For beer fanatics, Samuel Adams Utopias has become one of the most sought-after beers on earth. Only the ninth batch brewed since the first release in 2002, this year’s Utopias, like previous vintages, is a beer unlike any other. Sam Adams Utopias is the “lunatic fringe” of craft beer – it’s radical and pushes the limits – challenging the idea of what a beer can be.
What does it taste like?
Utopias is meant to be savored like a fine cognac or port. This rich, uncarbonated beer is known for its extraordinary flavor profile and is a blend of previous vintages aged in a variety of barrels. Wood, toffee, cocoa, raisin and maple aromas contribute to the distinctive flavor of Utopias, which ranges from notes of molasses, earthy wood, dates, and light smoke to nuts and toffee.
With each new batch of Utopias our brewers push for a complex flavor profile, and during this process have created brews with alcohol levels reaching over 30% ABV; this year’s beer is 28% ABV and is best enjoyed as a two ounce pour in a snifter glass at room temperature. We often blend down because the goal is to create complex flavors, not an extreme alcohol percentage.
How is Utopias brewed?
About the Barrel-Aging Process
For this batch, we brewed with a variety of malts and during fermentation, we use several strains of yeast. The beer is then blended with Utopias vintages from previous years including some that have been aging for more than 20 years in the Barrel Room. Aging the beer over a longer period of time accentuates distinct vanilla notes and creates aromas of ginger and cinnamon. Some of this aged beer is old enough to drink itself!
About the Brewing Process
Utopias is brewed using traditional methods. Our brewers begin with a blend of two-row Caramel and Munich malts that impart a rich, deep amber color. Noble hops – Hallertau Mittelfrueh, Spalt Spalter and Tettnang Tettnanger – are also added to lend complexity and balance. During fermentation, several yeast strains are used, including one normally reserved for champagne which our brewers call a “ninja yeast.” This fresh beer is then blended with a variety of different barrel-aged beers and “finished” in a variety of barrels to impart additional complexity and flavor.
Other than the last sip, what does “finishing” the beer mean?
Our 2015 release of Samuel Adams Utopias is a blend of beer finished in a variety of barrels. “Finishing” is a creative way for our brewers to impart additional flavor from a variety of barrels before the beer is bottled. This final step of finishing the beer lasts several months before the beer is bottled and imparts flavors ranging from fruit like cherry and raison to chocolate, leather, and oak. The multi-step and lengthy process results in flavors reminiscent of a rich vintage Port, fine Cognac, or aged Sherry, while feeling surprisingly light on the palate.
This year, our brewers experimented with finishing Utopias in White Carcavelos wine barrels in addition to barrels that once housed cognac, Armagnac, ruby port, sweet Madeira, Buffalo Trace Bourbon. White Carcavelos wine barrels help to amplify the dried fruit and oak flavors of this year’s Utopias. Carcavelos wines are blended and fortified like a port, are off dry and topaz colored with nutty aromas and flavors. Carcavelos comes from a small region of Portugal and the barrels are very rare, which made our brewers all the more excited to experiment with them as finishing barrels.
And, here’s a fun fact:
The first batch of Utopias bottles can actually be found in the hands of Samuel Adams employees. Since Utopias was first released, each ceramic bottle is numbered on the bottom, and the number corresponds with the order in which each employee was hired. So Founder and Brewer Jim Koch gets bottle number 1, Brewer Dean Gianocostas gets bottle number 2, and Sales colleague Nicole Monsen gets number 3. You get the picture. If you find yourself sipping on a low numbered bottled, you’re likely in the good company of a beer-loving, Sam Adams employee.