|The $200 "Beer"
by Henry Wekker
Hello Bob - I just got the greatest Christmas gift ever and wanted to
share it with you. My girlfriend gave me a bottle of Sam Adams
Utopia. I wasn't expecting it which made it even more fun. Who am I
kidding, even if I knew she had got it for me I'd be thrilled.
Not only did she give me the bottle but she actually prepared a little
talk about the beer to go with it. Which is fairly amazing for someone
who I only recently converted to craft beer. In fact I started her out
on Sam Adams lager. Say what you will about that beer but it's the
one that in my mind put craft beer on the map!
The Utopia she gave me is its latest edition. It may be new but its still
very pricey. I can only imagine her sticker shock when seeing it for
the first time. She was also a bit surprised that it's so boozy - what
else can you call a beer that boasts a 28% ABV?
Obviously Sam Adams tiled the release for the holidays which for me
was a good thing. I know there are only very limited quantities
avalliable -about 10,000 bottles- from what I've read.
I told her that on the surface, there’s nothing very “beer-ish” about
Utopias. Not only does it cost about 100 times more than your
average beer, it’s also flat as flat can be (meaning it’s non-carbonated).
All of which is fine with me if it's a gift. She, and I, loved the And let’s
packaging. She expected a glass bottle but was pleasantly surprised
to see that Utopias comes in a unique ceramic container that
resembles a brew kettle. Interesting, because it’s technically a beer,
you can return that container for a nickel or dime in states where
such bottle-redemption laws apply. What idiot would do that?
Anyway, here a a few tidbits I learned about my present. Utopias
qualifies as a brew because it meets the essential definition — it’s
made from fermented grain, but the resulting alcoholic liquid is
not distilled (that’s what separates beer from, say, Scotch).
On top of that, Utopias uses some of the same key ingredients you’ll
find in most beers — malt and hops. According to Boston Beer Co.
founder and president, Jim Koch, Utopia uses the same hops that's in
the company's Boston Lager (doesn't seem fair). What distinguishes
Utopias, however, is the aging process. The beer is a mix of several
aged beers — some going as far back as 1992. And those beers are
aged in barrels that once stored Cognac, Armagnac, port and
bourbon, among other precious liquids.
The idea is to pick up all the flavor notes from those spirits – on
top of the flavor notes from the malt and hops — and create a
sip of enormous complexity. Little wonder that Koch once famiously
described Utopias as “the lunatic fringe of extreme beer.”
The beer only gets released every two years because that's how long
it takes to finish. Over the course of the first year, the company's
small R&D brewery in Boston periodically halts all other production
to focus on Utopias. Once it hits the fermenters, brewers monitor
the beer's vitals around the clock for two weeks.
In case you're wondering what it tastes like I'll give it a shot. I got a
distinct maple taste with a body that resembles cognac. It also had
notes of leather, tobacco, caramel, nuts and toffee. Really good!
When I tell people the price was $200 they always ask is it worth it?
I can only tell you what my girlfriend said - "it was worth every penny
to see such a big smile on his face."
Don't worry, I know I have a keeper.
Bob, I hope you had a great Christmas. I surely did!
Enjoyed your article Henry I've only tasted Utopia a few times and
never actually owned a bottle. You are quite lucky to get such a gift.
Also enjoyed the tasting notes. Hope you write again.
I'd like to invite everyone to send me their own columns about anything
related to beer/drinking/booze just as Henry did. I select the best and
publish them here. So join in and get writing.
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