Saturday, March 08, 2014

Sam Adams Utopias: A Pinnacle Experience

A couple weeks ago I visited my friend Darrell, who lives above the old Fargo Theatre in downtown DeKalb. I know he is a fan of good beer, and in my quest to try and review at least 100 different beers this year, I decided to visit him to get the skinny on any good brews that may have missed my notice. I brought a bottle of Three Philosophers Belgian Style Blend, Quadrupel, a heady ale that has just a touch (less than 2 percent) of cherry kriek to give it a nice, fruity little lift in the back palate.

Darrell was very appreciative of my offering and asked if I'd ever had any Sam Adams Utopias. I remembered the beer. Back in 2010, when I lived in the same building as Darrell, I drove him to a local liquor store, where he paid more than $200 for one bottle of Utopias. "That's beer?" I asked. He nodded. "And you paid that much for that one bottle?" He broke into a wide grin and nodded again, then said, "And it's worth every penny."

Of course, the 2010 vintage he bought has long been consumed, but on this night two weeks ago, he brought out a black lacquered clay bottle and a shot glass, and poured me a shot of the 2012 Utopias.

Yes, it is a beer. But at 29% ABV it is considered an American Strong Ale, brewed with caramel and four noble hops. It is meant to be sipped slowly and savored. I spread my shot's worth over four swallows, and each tiny libation was a trip through beer nirvana. I don't drink hard liquor often, so the strength of the Utopias was a bit of shock, as was, pleasantly, the onslaught and complexity of the flavor.

Very smoky, with plum and woodsy tannins. The most unique aspect occurred after I swallowed. Emanating waves of flavorful alcoholic vapors rose up across my entire palate, rising up, up, through my nose, enveloping the front of my face in a veritable aura of well-crafted flavor. It is somewhat a disservice that so early in my 2014 beer drinking Odyssey, I should enjoy some Sam Adams Utopias. Every other beer will pale in comparison to this.

Next in my quest: I am continuing to track down all available Authentic Trappist Products (ATP) beers available in the United States I haven't tried yet, including Achel, La Trappe, Westmalle, Gregorius, and Orval. The only ATP beers available locally are Chimay and Trappistes Rochefort. A beer cannot be designated with the ATP symbol unless it is brewed entirely within the walls of a monastery by monks. The elusive one that requires a trip to the St. Sixtus Abbey in Belgium (except on rare occasions) is Westvleteren. I recently had a St. Bernardus Tripel Belgian Abbey Ale, which is located near the St. Sixtus and uses the same hops and yeast.

Many of the ATP beers are available at Monk's Pub in Chicago. A road trip is forthcoming.

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