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Samuel Adams Debuts Utopias 2009

It’s proven time and time again—in life, you get what you pay for. As with most high quality, laboriously produced consumables, craft beer is costlier than mass-produced mainstream ales and lagers. Over time, enthusiasts have come to accept an elevated pricing format and have proven willing to pay moreforflavor and complexity. With this level of acceptance comes an increased set of expectations, especially for beers at the higher end of the price spectrum.

Samuel Adams' Utopias beer.

Courtesy photo

Across the board, beer is still the world’s most affordable category of alcoholic beverage, and even the most expensive varietals can be procured for $50 or less. So, one can imagine the high hopes (and justifiable skepticism) evoked by Samuel Adams’ Utopias, a brew sporting a $150 per bottle price tag (keep in mind that this is merely the MSRP for a beer that can—and does—fetch far more on the open market).

Regarded as the most profound of the world’s “extreme beers”—an elite division of experimental brews that push the envelope of everything beer can be via high alcohol content and unique flavor profiles—Utopias is produced every two years in very limited quantities. To mark the release of Utopias 2009, The Boston Beer Company (producer of the Samuel Adams line of beers) set out on a tour with stops at nine of the country’s biggest, most beer-focused cities.

Not surprisingly, San Diego made the list, and recently,head brewer Bert Boyce unveiled the latest permutation of this rare creation courtesy of a beer-paired multi-course feast at North Park’s Urban Solace, one of the most prominent restaurants on 30th Street, an arterial known throughout the country for its array of craft brew-friendly bars and eateries. While snifters of Utopias were passed to patrons, Boyce took time to share the process used to produce the beer, explaining that it’s, “a tough, difficult beer to make.”

The beer’s unique recipe includes a number of different proprietary yeast strains and a specially selected grade of maple syrup. Just as much of an ingredient, thanks to the trademark flavors that they infuse into the brew, are the vast array of barrels—sherry, port, muscatel, scotch, bourbon—in which the beer is aged.

Boyce cited fermentation as being the most challenging part of the overall brewing process and the biennial barrel-tasting session as being the most fun. For the latter, Boyce and his colleagues sample and select their favorite varieties from different years and different barrels in the brewery’s extensive collection, looking for those that will both balance and compliment each other when blended.

Utopias was first produced in 2002 and each batch produced since has been a bit different. This year’s end product exhibits strong cognac and port wine characteristics and subtle nutmeg and currant undertones that are easy to pick up against a pronounced but not overpowering vanilla sweetness. Because this brew is not carbonated, it exhibits a texture most comparable to Grand Marnier and smoothness that belies its hefty and similarly un-beer-like 27 percent alcohol by volume content (hence the suggested serving size of two ounces).

Another fringe benefit derived from the absence of carbonation is that, unlike traditional beer, Utopias does not need to be consumed in one sitting. In fact, Boyce predicts that it will last well beyond a decade. These factors, in tandem with the beer’s exceptional taste and quality, certainly help quell any accompanying sticker shock.

The most likely spot for San Diegans to find Utopias for sale are any of the county’s numerous BevMo locations. Happy hunting.