wine. As you do, it actually seems to get sweeter, but also brings out the alcohol burn.
The 2017 variant, which I had picked up and held onto for a year until the tasting, was up next. Much to my surprise, it was a hazy orange. Once again, the aroma had lots of dark fruit like raisin, but also a bit of an earthiness to it. The taste was, again, the raisin, but was much sweeter than the 2019. Like the aroma, it had a soil-like earthiness to it, but my sommelier friend I’d brought along picked up flavors of tobacco and dry red wine.
Next was my favorite, 2015. This one was a crystal clear, deep crimson red. Putting my nose into the glass nearly singed my nose hairs with a strong alcohol smell. But also that familiar raisin aroma, as well as a little bit of black pepper. The taste was raisin, but also cherries. This one was noticeably sweeter than the previous two, but was also much smoother and balanced.
Moving to 2013, the Utopias turned to a slightly hazy reddish brown. Unlike the others, the aroma on this one was nothing but cherries. The taste followed suit with a strong cherry flavor, but also chocolate and red wine. Interestingly, the alcohol burn was very strong and noticeable on this one.
Finally, we poured the 2011. While the previous ones were nice, pretty shades of reds and oranges, this one was downright ugly. It was a dark, opaque brown color that, honestly, looked really unappealing. Everything else about it, however, was really nice. The aroma is sweet caramel, with cherry and molasses. The taste was very much like port wine, molasses, chocolate, and a very slight raisin flavor. After nearly 10 years in the opened bottle, the alcohol burn was actually pretty minimal.
So what was the verdict? Well, because we’re all about being frank and honest about beer here on the show, I have to say that it really was not at all what I expected. It’s technically beer, but really tastes like no other beer you’ve had before.
Am I ready to go out and spend $235 on a bottle of it? Probably not – but after years of hearing about this legendary liquid, I am thrilled that I was able to sample not just one, but FIVE variants. If you ever get the chance to try some, do it for the experience. I can’t thank Aaron enough for offering up this amazing opportunity.