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Boston Beer's 2013 Utopias blurs the lines between gimmick and greatness

Challenging the definition of “beer,” Samuel Adams Utopias is a high-gravity concoction that’s more about flavor than most stunt-beers.

There’s been an arms-race for the most potent fermented malt beverage for the past few years, and years ago the brewers after that crown raced past the mark where flavor takes a backseat to booze. (The current record-holder, Snake Venom from Brewmeister, weighs in at an astonishing 67.5%ABV -- that’s 135 proof!) Way back in 2002, the World’s Strongest Beer title was held by the modest-by-today’s-standards Utopias at 24%ABV, and Boston Beer Co. periodically has been releasing limited batches of the high-test brew.

Utopias is, obviously, completely unlike Sam Adams Boston Lager. The beer comes in a fancy ceramic bottle shaped like a brewer’s kettle, and because Utopias is not carbonated and the bottle is resealable, you can store the bottle in the liquor cabinet while slowly working through it, 2-ounce pour at a time. And you don’t need much more than a scant snifter of this syrupy, boozy treat.

In addition to the bourbon casks from Buffalo Trace Distillery and Portuguese port barrels that were used to age the blending components in, for the first time the brewery added a Belgian-style ale aged in Hungarian oak tuns known as “Kosmic Mother Funk” to the blend.

A ruddy amber in the glass, the cuvee of wood-aged beers hits the palate like port or sherry and lingers there with strong flavors of oak and maple syrup and a fruitcake’s worth of dried cherry, plum and raisin. The brewery suggests it as an after-dinner drink, and unlike other extreme brews that try for the most hops, the most booze or the most whatever else, Utopias is complex and drinkable.  A curiosity that gives new meaning to the idea of “malt liquor.”

Only 15,000 bottles of 2013 Utopias were produced, and they carry a manufacturer's suggested retail price of a whopping $200, but the drinking experience is unlike nearly anything else in the beer world. Utopias should be available at better bottle shops and liquor stores in limited quantities; try the brewery’s beer finder if you’re after a coveted bottle.


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