Every year since 2002, Jim Koch and his merry band of brewing brothers release the incredible offering Utopias. For the unfamiliar, this high-octane, super-complex beer tastes nothing like beer. Aged in port barrels or bourbon casks, mixing champagne yeast with traditional malts and hops, or seemingly dipped into vats of dates, cognac, and kryptonite, the notes of this syrupy sipper are almost indescribable.
Yet here I sit again, waiting to enjoy, describe, and imbibe in my annual pilgrimage down beervana lane and the copper-brew kettle replica that delivers it. In honor of this malty trip, and since I haven’t actually received my bottles yet, I dipped into my collection of past brews in preparation for the next big thing.
I only have a few bottles left—a 2012 and a 2013—so I started with the former and worked my way to the latter. The 2012 Utopias was their 10th anniversary bottling. Less than 60 barrels were aged that year, but they included a mash-up of the previous big-bomb original, Triple Bock, aged for 20 years by then. Immediately you pick up the strong vanilla and maple hints; however, the aging also involved barrels from the Buffalo Trace Distillery, which creates an unmistakable bourbon warmth as you sip. Finished in old Tawny Port casks, the aperitif-like close to this beer is unlike any other Utopias I’ve ever had before or since. I’m not sure what the snobs think, but I’m comfortable saying that this is version outshines them all. Best enjoyed in one- or two-ounce pours after dinner and preferably with a slice of double-chocolate death, you’ll have no problem settling into a nice slumber of happiness when the last drop hits.
The 2013 Utopias is much like the previous year, albeit not nearly as thick and decidedly more malty. Using the same aged barrels I just mentioned but introducing a mind-bending array of hops and malts, this choice is actually more like a beer and less like an after-dinner pour. Still best served in small ounce pours, though—it’s not to be confused with something you’d order at the bar with a plate of nachos. What I like most about this version is the softness of the liquid as it hits your mouth. It’s very velvety and smooth, complimenting cheese, cured meats, and why the hell not, more chocolate. But it’s much more subtle than 2012, and if memory serves me well, much better than 2014. I can’t remember now why last year was a disappointment when compared to these two vintages, but I think it was just too young. 2013 was definitely aged well and continues to age well.
The 2015 Utopias has been finished in White Carcavelos wine barrels so the experience should be yet another one-of-a-kind journey, but at $199 a bottle, this is not something everyone is going to want to try, nevermind find the money to give it a try. You won’t find it at your corner packy, either; you’ll need to head to a better-beer store to snag one of the fewer than 10,000 bottles available. It’s truly an adventure, though, for those that want to push the boundaries of their palate and the notion of what beer can and should be.