The 2012 edition of Samuel Adams Utopias will ship in October, according to Boston Beer chairman Jim Koch. The latest batch measures “28-ish, toward 29 percent” alcohol,” he estimates. The beer is blended from dozens and dozens of barrels — some of which are fermented as high as 33 percent.
“We blended down because this is not about reaching the highest possible alcohol content, but producing the most interesting, complex, best-tasting beer,” he says. The original Utopias was released in 2002 and measured a then-record-setting 24 percent alcohol. Subsequent versions in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011 inched slowly upward in strength, with last year’s vintage reaching 27 percent.
A few breweries have claimed even more alcoholic beers, notably BrewDog in Fraserburgh, Scotland, whose End of History reportedly clocked in at 55 percent alcohol. But those beers are produced through freeze distillation, while Utopias attains its proof from fermentation alone.
Like previous vintages, 2012 Utopias is packaged in a 24-ounce ceramic bottle shaped like a brew kettle. But unlike the coppery-golden bottles of the past, the latest decanter is black and sports the message “Cheers to 10 Years!” where the picture of Sam Adams used to be.
The bronze-colored brew, totally devoid of carbonation, has a strongly spirituous aroma and a viscous mouthfeel. Asked what was new about the 2012 Utopias, Koch says the beer was finished for several months in Nicaraguan rum barrels, which added notes of “cocoa and fig” and pushed it in a “sherrylike, oaky direction.” Port and bourbon casks were used to condition the beer.
Among the beers blended to create the 2012 Utopias was some of the original Triple Bock from the mid-1990s, Koch’s first attempt at brewing an ultra-strong beer outside normal stylistic categories. Nearly 20 years old, the Triple Bock has evolved into a “super port,” says Koch, with a touch of umami and a “heavy, dark-fruit” flavor.
A total of 15,000 bottles of the 2012 Utopias are being produced. The suggested retail price is $160, but individual retailers can determine their own markup. (In 2007, a bottle cost $120.) It’s anybody’s guess what this year’s bottles will bring on eBay.
Kitsock’s Beer column appears monthly in Food.