Jim Koch, brewer and founder of the Boston Beer Company, is set to release the latest batch of the rare Samuel Adams Utopias, a powerhouse of a beverage that challenges the definition of beer with a unique taste, undefinable style and an astonishing 27 percent alcohol by volume.
A lot of patience and care goes into each batch of Utopias, now in its sixth release. Introduced in 2002, the original Utopias was 24 percent ABV and forced critics to give further credence to the "extreme beer" category because it was not only strong, but complex and drinkable. The laborious process to create Utopias takes place entirely at the company's Boston brewery and is arguably akin to the methodology the Belgians use to create their lambics.
Koch and the other brewers at Samuel Adams start with a malt that has been sweetened with maple syrup. The sweet wort is then balanced by the noble hops Spalter, Hallertau Mittelfrüh and Tettnanger—varieties considered by brewmasters to be the only hops suitable for traditional German lager. To further balance the wort, ale yeasts are then pitched in, as well as yeast strains that are typically reserved for wine and Champagne.
The resulting liquid, Koch says, is laden with the aroma of ethanol and so must be "smoothed away" to become drinkable. To do this, the liquid is aged in an array of barrels that once contained Bourbon, Cognac, sherry, port, muscatel and brandy. The final product is then a blend of these aged liquids.
The 2011 batch of Utopias was blended using the sherry casks (from Spain and Madeira) and the port casks (from Portugal), some of which have been resting for 18 years, Koch claims.
Only 53 barrels were used in the 2011 Utopias, so it goes without saying that it will be released as a limited-edition. To properly commemorate the release, the liquid has been bottled in individually numbered, kettle-shaped ceramic containers handcrafted in Brazil. Glassmaker Riedel has also created a special glass for the occasion.
If you can manage to track down a bottle, Utopias will sell for $150 and will start shipping in May.
Appearance: Noncarbonated beer means zero head. However, the dark brown liquid, approaching cognac in color, does leave legs on the side of the glass, much like a spirit.
Smell: Heated scent of toffee, berries, vanilla and honey.
Taste: Immediate alcohol replaced by port and berry flavors. Caramel and toffee notes balance the sip and a hint of vanilla on the finish adds complexity. Spice remains on the lips, too.
Mouthfeel: Coats the tongue and palette, but remains surprisingly light.
Drinkability: Gone are the piercing alcohol notes associated with previous versions, replaced by port and fruit flavors. With the feel of a cognac on the palate, this beer, simply put, is fantastic. Sweet, complex and fruity.