Review: Samuel Adams Utopias (2017 Release)

The thing about Samuel Adams’ Utopias — the extreme barrel-aged beer that drinks more like a Port or sherry than a can of Boston Lager — is that although they constantly tweak the recipe, the beer itself never seems to change that much. Variations on a theme, really.

2017 marks the 10th release of Utopias (and our sixth encounter with it, which began with the 2007 installment), with 13,000 bottles made. The twist this time: the “2017 recipe includes Utopias aged in a variety of barrels including new Scandinavian Aquavit barrels as well as a portion of the final blend aged in Muscat barrels, a first for the beer.”

Some extra data on this release:

The 2017 release is a blend of batches, some having been aged up to 24 years in a variety of barrels. A portion of the freshly brewed beer is then aged in hand-selected, single-use bourbon casks from the award-winning Buffalo Trace Distillery while the rest is aged in a variety of barrels including Bourbon, White Carcavelos, and Ruby Port. New this year, Utopias aged in Aquavit barrels, a Scandinavian spirit with distinct flavor from spices and herbs, primarily caraway or dill. Throughout the year, the brewers practice “barrel turns,” meaning beer is moved from one barrel to another, to continually impart complex flavor from the barrels to the brew.

Then, the brewers carefully create the final blend by sampling and blending barrel-aged beer on its own including 24-year-old Triple Bock and 17-year-old Millennium aged in the Samuel Adams Bier Keller, as well as previous Utopias vintages and a variety of barrel-aged blends. The Samuel Adams Bier Keller, the former bier keller of the historic Haffenreffer Brewery, is the new home for aging Triple Bock, Millennium, and experimental barrel-aged beers at the Boston Brewery. This year’s final blend included a touch of Kosmic Mother Funk, a one-of-a-kind Belgian ale that ferments for two years in Hungarian Oak foeders to add dark fruit and slightly tart notes.

After the blend is finalized, the brewers “finished” some of the 2017 Utopias in Moscat barrels, a wine known for its slightly smoky character. “Finishing” is a creative way for the brewers to impart additional flavor from a barrel before the beer is bottled.

In tasting Utopias 2017, as previously mentioned, my tasting notes don’t depart too wildly from what I’ve said before. That said, some differences are in store for the Utopias fanatic, starting with the nose, which is more bitter and wood-heavy than the typical Utopias, giving it more of an old sherry character than a Port-like one. Rye-like notes of caraway (aquavit-driven, perhaps?) and some bitter amaro aromas are particularly evident.

The palate is bittersweet, with that caraway/bitter root note leading to some notes of dried figs and dates, burnt coffee and toasted nuts — all classic Utopias flavors — before hitting a more sour cherry note on the finish (though this year’s is less overwhelming than in 2015). All told, I like the conclusion of Utopias 2017 much more than the attack, a surprising reversal of prior years’ comments.

Utopias is always the same, I think I said at the top of the review? Huh, what do I know?

28% abv.

B+ / $199 / samueladams.com

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