As I noted here last month, I have for the last year kept a two-thirds empty bottle of the world’s strongest non-freeze distilled beer, the Boston Beer Company’s 27% alcohol Utopias, on my desk at ambient room temperature. My intent was to see what time and oxidization would do to this bruiser of a cellar-worthy ale.
For background, here are the unedited notes from my original tasting, conducted roughly one year ago today:
Utopias 2009: Reddish brown in colour, this is no ordinary beer, obviously. In addition to lacking carbonation completely, it leaves thick but quick-running tears on the side of the glass and has an aroma discernable from a foot or two away. Up close, the nose is a complex but youthful mix of orange peel and fig, chocolate and cinnamon, burnt brown sugar and tanned leather, candied apple and pipe tobacco. Although much more developed in aroma than past editions of this beer, it shows both youth and grace in the nose, and great potential, I think.
It hits the palate with some mapley sweetness, but far, far less than in years past, along with cinnamon and allspice, chocolate and a bit of candied pecan. In the body, the effect of the barrel aging really starts to show, with bourbony notes of caramel and vanilla, along with roasted red apple, more spiciness – I keep coming back to cinnamon – raw cocoa and chocolate, dried orange peel, some maple syrup notes, and a very subtle but distinct spicy-floral bitterness. On the finish, it is hot and lingering, with very gentle bitterness and peppery, palate-stinging alcohol.
This edition shows many firsts for Utopias: first time I’d recommend buying one bottle to cellar and another to drink now, as opposed to just aging it; first to demonstrate a discernable hoppiness; first to minimize to a comfortable level the effects of the priming maple syrup; first to finish more like a spirit than a port or Madeira.
And so, on to the exact same beer one year later:
Utopias 2009 (2010 Redux): More brown than reddish brown of hue, the beer seems to have faded in colour intensity and is now a bit hazy, both factors owing, I suspect, to sedimentation. The nose is still potent enough to be smelled from a foot afar, and still quite spicye, although with less fruitiness and far more tobacco-tanned leather notes and, I think, a bit more alcoholic intensity.
The palate approach is significantly sharper than I recall it being, with some aggressively spicy flavours and notes of well-toasted, almost burnt walnuts, along with tongue-tingling alcohol. In the body, the complexity has lessened considerably, with much more of a boozy, bourbony character and far less sweet chocolate and fruit character. The maple, oddly enough, is still there in force, along with a fair amount of spice, especially cinnamon, a clearly discernable viscosity and surprisingly assertive hoppy notes. The finish is a mix of alcohol and bitterness, far more pleasant that it sounds when I phrase it that way, but less so than the effect of, say, a fine bourbon or cognac.
In conclusion, I’d have to say this experiment clearly illustrates that Utopias is a very different sort of beer, one which resides well outside the constrains of ordinary ales and lagers. I have subjected this beer to a full twelve months of obnoxious abuse, complete with intense sun heating it from the window behind my desk, cold in the winter when we travel and leave the thermostats on low, and of course, oxidization, and still it arrives in the glass as a most palatable beverage. Carefully coddled and aged, I suspect it would fare exceptionally well and yield highly impressive results.