Wednesday, December 31, 2008
[Photo Courtesy Zengrrl via Flickr]
[Update 12/31] Today realized a few ounces still in the bottle. It's been closed since Friday the 26th. The extra few days exposed to air has aged the flavors just a bit. I now get a nose of honey after pouring a taste. The taste has become a bit bolder, with a strong smokey maple syrup flavor. Interesting.
Last night we hosted a beer tasting party, entry requirements were to bring a unique beer that you wouldn't have expected others to have tried before. In total, there were nine friends that showed up for a delightful evening. It was so good we didn't even mind skipping the obligatory football viewing in this bowl season.
One of the beers I had been anxious to try, and the inspiration of the party, was a 2007 bottle of Sam Adams Utopias (Bottle #2950 for anyone interested). This had been a bit of a splurge last fall when the release reached limited stores in the area. I had called around and found that Total Wine in Central Park had a few bottles, one of which had not been reserved beforehand.
To be fare, this is no ordinary beer. Some of this wonderful elixir started it's fermenting process thirteen years before being bottled. It's only sold every other year, and it's very limited production. The brewing requires a special yeast that can withstand the high alcohol content. The 2007 is a 27% alcohol brew, that could be classified as a barley wine. It's aged in bourbon, sherry, brandy and cognac casks, resulting in a variety of smells and tastes. It arrives in this unique bottle that looks like a brewing kettle. This is not a beer that you use pint glass.
The pour looked liked a cognac. The initial sniff revealed the scent of a sweet chocolate liquor. We asked around on what people were smelling. I said fermenting peaches, a friend said toffee, another said caramel. All of these were there at the same time. The first sip brought the often quoted statement "this is beer?" It seems to be closer in taste to a liqueur. The malted toffee flavors meld with the bitterness of the malts. A hint of a sweet fruit is there, along with various flavors from the casks. The tongue tingles both on the sweet receptors at the end, and at the back from the bitterness. Unlike liqueurs, this is a very smooth drink. It is hard to pick out that this started out with typical beer makings. There is a medium finish, not too long, not too short. Even my wife, who is not one to venture too far into the unknown, asked for a second sample.
You might be tempted to ask what to pair with a beer like this - nothing - this beer stands on it's own. We had it as a before dinner drink, an aperitif. It might make an equally good after dinner drink, but I wouldn't suggest having a lot to drink, as you want to have very active taste buds.