Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tonight, I had the distinct pleasure and privilege of attending a rare Sam Adams Utopias tasting.
For those of you who don't know, Utopias is a beer from the Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) that pushes the limits of what a beer is. For instance, Jim Koch (founder of Sam Adams), entered Utopias into a French cognac competition. In the blind taste-test, Sam Adams won. Jim Koch got up to accept the award...and admitted Utopias is beer, not liquor. He was nearly boo'ed off the stage. But that's how American brewers roll; we take your little drink and make it ours. We own it.

I believe the abv is in the ballpark of 27%, making the beer 54-proof. 54 proof beer. Not to be trifled with.

Some of the beer in Utopias has been aged for 13 or more years. Jim has been thinking about Utopias for a long time. What is so awesome about it is that Jim's vision is to provide an after-dinner cognac-style drink that's fermented as a beer instead of distilled like a liquor, and he wanted to provide one of the highest quality. A drink as sought-after as the best of the world's cognacs and ports. And by all means, as evidenced by his cognac award (for beer! ha!!), he has done it. Each Utopias is a new beer blended with previous batches until it achieves the exact flavor profile Koch is after.

This is a rare opportunity indeed. Nation-wide distribution of Utopias is a mere 8,000 bottles (roughly wine or cognac bottle sized). And tonight, Mrs. Smitty and I were among a mere 12 people who got to sample from 2 vintages; 2005 and 2009. The tasting was conducted at Dusty's Tap Room in Meridian Twp. (Haslett/Okemos for the yokels), and also included sampling from the Sam Adams 2007 Triple Bock.
Let's get down to business.

The 2005 Utopias was astounding. I actually lose vocabulary over how amazing this beer is. The first words that come to mind are maple syrup. Huge maple syrup aroma (though, to be fair, not a drop of actual maple syrup is used to make this beer) and taste. Big, thick, syrupy body. Not a single hint of CO2 (way too much alcohol and protein for fizz to survive!). White Oak, sherry and vanilla finish this sticky-sweet beer. This one was Mrs. Smitty's favorite.

A brief note on Mrs. Smitty: all I did at about lunch time was text-message Mrs. Smitty and tell her there were 4 spots still open at Dusty's for tonight's Utopias tasting. An hour later, I got a text back saying that she found a sitter and that I better make sure there were 2 spots still left. Mrs. Smitty wanted to go as bad as I did, and enjoyed it every bit as much, carrying-on an in-depth conversation with the Sam Adams rep about flavor profiles.
I won. The rest of you can go home.

Anyway, Utopias 2009 was a completely different beer. None of the maple syrup was present, and it was a few shades deeper amber than the 2005. This one was grainy on the nose, reminding you more than the 2005 that the 2009's progenitor is still indeed beer. Chocolate, slight coffee and a classic cognac oakiness round-out the 2009. Mrs. Smitty liked it less (and by less, she meant "I like double chocolate chip cookies less than I like double chocolate chocolate chip cookies") than the '05, and I personally liked both for completely different reasons. One is beer that tastes like a wholly different drink and the other is beer that nods towards beer but is still...not beer in its taste and complexity.

The '07 triple bock was equally delicious if not quite as ground-breaking. It still had traditional bock characteristics (grain, chocolate, full body), but was still a step above anything I have ever experienced as a bock. Deep plums, prunes, dried cherries and dark chocolate make this beer into another after-dinner libation. Unlike most bocks and doppelbocks, I don't see monks using this as food during lent lest they sleep for 40 days!

All in all, this is a night to remember. I am thrilled I got to be a part of it and I look forward to future tasting adventures at Dusty's.


Streak 7:36 AM  

Sounds amazing. My only experience with anything close is the barley wine style, and I don't think I have really even had a good example of that yet.

Smitty 7:44 AM  

I really like Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot Barleywine. Buy it, and let it sit in your basement for a year before you open it.

Sopor 7:51 AM  

NICE. I have yet to be so fortunate as to get to taste some Utopias!

The SA Rep... was that Scott? Looks like him in the picture on the left. I met him a few weeks ago at the brewery, gave him a tour while I filtered a batch of our Golden Ale. Great guy, hope he comes to visit again!

Streak 8:23 AM  

Smitty, I have a sixer of last year's Bigfoot in my closet, and need to do the same for this year. Thanks for reminding me. How do these Utopia beers compare?

Smitty 8:44 AM  

The SA Rep... was that Scott

Yup, that's him. He mentioned visiting you guys and giving you some hops or something.

How do these Utopia beers compare?

Not the same ballpark. Not even the same sport. Utopias is cognac...brewed like a beer instead of distilled. Barleywine is still very much a beer.

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