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Review: Samuel Adams 10th anniversary Utopias

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone. Just a quick note and I'll jump right in. I'm thankful for the kind words, beer tips, engaging conversation, and overall support I've received since taking over 99 Bottles earlier this year. It's been very humbling, and I'd like to express my sincere appreciation to all of you who've taken the time to read and comment here this year.

We'll end the year with a special one. Samuel Adams Utopias is a beer to toast special occasions and share with friends. At 29 percent alcohol by volume it's still a beer, but in both taste and appearance it's more like a liqueur. It's most certainly a sipper.

The eye-popping feature of the Utopias is always the $190 price tag, which can be both instructive and prohibitive. It's instructive because you know you're getting a beverage that took a lot of time and money to craft. It's prohibitive because you may not take the leap and make the purchase, and because even if you do, you'll likely be thinking about the price the whole time. Here's hoping you made enough beer friends in the last year to make sampling the Utopias possible.

utopias2012.jpgFirst brewed in 2002, the latest release of Utopias is a blend of previous beers aged in various liquor barrels. Beer from barrels from the original Triple Bock 20 years ago, from subsequent Triple Bocks, from Millenium (released in 1999), and from each subsequent release of Utopias is blended into the 10th anniversary edition. This particular beer was aged in single-use bourbon casks from the Buffalo Trace Distillery and also spent time in a variety of finishing casks, including Tawny Port casks and Vintage Ruby Port casks from Portugal and Rum barrels from Nicaragua.

"The barrels are an ingredient, and we take the same care and attention selecting the individual barrels as we would selecting hops," Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch explains in a video on the company's website.

A note about the bottle: There's a traditional cap to pop off, but the outer cap is resealable. Since the beer is non-carbonated, it has a long shelf life. Keep it in your liquor cabinet like a bottle of bourbon and you can take small pours of it whenever you please.

Held up to the light, Utopias appears dark or light brown, depending on the angle. It looks like a whiskey, though it smells much sweeter. A long whiff produces vanilla, oak, alcohol, licorice, raisins, and cherries.

After smelling my two-ounce pour, it's time to take a sip. The first thing I notice is some port-like bright fruit notes. The flavor profile is nothing like a beer, but it also doesn't fit one kind of alcohol, instead wandering in and out of the world of ports, brandies, cognacs, and old sherries. On one sip I detected some dry whiskey. Figs and cocoa come through from the rum barrels, adding to the drink's complexity. The mouthfeel is thick, syrupy. Lacing sticks to the side of the glass as if it had nowhere to go. Put out a bottle of this on New Year's and folks are likely to stick around for awhile.

Here's to you and yours.

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