The Outer Limits of Beer



Sam Adams came to visit the other day, which is always liberating. Rather, I should say it was Jim Koch, the mastermind behind Samuel Adams and the Boston Brewery. He has such zeal for brewing that it’s always exciting to talk beer with him. Which is what we did…sort of.

Jim was here to introduce us to the latest version of his Utopias. Describing Utopias as merely beer doesn’t even start to scratch the surface. This is an extreme beer that he started to work on 15 years ago, one of the main thrusts being to explore the upper limits of alcohol content. He first started with Triple Bock at 17.5 percent alcohol (35 proof) I was introduced to Utopias in 2000 at 21 percent alcohol (42 proof), now it’s up to 27 percent, or a whopping 54 proof. Just fermenting. No distilling.

When you consider that 14 percent used to be considered the limit for beer, that’s outrageous. Beer proof typically tops out there because the yeast that creates the alcohol dies out—or gets the microbe equivalent of drunk—when the alcohol level gets too high. Koch’s strategy is get what he calls “Ninja yeast” and convince them to keep fermenting. It takes years and involves much blending of casks.

But lets let Jim explain:


The flavor is interesting—cinnamon, graham cracker, maple syrup, Sherry or Port—but not something you’re likely to mistake for a cold lager. Definitely worth trying, if you have any beer geek in you at all.

Oh yeah, Jim and I had our first smoke together. And this is what he had to say.

Andrew Ryan Ireland July 30, 2009 9:48am ET
I can remember the Triple Bock when it came out (about 12 years ago I'd guess). Lovely packaging in a little cobalt blue corked bottle. Interesting stuff, it reminded me much more of sherry than beer. Is the triple bock still available anywhere, just for old-time's sake?
Jack Bettridge July 30, 2009 10:12am ET
It was only produced in three years, 1994, '95 and '97. I have heard tell of stragglers sitting on the shelf of some package store waiting for a buyer, but I've heard the same story about the Bowmore Black and never encountered that in a shop. (And what about those copies of the Declaration of Independence that keep showing up in someone's attic?). If you do find it, buy it. It certainly keeps far longer than normal beer and, some claim, improves with age. My bottle wasn't around long enough for accurate testing.
Nick Lisewych Lynnwood, WA July 31, 2009 2:02am ET
Unfortunately, the Utopias is not available in Washington State. However.....I was able to get a bottle from a friend in California last year. It was absolutely incredible, and paired well with a Padron Anniversary. (I just wish they made more of it.)
Salvador Lozano Del Rio, Texas September 21, 2009 2:03pm ET
Jack,I recently tried a beer thatI was reluctant to drink, it's called Shiner Bock, mad by K. Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas. It's a great with with lots of flavor, goes hand in hand with the Casa Magna Robusto. Try it let me know what you think.Thanks!
Salvador Lozano Del Rio, Texas September 21, 2009 2:03pm ET
Jack,I recently tried a beer thatI was reluctant to drink, it's called Shiner Bock, mad by K. Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas. It's a great with with lots of flavor, goes hand in hand with the Casa Magna Robusto. Try it let me know what you think.Thanks!
Salvador Lozano Del Rio, Texas September 21, 2009 2:03pm ET
ack, I recently tried a beer thatI was reluctant to drink, it's called Shiner Bock, mad by K. Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas. It's a great with with lots of flavor, goes hand in hand with the Casa Magna Robusto. Try it let me know what you think. Thanks!

Log in if you're already registered.

Or register for Cigar Aficionado today—it's free.


Registration allows you to:
  • Keep track of your favorite cigars in your personal humidor.
  • Comment on all our stories.

Forgot your password?



Ratings & Reviews

Search our database of more than 17,000 cigar tasting notes by score, brand, country, size, price range, year, wrapper and more, plus add your favorites to your Personal Humidor.