Jim Koch is an iconic figure in the American craft beer scene and this fall his Boston Beer Company, better known as Samuel Adams, is releasing the 10th iteration of its iconic brew Utopias. Created only once every other year, this extremely limited edition beer is one of the world’s most sought-after brews.
Koch, a sixth-generation brewer, almost did not follow in his predecessor’s footsteps. He went to college at Harvard where he earned three degrees before beginning a career in management consulting. But, the siren song of beer kept pulling at him. And, with his great-great grandfather Louis Koch’s recipe for a spicy Vienna-style lager in hand, he brewed the first of what would become Boston Beer’s flagship brand – Samuel Adams Boston Lager — in his kitchen.
Not long after that, Koch invested $100,000 of his own money and additional funds raised from investors that included friends, family and former classmates to found the Boston Beer Company in 1984. With the specter of his family’s 13 brewery failures looming over him, Koch was determined to make Samuel Adams a success.
Over the next 13 years, Koch grew his business by leveraging other brewery’s excess capacity in a process known as contract brewing. Then, in 1997, he purchased the Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewery in his home town of Cincinnati, Ohio. This helped the flourishing company free itself from contract brewing and accelerated its growth.
Utopias got its start in 1994 with the first release of a new beer style brewed by Samuel Adams called Triple Bock. The opaque, black brew was the strongest beer ever brewed at the time a whopping 17.5% ABV. Described as similar in taste to a port wine, Triple Bock was brewed with maple syrup, aged in spirits barrels and presented in distinctive cobalt-blue bottles. Only three vintages of the brew were created in 1994, 1995 and 1997.
Not content with creating the world’s first triple bock, Koch began thinking about what he could fashion to commemorate the coming new millennia. The result with an American Strong Ale he appropriately named Millennium. Koch again pushed the envelope on alcohol content with this brew settling in at 20% ABV. Millennium was only brewed once.
With two big beers under his belt, Koch wanted to create a beer that would be produced every other year. The beer, which he decided to call Utopias, would be bigger than its predecessors and would be blended with the base beer that has matured in scotch, cognac and port barrels. The first release, in 2002, weighed at 24% ABV with subsequent releases reaching 29% ABV.
Brewed to be a complex beer, Utopias consists of three different varieties each of hops and malt. Spalt Spalter, Hallertau Mittelfrueh, and Tettnang Tettnanger hops provide a slight amount of bitterness to the brew while Samuel Adams two-row pale malt blend, Caramel 60, and Munich malts provide sweetness along with maple syrup.
So, what should you expect Utopias to taste like if you are lucky enough to get your hands on a bottle of this illusive beer? Many compare it to a fine cognac or sherry. It contains no carbonation and pours inky black. A new bottle will be hot with alcohol, but also flavors of leather, cherry, molasses and toffee. Upon aging a few years, the alcohol hotness should drop off and the other flavors will intensify.
With only 13,000 bottles available this year, expect Utopias to be a hard bottle to find. But, if you find it and the $199 price tag doesn’t scare you away, you will be rewarded with a truly remarkable beer worthy of savoring only on the most special of occasions.