[Two ounces of each vintage were served side-by-side in brandy snifters at about 67°F(19.44°C)]
Utopias 2013Vintage notables:
ABV: Just over 27%.
Malts: Two-row Caramel and Munich.
Hops: Spalt Spalter, Hallertau Mittelfureh, and Tettnang Tettnanger.
Barrels: Buffalo Trace Distillery single-use bourbon and Portuguese port casks.
Oldest barrel-aged beer used in the blend: 20 years. Special addition in the blend: Kosmic Mother Funk® wild ale aged in Hungarian oak tuns for over one year.
Appearance: Pours a hazy cola brown color with a consistency closer to a liqueur or light syrup. Although there is no head and no sign of carbonation, swirling the glass coats the interior with a veritable cancan-line of thick legs.
Aroma: The aroma is a delightfully intriguing experience unto itself. Sticky dates, bourbon, cognac, prune paste, raisins, brown sugar, figs, redwood, cedar, dark rustic bread, graham cracker, Madeira, maple, mild peat, caramel, pecan pie, stewed walnuts, freshly opened box of cigarettes, chocolate dusting, a touch of fruit cake, sea salt, and port.
Flavor: A complex balanced layering of rich flavors including prunes, hot liquor, stewed dark fruits in rum, sweet bourbon, dates, dried Bing cherry, figs, almonds, Madeira, caramel, walnut shell, brown sugar, black walnut, and raisins soaked in fine Scotch. Aftertaste: Fully two minutes after tasting, sugars and alcohol continue to linger on the palate with hints of brown sugar, bread soaked in freshly tapped maple doused with cognac, and raisin sugar (think licking the inside of a box of raisins).
Mouthfeel: Inky, warming, thick, almost syrupy, uncarbonated with some tannic character (perhaps from the barrel).
Overall Impression: Immensely complex, well balanced with distinct notes of prunes, dates, Madeira, bourbon, wood, and maple syrup.
Utopias 2015Vintage notables: ABV: 28%.
Malt: Two-row pale combined with cherrywood and peat smoked, Briess Extra Special, Munich and Caramel 60.
Hops: Spalt Spalter, Hallertau Mittelfureh, Tettnang Tettnanger , and English Goldings.
Barrels: Buffalo Trace Distillery single-use bourbon, ruby port, Madeira, Carcavelos wine, cognac, and Armagnac.
Oldest barrel-aged beer used in the blend: 22 years.
Appearance: With a color of maple syrup, dark copper and good clarity, the beer pours flat, though reveals thick legs that cling to the inside of the glass after swirling.
Aroma: Light raisins, dark rum, wood barrel, cherry bourbon, maple syrup, figs, a hint of caramelized sweet potatoes, dried apricots, brownie crust, a hint of peat, chocolate chip cookie dough including vanilla extract, salty dark broth vaguely reminiscent of Miso soup, and (not to get too esoteric) reminded a few tasters of the scent of dried grass in a winter field.
Flavor: Semi-sweet bourbon (a bit harsh), woody, cherry, chocolate truffle with chocolate dusting, toasted bread with fig spread, dark wheat bran raisin muffin, a hint of walnut, waffles with maple syrup, mild roast, assertive brown sugar, and a pinch of salt. Aftertaste: Madeira, wood, figs, cherry liquor and cane sugar.
Mouthfeel: Flat (no carbonation) and slightly syrupy with a hot liquor sensation.
Overall Impression: A suburb beer with notes of rum, wood, cherry, figs, cocoa, vanilla, and bourbon.
Why was the Utopias 2013 preferred over the 2015?
While both vintages are truly exceptional beers, it came down to balance and smoothness. The 2015 offered brighter distinct flavors and a very appealing aroma (perhaps more so than the 2015), but the taste was still a bit rough around the edges with a certain amount of alcohol-forward harshness which will very likely smooth out with a bit of aging. In comparison, the 2013 is more mellow, balanced with well integrated complexities, likely enhanced through aging, which made it easier to savor. However, it is quite possible that the 2015 will surpass the 2013 in character in one to two years.
Madeira and dates stand out prominently in the aroma of the 2013, whereas rum and cherry were more central to the 2015 aroma. If pressed for the most apparent flavor descriptor for the 2013, it would be prunes (or something similar like raisins or dates). If we could only choose one key flavor for the 2015, it would probably be bourbon including the woody character from the barrel.
General recommendation: If you ever have the unique opportunity to sample ANY of the Utopias vintages, by all means, indulge yourself. And although we do our best to relate the experience, it is simply beyond words. Buy a bottle to share, sampling a small amount each year, noting the development of the beer’s character over time.
If you’re looking for a bottle, Utopias is typically released in November in odd numbered years, and some stores report carrying bottles until January.
As a reference, we’ve listed all the release years and corresponding ABVs of Utopias on page three below. There you can also find the mini informational booklets that accompany the 2013 and 2015 vintages and a transcript of each booklet for specific details about these beers.
Just for fun, here’s a simple poll about whether you’d pay for Utopias given the opportunity. You can also see how other people voted.
* Note: BeerSyndicate purchased these beers out-of-pocket and was not compensated for this review. Although if the good folks at Sam Adams felt so inclined, we certainly wouldn’t refuse any vintage of Utopias!
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Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for Beer Syndicate, Beer and Drinking Writer, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, AHA Member, Beer Judge, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler. Interests? Beer.