Yes, it sounds crazy: $150 for a bottle of beer? But this isn't just any beer. This is one of Sam Adams' Utopias, a lovingly-crafted and mega-high-proof special release elixir that definitely toes the line of what can actually be called "beer." Like you, I have had one question in my mind ever since the Utopias hit the market a few years back: Is it really worth it?
I would probably still be wondering if I hadn't been at the 2013 Beer Bloggers Conference in Boston a few weeks ago and taken a tour behind the scenes at the Boston Beer Company (aka Sam Adams Brewer). We were each handed small three-sip pours as we entered the barrel-aging room at the brewery — a room crammed with enormous wooden vats and barrels cradled in floor-to-ceiling scaffolding. Jim Koch himself waved us around a high tasting table and launched into a description of how the Utopias are made. For a beer lover, this was a completely surreal moment.
Far from being a gimmick or a marketing ploy (an easy assumption given the one-upmanship atmosphere that often permeates the craft beer world), these Utopias are the real deal. The Utopias are brewed according to a specific recipe (a blend of 2-row, Caramel, and Munich malts with noble hops for you beer geeks) and then aged for any number of years — some of them up to 20! The batches are also stored in a variety of barrels: port, bourbon, scotch, cognac, and most recently, rum. Once the brewers determine that the batches have reached their peak, they blend several together to make each year's unique Utopias blend.
I tasted their 2012 10th Anniversary Utopias — and for the record, a three-sip pour was plenty. This is an intense beverage. It's a burst of fig, date, and raisin mixed with the softest vanilla caramel you can imagine. This Utopias was finished in rum barrels, which was evident in its rounded fruity sweetness and its super smooth texture. (By comparison, I was later treated to a sip of their 2009 blend, which was delicious but I felt lacked the 2012's intensity and silky finish.)
The Utopias drinks almost like a dessert wine or a cognac, except that it is definitely not. I was surprised at how distinctly beer-like this remained even after all the barrel-aging and blending. It's original malt profile is still evident.
So is it worth it? Is a bottle of this beer worth $150? After hearing Jim Koch talk lovingly of all the work and care that go into a single bottle and then tasting it myself, I'd honestly say yes. It's not something you buy every day, or even every year, but I'd certainly go in on a bottle with some beer-loving friends and throw a party to share it. It's a beer best experienced in good company — with Jim Koch if you can possibly swing it.
Ever tried one of Sam Adams' Utopias? What do you think? Worth the hype?
(Images: Emma Christensen)