REVIEW: 2013 Samuel Adams Utopias with Cigar
It's not every day that a $200 bottle of beer shows up on your door step--with a cigar to boot--but that's just the way I received the 2013 edition of Samuel Adams Utopias alongside a Ted's Utopias seasoned cigar. Utopias was one of the original kings of high alcohol beer, holding the crown as the strongest at 29% abv for some years before the BrewDog shenanigans. The new Utopias arrives after the recent announcement of a new record holder--67.5% abv "Snake Bite"--and reminds us that Samuel Adams not only did it first but did it better.
A Package Fit for A King
Utopias comes in as unique and prestigious of packaging as the beer itself, in the shape of a mini copper mash tun made out of ceramic with a screw off cap. The shiny copper coating glows a purple luminescence when hit with a bright light. Under the cap there is a Sam Adams traditional crown cap; the double seal allows the beer to be put back on the shelf and enjoyed later. Utopias has little in common with a regular beer-- it's not carbonated and it won't go bad like a regular beer, but should be enjoyed like a fine Cognac.
This year Samuel Adams has teamed with Ted's Cigars for Utopias-seasoned cigars, which are available exclusively from the company's online store TedsCigars.com/SamuelAdams in November and December 2013. Ted's has previously made whisky-flavored cigars with Makers Mark and a hop-flavored cigar last year.
Utopias is said to be brewed using traditional methods and not fortified or distilled like similar high abv gimmicky beers, i.e. BrewDog's End of the World, HOTD Dave, etc. Brewers begin Utopias with a blend of two-row Caramel and Munich malts to get the rich caramel color and flavor. They use the so-called Noble hop family, known for minty and spicy characteristics - Hallertau, Mittelfrueh, Spalt Spalter, and Tettnang Tettnanger for complexity and balance. Fermentation calls for several yeast strains, with one that is normally reserved for champagne being the key to reaching the higher level of attenuation necessary. The beer is blended after with a variety of different beers, some having been aged in wood barrels for more than 20 years.
Sam Adams has revealed for the 2013 batch that a portion was aged in single use bourbon casks from Buffalo Trace Distillery. It also spent time in Port casks from Portugal and radically was blended with a small portion of Samuel Adams Kosmic Mother Funk (KMF), a Belgian-style ale barrel-aged for at least 9 months in Hungarian oak tuns. Utopias is meant to be savored like vintage fortified wine or fine cognac. Sam Adams recommends it served in just a two-ounce pour at room temperature in a snifter glass.
Typical hits against Utopias are that it's too boozy or too sweet and syrupy. There are jokes about beer geeks pouring it over their pancakes in place of syrup; as ridiculous as that is, the beer does have delicious maple notes. Personally I find these criticisms wholly unwarranted. Yes, Utopias is sweet and boozy, but it is delicious, and if approached as a fine sipping after dinner liquor, it is fantastic.
I enjoyed a few ounces of this beer on my front porch, served in a snifter as recommended and paired with the enclosed cigar.
Sweet cherry cola and tobacco waft off of this glass like a fresh-baked, booze-soaked pie. This beautiful brown liquid looks deeper and darker than a bourbon, more like a burgundy with amber highlights. It's not a syrupy as I remember it being; I have had thicker stouts, and again without the carbonation it goes down with a warming sensation, more like an aged whiskey than a beer. The KMF blended in to this 2013 does not add a noticeable sour or funkiness, but I think thins the body and adds an extra juiciness to its already complex flavor. Less so than previous batches, Utopias 2013 has notes of maple and pine, but also sweet ripe fruits, leather, and spicy bourbon; vanillins and oak dominate. The tobacco flavor adds a bitter rich balance to the sweetness.
The new Ted's Utopias Cigar feels completely perfunctory after a beer that functions as both an aperitif and a last cigarette in one glass. Still, I tried to review it on its own. The Utopias cigar is a light touch of tobacco and soft cream and spice, but it's completely overtaken by the beer, which is saying something. However, perhaps it's wise to pair such a soft cigar with this beer, as something equal to its intensity would be just too overpowering. On its own, without the beer, the cigar is average at best, and comparing its flavors to the Utopias beer is daydreaming at best. Still, I love the idea and the thought behind the pair.
The brewers made fewer than 15,000 bottles of this limited-edition beer due to the long aging required. It will be available at select specialty beer and liquor stores starting this November for a suggested retail price of $199 per bottle. For additional information and to locate a retailer, check out http://www.samueladams.com/craft-beers/utopias.