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I was bested last night. The subject of the beer tasting was the vaunted strongest beer in the world, Samuel Adams Utopias. It’s brewed every other year in limited quantities — they made 10,000 bottles of the ’09s — and comes with a proportionately high price tag of $150. This year’s batch weighs in at 27% abv, about two-thirds the strength of whiskey or vodka.
It was my second attempt at tasting the rare beer, because the first tasting I meant to attend was the morning of Savor, the day after an event that left me irreparably drunk and broken. But I showed up to Vidalia yesterday, spry, sober, and ready to taste.
As the snifters of Utopias were set on our table, wafts of alcohol clouded our airspace, carrying bracing brandy and raisin aromas. I ventured closer to my snifter and singed a few nose hairs. Swirled, the thick amber liquid clung to the sides of the glass like whiskey. I sipped, fearfully. Gin I can do straight, but I am not a brandy drinker. I can manage whiskey with the aid of ice and bitters. My first sip of Utopias was a shock, hot in the mouth. I swished it around a bit and swallowed; light burn. Then the flavors started to come out: buttery caramel, toffee, some more raisins and brandy.
After a few tooth-sucking sips, my tongue got sleepy and cranky at me for the beating I’d given it. I traded my snifter with a fellow of scholarly age at my table for a second helping of the Samuel Adams Triple Bock, the other extreme beer we received. (The man was a distinguished retiree, with cardigan and tie, who in my mental caricature sipped cognac at home in his burgundy robe. He could get more out of this firewater than I.) And there I sat with my Triple Bock, like a kid licking a spatula of cake batter.
The Triple Bock was my discovery of the night, a warming barleywine of 18.5% abv with notes of chocolate, booze, chocolate and chocolate. It poured a near-black with violet edges and tasted like raw brownie mix. My dad’s brownie mix, to be specific, with it’s red, rusty cocoa powder. A little buttery, a little grainy and even salty. They only made it between 1994 and 1997, but apparently bottles are still floating around, and if you find one they’re only about $10.
Moral of the story: Utopias is extreme in ways that I am not. I couldn’t finish my glass, and I wouldn’t be excited about tasting it again. But if you find a dusty bottle of Triple Bock, pay the $10 and, um, let me know if you want to go halfsies.