I had meant to have this one over New Years for a special tasting, but my scheduling failed a bit. So here we go for a bit later in the month!
Samuel Adams Brewing was truly one of the original craft breweries. The first bottles of the now ubiquitous Boston Lager were sold in 1985 and (like their namesake) were quite revolutionary for the time. Over the years the brewery has grown exponentially and depending on who you ask is no longer called a craft brewery. I started drinking beer with Sam Adams cherry wheat as my gateway to craft beer (I can't stomach it now). What I will say about the brewery is that they continue to put out a ton of new beers in different styles. I don't love them all, but they still take risks and try new things. Founder Jim Koch is still very involved in the homebrew community as well. The brewery put out one of the first "extreme" beers back in the early 1990's with the 19% ABV Triple Bock--shocking the fledgling craft beer world at the time.
Which brings us to our featured beer: Utopias. This beer held the record for strongest beer for many years clocking in at around 28% ABV. Utopias began when the brewery started to blend together and attempt barrel aging of the previously mentioned Triple Bock and the Millenium. Currently the beer is a blend of beer and maple syrup aged in a mix of bourbon, port, Scotch, and cognac barrels. Some of the barrels used are up to 19 years old according the web site! Utopias comes out in very limited batches every 2 years and is one of the most expensive beers out there--usually going for over $200 a bottle. The resulting precious concoction is very strong and uncarbonated, served from a beautiful ceramic vessel shaped like a copper brewing kettle.
It took me years to get a taste of this elusive beer. The first time was in 2012, when a sweet little elf left a bottle under the Christmas tree for me. This was a special off-year bottling that marked the 10 year anniversary of the beer. I'll be writing that one up later this year! I then got to partake of a bottle of Moonlight Meadery's Utopian--a strong honey wine aged in used Utopias barrels--that was also stellar. I was once again shocked to find a new vintage waiting for me under the tree in 2013. I have a wonderful wife by the way... This vintage was the first to include some of the sour beer mother (Kosmic Mother Funk) that Samuel Adams has been using in their large bottle Belgian and sour program. We had the good fortune to run into a group of the brewery's barrel room staff at a small pub in Belgium a few years ago and they told us a bunch about this process while sipping amazing Belgian lambic beers. Since then they have actually released a special KMF Grand Cru of just that beer--I still need to try it!
As usual for this Whale A Week tasting I invited over some knowledgeable friends to help out. Our cast of characters was:
Me (Eric Wentling)--BJCP National ranked beer judge, homebrewer for over 20 years.
Kevin Meintsma--Also a beer judge, award winning homebrewer (in fact he got to brew a beer with Mike Hoops at Town Hall this past year!)
Dan Beaubien--Craft beer geek, fellow beer blogger for Beerploma.
Sarajo Wentling--My wife who gets to try all the beers, especially when she buys them for me...
Samuel Adams Utopias 2013
Eric: Port wine, cream sherry, cherry. Alcohol is strong--like a fortified wine. Fresh plums. Sweet and malty. Vanilla and toasted oak. Candied orange rind. Bourbon.
Kevin: SHERRY! Moderately high vanilla. Faint oak. Light aroma of dark ripe cherry. Vanishing clove. Moderately boozy.
Dan: Barrel. Dark fruit. Vanilla. Whiskey. Maple syrup. Molasses--burnt sugar.
Eric: Deep amber to almost ruby red color. No head at all and no carbonation. Thick legs cascade down across the glass edge. Very clear.
Kevin: No head. Completely flat. Very clear. Dark amber.
Dan: Dark brandyish in color.
Eric: Complex as any beer I've tried. Initial hit of sweet sugar and dessert wine fades to a tart but sweet marmalade flavor. Sherry is strong. Alcohol warming in chest and nasal passages. Malt sugars, grape, aged cognac. A bit of sharpness. Finish is off-sweet and hot. Raisins as it warms. No hop flavors. Thick on tongue, alcohol cuts the mouthfeel though at the end.
Kevin: Very hot alcohol. Burns the front palate--similar to a whiskey in character but highly oxidized with sherry notes. Very strong wine character. No hops. Light tartness--slightly sour. Moderate oak, raisins and figs in the lingering finish. Mouthfeel is slick and coating. Huge alcohol. Despite thickness, mouthfeel is thin--possibly due to barrel aging. Alcohol leaves the palate tingling.
Dan: Warming. Port wine. Dates, plums, dark cherry. Sherry-like.
Eric: Fairly complex. Somewhere between an expensive dessert wine and a bourbon or cognac. A very cool experience for one as jaded as myself! Having had the 2012 version I like that one more though. The sour Kosmik Mother Funk is notable in this vintage. 4.75
Kevin: This is not a beer. It's a sherry. Fairly complex, dried fruit. Hot boozy flavor and aroma. Vanilla and wood. Very drinkable in small amounts. 3.75
Dan: A lot smoother than one would think given the heat in the aroma. 4.75
Sarajo: Makes my chest feel warm. 4.5
Overall Score: 4.44 (Because Kevin is a hater...)
I'm looking forward to writing up the 2012 version, and would love to try the newest 2015 batch as well...