What’s Brewing: Sam Adams 2011 Utopias

Beer geeks with fat wallets, rejoice! The latest release of Sam Adams‘s Utopias hits shelves next month. Released every other year since 2003, this brew weighs in at 27 percent, and is the world’s strongest naturally brewed beer. But what about Scottish brewer BrewDog’s 55 percent roadkill-wrapped pièce de résistance, The End of History, you might ask? While such brews are indeed higher in alcohol content, the levels are obtained by a freezing process that increases its concentration (ie: not natural), whereas Sam Adams has achieved their mark using traditional brewing methods.

Made with four kinds of hops (Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, Tettnanger, Spalter, and Saaz), the beer was aged in Madeira and port casks from Portugal and sherry casks from Spain. The result is sweet, uncarbonated, and rare: Only 53 barrels were used for the release, and the retail price is a cool $150 (releases from years past are going for upwards of $400 on eBay). This batch has been in the works for 2 years, and was blended with casks from as far back as 1993.

So what does this magical, mystical beer taste like?

An initial whiff gave us strong notes of port, maple, figs and other dried fruits, and—not surprisingly—alcohol. This stuff smells hot. Whiffs of rum and bourbon prevailed as well.

Taste-wise, Utopias is complex, and definitely more along the lines of a sipping spirit. The high alcohol content makes it intensely sweet with an equally strong nutty oak flavor. Notes of honey, vanilla, and maple are instantly noticeable, and a distinct dryness sets in on the finish. The more we sipped, the more we noticed a saltiness at the top of the flavor profile, an almost savory quality on top of the sweetness. We decided we’d enjoy it with some sort of hot fruit cobbler and vanilla ice cream. But, as there was no such thing in the kitchen, we satisfied ourselves with dessert-free sips until the warmness crept over and lulled us into a smooth, syrupy slumber.

So is it worth the price tag? I suppose given the nature of its small production, I would say yes. But I can’t deny that for half the cost, I could just as easily shack up with a superbly fabulous bottle of Ardbeg 10 Single Malt for sipping and be just as happy.

$150, Bauer Wine & Spirits, 330 Newbury St., Boston, 617-262-0363, bauerwines.com.