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Going to Extremes with Sam Adams Utopia and ’94 Triple Bock

It’s a rare occasion that your humble DC Beer writers find beers that they consider extreme. I mean as part of this new generation of beer drinkers, we were practically nursed on Dogfish Head 120 Minute. In today’s beer market extreme is almost laughed at–sure it’s extreme, all craft beer is extreme, we’d say. Saying something is extreme now just makes us think a brewery is trying to conjure up youthful Mountain Dew-inspired skateboarder brewery street-cred. But that’s not what Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) is trying to do here.

Boston Beer Company is not considered an extreme brewery by many. Its Boston Lager has mainstream appeal and taps in lots of mainstream bars even when it only has like 1% of the US beer market. But it’s more widespread and well known than most craft beers–I believe it may one day replace the municipal water supply up in Boston. So Boston Beer Company is sort of an elder statesman of craft beer (some might say partial founders of the movement), not hip and funky and certainly not trying to dupe people into thinking they are a bunch of punk rockers.

Their extreme beers actually reflect this. They are extreme like some billionaire’s absurd yacht is extreme (and the Utopia packaging would probably feel right at home on such a yacht). Luxurious and challenging–the Utopia and its sister the Triple Bock from 1995  are extreme in that they step away from what we would normally look for in craft brew world to give us something that would be more at home at the steakhouse, the cigar lounge or sitting in the decanter of the CEO’s corner office.

Utopia on the left, Triple Bock on the right

At Vidalia last night, Boston Beer Company hosted a small beer dinner and tasting to showcase these extreme brews. The Utopia was a powerful and viscous brew that could fool you into thinking you were drinking whiskey. The beer is a blend of a number of beer batches some aged in a variety of ways. There are so many different things going on in the beer as well as in the process to make it. One part of the beer is aged in Buffalo Trace Distillery whiskey barrels which really comes through in the finished product. The final beer was divided again at some point and parts were finished on Spanish sherry casks as well as muscatel and port casks from Portugal. The 27% alcohol was a prominent feature of the beer. I got a lot of cognac, whiskey, butter and oak flavors. A vanilla bourbon with an alcohol burn that makes you think its the real thing. I thought the beer was intense and interesting, but I tend to agree with Orr that the beer is not one you would reach for often. But then, that’s the point of Utopias. They are meant to sit on top of your liquor cabinet next to the decanter to age and be enjoyed at special occasions or after a hard day mastering the universe.

The 1994 Triple Bock was a clear crowd favorite–aged 15 years–it was like a fine port. Not as abrasively in your face as the Utopia, perhaps it was relaxed by its age. It had raisin grape aromas. The taste was sweet, almost salty, chocolate covered raisins. The finish was the most impressive part because it literally gave the impression of cocoa powder. The beer was 17% ABV but it seemed much more balanced than the Utopia. It looked muddy and coated the snifter when you swirled it. While the Utopia will begin showing up at specialty beer stores selling for $150 a bottle, the Triple Bock series of beers were only brewed in the 90’s and are not really available through traditional means. You can eBay them tho.

Both beers served as the end of a pretty gourmet beer dinner at Vidalia. My food highlight of the night was when the chef sliced fresh white truffles over some wheat beer infused risotto.  At the beginning of the night the chef noted that their upscale restaurant doesn’t really do beer dinners but as beverage tasting dinners get more popular they may become part of the agenda. Hopefully the perception that specialty beer doesn’t deserve equal billing to wine is being widdled away as craft beer loving foodies continue to put pressure on their favorite restaurants. Homework this weekend: talk to a restaurant manager/owner this weekend about putting good beer on the menu.

White Truffles and beer, yes please

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