Throwback To Utopias Vertical Tasting 2014
This may well go down as the Mother of All Vertical Tastings: Eight vintages of Samuel Adams Utopias, preceded by 1994 Triple Bock and 1999 Millennium, and followed by an in-progress Samuel Adams Boston Lager distilled whiskey by Berkshire Mountain Distillers. The occasion was the 30th Anniversary of Samuel Adams for which 25 writers (a veritable who’s who of beer scribes!) had been summoned to the brewery’s barrel aging room. I occupied one end of the long table with ASN’s New England Editor Dan Kochakian.
Here we go: Boston Beer President Jim Koch illustrated the tasting of the Triple Bock (17.5%) with the trials and tribulations of blazing a trail where virtually no brewer had gone before, aging beer in oak whiskey barrels, and of getting the feds to allow it. He said BBC had considered trademarking barrel-aged beer, until writer Michael Jackson told them someone was doing it in Scotland — that certainly could have led to some interesting repercussions!
If anyone remembers how sweet this was when it was introduced (special ingredient, maple syrup), we can certainly say it has aged nicely in 20 years. It was hopped with Tettnang Tettnanger and Hallertau Mittlefrueh, with 2-row Harrington and Chocolate malts and two Samuel Adams yeasts.
Next up was the 1999 Millennium (21%). Spalt Spalter hops were added to the hop bill, while Caramel 60 and 120 and Vienna malts to the Harringtons. This beer was aged in Bourbon barrels. More rounded and malty than the Triple Bock and less fruity and sherry-like.
With the first release of Utopias in 2002 (24%), Caramel and Vienna Malts were settled on, Saaz hops were added and Champagne yeast was added to the slurry. This vintage was aged in Scotch, Cognac and Port barrels providing Utopias’ signature notes.
In 2003, 2-row Moravian and Bavarian Smoked Malts were added, the Saaz hops were dropped, and Bourbon barrels re-appeared for the aging process along with Scotch, Port and Cognac.
Utopias releases went to a bi-annual release and for the 2005 Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels were introduced exclusively for the aging, resulting in noticeably spicier notes than previous versions.
For the 2007, 2009 and 2011 vintages, recipes remained fairly constant with a 2-row blend of Caramel and Munich malts. Aging was continued in the Buffalo Trace barrels but nuances were derived by “finishing” in a variety of sherry, madeira, port and muscatel barrels. Alcohol crept up to 27%.
The 2012 10th Anniversary batch was tweaked with smoked malt and finishing in tawny and ruby port barrels from Portugal and rum barrels from Nicaragua. The 29% strength is the highest degree attained by any Utopias release.
Last year’s 2013 release introduced Kosmic Mother Funk, which is the base beer used for some of BBC’s other barrel creations — a tangy departure!
The tasting provided a fascinating trail of the deepening complexity of Utopias as the blending barrels themselves have aged, including one remaining barrel of Triple Bock. One writer did the unthinkable —blending all the vintages into one glass. I have no words for the resulting mixture!