There are certain beers within the beer geek community that get our hearts aflutter and motivate us to camp out in advance of their release, as if we were Duke students who would do anything to get tickets for the UNC game at Cameron Indoor. They are institutions such as The Dark Lord, Sexual Chocolate, Pliny the Elder.
Among this inner circle of beer is the granddaddy of them all, Sam Adams Utopias. (I can only hope to someday brew a beer that inspires a video like this.) It is a pioneer into the upper 20s of ABV, before the BrewDog/Schorschbräu ABV arms race started debates as to where beer ends and liquor begins.
At 27% ABV and over $100 per bottle, this beer has become as much myth as legend. Having given up all hope of tasting such an elusive nectar, my friend Jake Grove, a writer for the Upstate Be in Anderson, sent me a text message a couple months ago: “you want to try sam adams utopias?” Uh, yeah…
After months of wrangling schedules, we finally got together last night at the Velo Fellow to crack this baby open and take it for a spin. Or should I say, get taken for a spin?
First off, the packaging is flat out seductive. It’s a bottle that looks like a copper brew kettle, complete with a sliding window that reveals an etching of Samuel Adams himself. It’s beer porn. It should be illegal. (Well, in some states I’m sure it is…)
Interesting fact I did not know until last night: Utopias is not conditioned like beer usually is. It’s uncarbonated and meant to be served at room temperature. Makes sense, since there’s no way you’d want to drink all that in one setting. Unless, of course, your typical autumn Friday night consists of a backyard bonfire started with $20 bills for kindling.
The color of the beer is such a rich, ruby mahogany. I’d paint my study with it. When you get within a foot of the glass, the first thing that hits your senses is alcohol. I’d recommend it for clearing up allergies and sinus infections. It is hot.
Once you get past the vapors, the aroma really opens up and gives a hint of the complexity of the brew. Vanilla, brandy, maple syrup and spice cake all intermingle at different times throughout the experience.
The initial flavor is uber-sweet and it has a mouthfeel of brandy. However, it’s much smoother than the aroma would indicate. Not much burn going down, but I would only take a sip at a time. There’s an abundance of dark fruit: figs, raisins, prunes. The malt flavor is intense with toffee and caramel. This is easily one of the most complex beers I’ve ever tasted. The flavors and aromas just kept evolving as we went.
While the Velo Fellow provided a fitting backdrop of an old-world pub, I feel like Utopias is best enjoyed in a plush leather chair facing a roaring fire in a stone hearth with deer prancing in a snow-filled meadow outside of a massive bay window amid the Canadian Rockies on the horizon.
(Un)fortunately, Nicole was called away on business and wasn’t able to partake of the initial tasting. I’m hoping that means we’ll get a call to Anderson so she can try it before the Groves finish it. After all, a beer this complex needs much futher study, I am all about education.