The beer was completely flat. And warm. There was just a smidgen served--barely a couple of ounces of liquid--in a small tasting glass. It sure didn't smell anything like what most people would consider beer.
It also sells for, gulp (er, make that sip), $150 for a 24-ounce bottle. By my calculations, that splash of liquid proffered to me, on the house, would have set me back $13.50 or more on the open market. (Whoa! That's only slightly less than the cost of a couple of six packs, on my meager wages.)
Samuel Adams Utopias is said to be the world's strongest beer: at 27% alcohol by volume, it's more than five times stronger than a Budweiser. A dark amber liquid with a tinge of a rose, when held up to the light. It's made partially with a champagne yeast, then aged in sherry casks. In fact, it's often compared to a sherry wine. It's warming. Smoothly assertive. It has dried fig and date-like flavors -- a welcome, lingering sweetness that nestles on the tip of the tongue. There's a modicum of astringency from the wood aging. It's appreciatively decadent, satisfyingly potent. And it certainly isn't called an "extreme beer" for nothing. (Besides the kick it packs, it sells for an extreme price, as well!)
The Boston Beer Company, the folks who make the Samuel Adams line, recently held a beer dinner for around 30 people at the noted Denver restaurant Table 6, in order to usher in its latest batch of Utopias. But before the sampling of its pricey, elegant novelty took place, Table 6's Chef Scott Parker prepared a five-course meal to accompany a few of the brewery's somewhat more affordable Samuel Adams releases.
"I like finding the notes in the beer and the food that fit harmoniously," says Chef Parker. He hit that on the nose. His Malted Miso Scallops with Fried Brussels Sprouts and Orange Maitake Vinaigrette united spectacularly with the malty-spicy aroma and flavor of the Samuel Adams Winter Lager (which sells for around $8/six pack). Overall, the dinner was a sensory nirvana--if a bit, well, rich, at times. (I accusingly point my finger at the heavy-duty Chicken Skin Fried Sweetbreads served with the Samuel Adams spiced winter ale Old Fezziwig.)
Alternating back and forth between eating the food appreciatively, then smelling and sipping his own handiwork--the beer--was Grant E. Wood, the Senior Brewing Manager for The Boston Beer Company.
Between bites -- and sniffs and sips from pints and snifters, myself -- I volleyed a question or two Wood's way.
Did The Boston Beer Company feel any hesitancy about releasing a new batch of blue chip Utopias in the midst of this economic recession?
Absolutely not, Wood said. The latest batch has been on track for release for over a year, in fact.
Does he actually expect this year's limited batch to sell out?
"Oh, yes!" replied Wood, without any hesitancy, smiling.
Ah! A world in which everyone can afford a $150 bottle of Utopias...that would be Utopia.
Not everyone can afford a $150 bottle of Samuel Adams Utopias beer. Hell, I can barely afford beer at all, these days. And it's said to be an "affordable luxury."
So how do you get free beer (other than claiming to be writing about it for The Huffington Post)? Is anybody giving away pints, gratis?
Funny enough, the Onion newspaper, that bastion of political satire, does. When I told a friend that we could get pints for free, courtesy of the Onion, he replied, "Is this some kind of joke?"
No, I'm dead serious: it's called "The Onion Society for Beer Enjoyment." The society's weekly-or-so meetings take place at different establishments along the Denver-Boulder corridor. To become a member, you simply need to perform the ritual known as "getting on the email list."
They don't always serve a beer that I'd shell out transportation costs to quaff. But thanks to the Onion, I've tried (if memory serves) Southampton Double White at the Irish Rover in Denver (a Hells Angel even kindly opened the door open for me on the way in; talk about an auspicious night!). The Double White was bit of a heavy-handed take on what's usually a lighter, refreshing beer style: a spiced, Belgian-style wit beer. More recently, I had Tennent's Lager from Scotland at the gastropub Argyll in Cherry Creek. The beer had a peppery bite, a lemony nose, and a smooth mouthfeel, but a way-dry finish; not spectacular, but at least more interesting than many stateside mass-produced lagers.
I also sampled for free two different types of beer from notable Oregon brewery Deschutes at a party hosted by the user-reviews web site Yelp at the Jet Hotel. (Again, all it took to participate was responding to an email that I'd received from them.) The brewery's quenching Mirror Pond, a moderately resinous India Pale Ale, flowed, as well as Jubelale, a brownish-amber winter ale with a caramel-licorice nose and dry mouthfeel.
Deschutes' Regional Sales Manager, Stacy Denbow, made me aware that Mirror Pond has been brewed for 21 years, and that the brewery also makes the #1 selling porter in the country: the hoppy, roasty Black Butte Porter.
I asked the locally-based Denbow why he doesn't rep for any other brand besides Deschutes from Bend, Oregon.
"They pay my mortgage!" he happily replied.
Fair enough. I'd be lucky these days if I could afford a down payment on a bottle of Samuel Adams Utopias, let alone a house.
(All photos by Gregory Daurer)