Almost every craft beer lover has a whale list: beers they would love to get their hands on and taste, but which are challenging (if not virtually impossible) to find for one of several reasons. And near the top of almost every one of those lists is Samuel Adams Utopias.
Released every other year, it’s an event beer that puts others to shame. Bottle prices start at $210 (and many retailers mark it up considerably). The alcohol by volume level is a staggering 28%. And historically, the brewer has distributed just 13,000-15,000 bottles of Utopias.
That makes it hard to find. But it’s even harder if you live in one of the 15 states where it’s illegal for stores to sell Utopias, generally because of its sky high ABV. Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia all forbid the sale of the beer.
That’s a shame because Utopias is unlike pretty much any other beer on the market. It’s not carbonated as the alcohol levels devour any CO2. Its taste is akin to a fine liquor, with a sweetness like a port or cognac and a smooth, almost buttery, malt-filled finish. And the recommended serving size is one ounce.
This year’s Utopia’s release is a bit different than previous ones, though. The beer is always made from a variety of barrel aged, cask-conditioned beers. Some have been aging for 23-24 years. Some for 15 years while others just for a year or so.
But for the 2019 varietal, brewers added Cognac and Madeira finishing barrels into the mix, reportedly giving it vanilla notes and subtle nutty and elegant dark fruit aromas. Then, to add a little tartness to the finish, they included a touch of Kosmic Mother Funk (KMF), a unique wild ale that is fermented for two years in Hungarian Oak barrels.
“It should be different, cause we’re blending out of the same river of casks,” Jim Koch, founder of Boston Beer, tells Fortune. “This is like the old Greek proverb. I think it was Heraclitus who said ‘You never step in the same river twice.’ Utopias is that river. When you taste it, you know it’s Utopias, but it never tastes the same. No matter how skilled we are, we can never duplicate what we made the last time because all the casks have aged longer.”
The batch also comes months after Boston Beer Co. merged with Dogfish Head. The fruits of that collaboration will really become more readily apparent in March, when Dogfish Head releases a Utopias barrel-aged version of its Worldwide Stout, the company announced at this year’s Great American Beer Festival.
And, for the first time, Utopias will be available on tap at the Samuel Adams Cincinnati Tap Room as part of a special anniversary event on November 15.
Utopias was actually born from another Samuel Adams creation: 1992’s Triple Bock, the beer industry’s first barrel aged beer, which sold for the then-unheard of price of $100 per case. In 1999, the beer evolved into “Millenium,” and in 2002, it adopted the name Utopias.
Utopias might be an event beer for Samuel Adams, but (despite the high price tag), it’s not something that causes a noticeable spike in the company’s earnings.
“The margin is not that great,” says Koch. “I’ve never run the numbers on it. My gut has always told me we don’t make any money on it, even at $200 per bottle. It’s a labor of love. [But] it’s an amazing beer. Why would we not want to make it? It’s not like we’re going to go broke by making Utopias. It’s more than fun to make. It’s an exploration of what’s possible within beer.”
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