Friday, March 02, 2007

Sam Adams Utopias

I've actually been drinking from this bottle for over a year now, but now it's about ready to run dry and I want to save my impressions of this ground breaking beer for posterity.

Style - Extreme American Strong Ale (why not)
OG - 48º Plato (≈1.275)
ABV – 25.0%
Malts -Two Row Pale, Caramel 60º, Munich, 2 Row Moravian, Bavarian smoked malt
Hops - Spalt-Spalter, Tettnang Hallertauer, Hallertau Mittlefruh, Czech Saaz
Serving Type - 750ml copper plated porcelain bottle in the shape of an old brew kettle

For those that don't already know, this beer is listed in the Guinness Book of Records for being the "The Strongest Commercially Available Beer". It could probably make it as the most expensive beer as well, but with a 50 proof beer by my side I can afford to go without heat for a couple of months. Especially since this bottle is one of only 8,000 brewed.

From a general beer culture standpoint, this elixir pushes the concept of what a beer is. Even though made with the ingredients of beer (water, hops, barley and yeast) it's non-carbonated and is more characteristic of a port. In the November 2003 edition of Wine Enthusiast Magazine Utopias received a 96 out of 100 points.

From a technical standpoint, the most interesting thing about this beer is how Jim Koch found a way to get fermentation above 20 percent. It took a sixth generation brewer over a decade of experimentation to get the alcohol levels this high. Naturally, the entire process is shrouded in secrecy, but it is know that at least two different yeast strains are used: one is a specially designed proprietary strain, another is a strain normally used in Champaign.

To add to the complexity of the whole thing, the beer is aged in oak barrels that were previously used to store whiskey, bourbon, port and cognac. This process can take anything up to 12 years. For the aught 5 edition the bourbon casks came from Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Glass – I grabbed one of LKs Cordial glasses since it’s served in 2 oz. portions.

Aroma – The first thing that hits me is the alcohol, it actually makes my nasal membranes burn a little. It smells similar to Sherry and especially Port. There are definite notes of raisin, plum, maple syrup and brown sugar. I don’t know if something can actually smell “syrupy”, but that’s how I would describe this.

Appearance – It is a dark brown, similar to a dark amber beer, but instead of ruby highlights this has more golden brown highlights. It’s not carbonated (never was) so there is no crown or laces, but leave “fingers” on the side of the glass similar to wine.

Flavor – I’ve always described Lagunitas’ Brown Shugga as being like drinking liquefied brown sugar, and the initial taste of this is similar. This beer however is immensely more complex. For one thing the alcohol is very much present at every point in my mouth as is the sweetness. On the front of my tongue I get a lot of Sherry flavor. That transitions into raison and plume over the middle part. Port and a little cheery seem to dominate the back. Strange to drink a beer without any real hop characteristics.

Mouthfeel – It feels thick and oily sliding over my tongue and finishes wet with just a slight alcohol burning in the back of my throat.

Final Thoughts – I do remember that there was virtually no Sherry-ness to this beer when I first tired it. Apparently the beer became oxidized over time imparting this aspect. Normally, this would be considered a bad thing, but in this case I really like it and thing it adds another layer to an already complex beer. I have heard this beer described as a gimmick beer, and maybe in some ways it is. However, unlike other gimmick beers this one is truly brilliant and expands the universe of beer. What ever it is, this is one of my all-time favorites. The art world has Da Vinci's "Madonna of the Rocks", architecture has the Parthenon, literature has Joyce's Ulysses and beer has Utopias.


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