If you sprang for a bottle of Utopias, the coveted 27% alcohol Sam Adams cognac-like, non-carbonated beer, when it was released in November, count yourself lucky. The 2009 release is already going for nearly twice that amount on EBay. Still wondering whether a
$150 $300 bottle of beer is really worth the price?
Last weekend, Squid Ink assembled a tasting panel of local beer geeks to find out. The gold-tongued tasters included Ben Weiss, marketing manager for The Bruery in Orange County, Alex Macy, Bottlerock downtown's opening beer manager and co-founder of the craft beer club LACABAL, Christina Perozzi, author of The Naked Pint, the Eastside Brewers home brew club members (all six and counting of them), plus a thrilled Bama football fan from Atlanta (who was excited not just because of the win; Alabama and Georgia are among the thirteen states that prohibit the sale of Utopias, as it exceeds those states' legal alcohol limit for beer). Toss in a couple of lucky significant others and our group was twelve tasters strong.
Find out whether the beer tasting panel thought Utopias was worth the hefty price, plus the other amazing beers that were tasted, including a Trappist icon, after the jump.
The bonus for promising to open a $150 bottle in a room full of beer geeks is they show up at your door with very generous gifts to add to the tasting pot. Not surprisingly, Weiss brought several Bruery beers, including the just-released Mischief, a Belgian-style golden strong ale that's heavy on the hops. Perozzi brought The Bruery's Saison Rue, an ale with a citrusy finish, the Eastside Brewers brought a 3-gallon keg of their freshly fermented Black IPA, and King, the Bama fan, stuffed several bottles of his Georgia homebrew, an English-style IPA, into his suitcase for the occasion.
But it was Macy, Bottlerock's former beer consultant, who brought the roomful of babbling imbibers to silence when he pulled out a bottle of "Westy 12" (a.k.a. Westvleteren 12 from the Westvleteren Abdij St. Sixtus Trappist brewery in Belgium), a beer that is considered by many to be the "best" in the world and is extremely difficult to procure. Even beer consultant/sommelier Perozzi, cradling the bottle and with a tear in her eye, admitted that she had never tasted the beer (we told you these were beer geeks). Dividing the Westy among twelve tasters was another matter entirely, but flavor wise, the nutty, complex brew did not disappoint.
The Utopias? All of the tasters had a difficult time getting past the copper brew kettle-style bottle design, which was described as "hokey" by one taster and an "absolute turn off" by another. Whether the cognac-like sipping beverage inside was worth the price tag was perhaps best summed up by The Bruery's Weiss, who felt the beer was "quite well-balanced" and a "nice sipping drink" but added: "No way I'd pay $150 for it, but I wouldn't pay $150 for pretty much any alcoholic beverage unless it came with a coupon for a free flight to Belgium."
Should you find yourself still wavering between buying a ticket to Belgium or a bottle of Utopias, more of the group's selected tasting notes are below;
"It was good, quite interesting, almost a bridge between beer and spirits... but the oak was so over the top it was hard to pick up on more subtler notes. If excessively oaked flat beer is what you want why not just pick up a bottle of Angel's Share for a fraction of the price?" -- Thomas Lee Bakofsky, founding member of the Eastside Brewers
"I was surprised at how obvious the alcohol is in [the Utopias]. I've had a couple other 20+% beers, and this one was the most boozy up front... I'd be curious what would happen to it over time, as I think a lot of the aromatic alcohol would blow off after a while. But it was delicious in its complexity, it's the curious and complex things that keep beer interesting." -- Alex Macy, beer consultant
"Tasted great, loved the fig, dark flavors. I enjoyed the taste, but thought it left my palette too quickly." -- Ben Guzman, founding member of Eastside Brewers
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"The beer had a nice nose... strong caramel taste on the front end was encouraging, but once it passed over your tongue the beer disappeared, both literally and in flavor."
-- Rogers King, homebrewing Bama fan
"I did think the Utopias was wonderful, as it had a really nice balance for being 27% alcohol... and I liked the heat in the exhaust. But would I pay $150 for it? I'm not sure."
-- Christina Perozzi, author of 'The Naked Pint'