Samuel Adams Utopias
Samuel Adams Utopias is the world's most expensive beer in regular production, costing about USD 100 in the US. In Sweden the government alcohol monopoly takes in a few bottles every time it's produced, and a friend managed to get hold of a bottle from a pub in Gothenburg. It cost about USD 300 there, though, so he wisely decided to split the bottle with others. In the end we were eight beer enthusiasts who gathered in a flat in Oslo to try it. And, of course, since we were getting together anyway, we brought a few more beers to try at the same time.
Utopias is not a normal beer. It's been brewed in 2002, 2005, and 2007, at different alcohol strengths each time (24%, 25%, and 27%), which is way above what is usual for normal beer. They claim to have achieved this without distillation, in which case Utopias is not only the most expensive, but also the strongest beer in the world. It's made with four varieties of malts and four types of noble hops, and I'm told they also blend in old cellared beers, going all the way back to 1990. After brewing it's stored in various kinds of barrels for nearly a year. I would assume they mix beer from the different barrels to create the final beer.
When you actually see it, the first thing that stands out about the beer is the bottle, which is not a normal bottle at all, but a ceramic container overlaid with copper, to make it look like a traditional brew kettle. The cork can be screwed on and off, which is handy, because if you're a single person, drinking the whole 0.71l bottle in one session is not advisable. Utopias has very little CO2, and is so strong that you should be able to open and close the bottle several times over quite a long period of time without the beer suffering any ill effects.
Once you get it into the glass it doesn't look terribly special. It is dark brown with no head, and looks perhaps a bit more like a port than a beer. It's when you smell it that you really realize how unusual this beer is. An intense cocktail of walnut, chocolate, malts, and alcohol assaults your nostrils, once again evoking thoughts of port more than any known beer. The aroma really is gorgeous, and something you can sit enjoying for a long time, as different flavours come and go.
The taste is, if anything, even more violent, with much the same flavours: walnut, chocolate, malts, raisins, caramel, vanilla, wood, plums. It starts out with walnutty chocolate, but quickly comes to be dominated by sharp hot burning alcohol, which really drives home the difference between, say, 16% alcohol and 27%. At 16% alcohol heats up the mouthfeel of the beer and kind of helps the flavours "burn into" your mouth. At 27% the ballgame changes completely, and the alcohol to some degree muscles the other tastes out of the way, and takes center stage for itself. I don't enjoy too much alcohol, personally, and I found this to be rather like a cross between port and whiskey.
Utopias is extremely sweet, but they have clearly added an enormous amount of hops, because while the sweetness dominates, the beer does balance the sweetness with bitterness. The bitterness, in fact, settles in the mouth and grows stronger as you drink more of the beer. I say "more", but in fact I had only 0.1l of it. That was actually plenty, I found, since this is not something you can just pour down the throat. It's much too alcoholic, sweet, and bitter for that, and the strength of the taste basically forces you to go slow. Which is, of course, the only approach that makes sense, in any case.
So is the world's most expensive beer also the best? I have to say that I don't think so. For me, the alcohol was a bit too powerful, and that detracted quite a bit. Still, I gave it a 9 for aroma (no other beer has gotten more) and the flavour really was exceptional. So it is a very special beer, and for someone who likes the alcohol bite, this really could be the best. I gave it 3.9, which puts about 70 other beers (out of 2200) ahead of it. Still, Samuel Adams Utopias is one of a kind, and I'm happy to have been able to try it.
Some of the beers tasted
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BB-Idaho - 2008-12-20 12:59:58
As a 4th generation Norwegian, I must share a peculiar local brown ale. I know of an affectionado in New York City that has it shipped, but doubt they would send it as far as your area. But, should you ever visit the north Rocky Mountain area of the US, I am sure you would like it.