Perhaps the most sought-after beer in the Samuel Adams lineup (or, wait, is it really Old Fezziwig? Yes, but I digress...) is the uniquely fashioned and extremely high-alcohol-content beer called Utopia.
This semi-annual offering — this is the ninth batch they've brewed since 2002 — offers a select few beer geeks across the country with the opportunity to throw down some serious cash to drink what in essence is a fortified barrel-aged maple syrup ale. The suggested retail price is $199 per bottle, though price varies by market — and the invisible hand.
What makes this beer truly unique is the complexity and history behind it — and quite literally in it.
Utopias are blended with previous vintages going as far back as 1992. It is then finished in the Barrel Room at the Samuel Adams Boston Brewery in Cognac, Armagnac, ruby port, sweet Madeira, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, and White Carcavelos wine barrels. With this wine-like character, the beer is left uncarbonated.
“Sam Adams Utopia is the lunatic fringe of extreme beer," says founder and brewer Jim Koch. "The recipe stretches the limits of the brewing process, flavor complexity, and, as a byproduct, alcohol content. While barrel-aging is now a mainstay of a thriving craft-beer community, we have been experimenting with barrel-aging for nearly 25 years, and this year’s batch is made from a library of barrels, some of which go as far back as 1992. This is an other-worldly beer that’s just as radical today as it was in 1992, and I am excited for drinkers to sip and savor it.”
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The brewery believes that it is best enjoyed as a two-ounce pour in a snifter glass at room temperature. The flavors supposedly range from fruit like cherry and raisin to chocolate, leather, and oak.
For Sam Adams employees, they're lucky to get the first in the limited run of numbered bottles. Since Utopia was first released, each bottle number corresponds to when each employee was hired, making Koch number one and brewer Dean Gianocostas number two. For everyone else, we have to seek out bottles in select specialty beer and liquor stores, with fewer than approximately 10,000 bottles of the beer in circulation. That means your chances of finding a bottle are small but doable.
I personally have seen a vintage bottle out in the wild at a local establishment, though I'm not going to tell you where. Part of the joy of a rare, "white whale" beer is in the finding. So, if you're interested, call around and make some friends.
Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger who focuses on Florida beers and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow him @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.