Jim Koch is an iconic figure in the American craft beer scene, at the helm of The Boston Beer Company, better known as Samuel Adams. This week, it’s releasing the 10th iteration of Utopias. Created every other year, this extremely limited edition beer is one of the world’s most sought-after high-end quaffs.
Koch, a sixth-generation brewer, almost didn’t follow in his predecessor’s footsteps. He first earned three Harvard University degrees and began a career in management consulting. But beer’s siren song kept calling. Using his great-great-grandfather Louis Koch’s recipe for a spicy Vienna-style lager, he brewed the first version of what would be Boston Beer’s flagship libation, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, in his kitchen.
In 1984, Koch invested $100,000 of his own money and additional funds raised from investors, including friends, family and former classmates, to found the Boston Beer Company. Though the specter of his family’s 13 brewery failures loomed large, Koch was determined to make Samuel Adams a success.
For 13 years, Koch grew his business by leveraging other breweries’ excess capacity in a practice known as contract brewing. In 1997, he purchased the Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewery in his hometown of Cincinnati, freeing the thriving company from contract brewing.
Utopias roots trace back to 1994, when Samuel Adams released a new style: Triple Bock. The opaque, black brew was the strongest ever made at the time–a whopping 17.5 percent ABV. Said to taste similar to port wine, Triple Bock was brewed with maple syrup, aged in spirits barrels and presented in distinct cobalt-blue bottles. Only three vintages were created, in 1994, 1995 and 1997.
Koch began to think about fashioning a brew to commemorate the coming new millennia. The result? The appropriately named Millennium, an American strong ale. Koch again pushed the envelope on alcohol content with this 20 percent ABV brew. Millennium was brewed only once.
With two big beers to his credit, Koch wanted to develop a beer to be offered every other year. The elixir, which he called Utopias, would be bigger than its predecessors and blended with a base beer matured in scotch, cognac and port barrels. The first release, in 2002, tallied 24 percent ABV; subsequent releases hit 29 percent ABV.
Brewed for complexity, Utopias features three varieties of hops and malt. Spalt Spalter, Hallertau Mittelfrüh and Tettnang Tettnanger hops provide a slight bitterness; Samuel Adams two-row pale malt blend, Caramel 60, Munich malts and maple syrup give sweetness.
What should you expect Utopias to taste like if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a bottle? Many compare it to a fine cognac or sherry. It has no carbonation and pours inky-black. A new bottle will be hot with alcohol, but flavors of leather, cherry, molasses and toffee will arise. Age it a few years–the alcohol hotness should diminish as the other flavors intensify.
With only 13,000 bottles available this year, Utopias is hard to find. If you discover the elusive prize and the $199 price tag doesn’t scare you off, you’ll be sipping a truly remarkable beer to savor on very special occasions.