Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

We're Thankful for Our Annual Taste of Utopias

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

We're Thankful for Our Annual Taste of Utopias

Article excerpt

Byline: Roger Bull & Ed Stansel

First of all, we want to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving and hope you have a wonderful day. We will. Trust us on that. But we practice.

We like November for more than just the turkey, football and awkward family gatherings, however. It's about this time of year that Samuel Adams releases Utopias, its coveted super-premium malty elixir (calling it beer doesn't do it justice). Not that we would normally go out and drop $200 or more on a bottle (assuming we could find it). But the brewery apparently is under the impression that we're respected beer writers and sent us a bottle.

We called a quick assembly of the Amber Waves tasting panel (motto: Respected beer writers, as far as Sam Adams knows) for this special treat. What made it even more special is that we rounded up two partial bottles from previous vintages - 2012 and 2013 - to do a side-by-side comparison.

(The one advantage of a greatly reduced newsroom staff is that it gives a lot more room to store beer.)

Utopias technically is beer, but it's more like a fine port or cognac - luscious, thick, dark, uncarbonated and over-the-top boozy. This year's batch, the brewery's ninth, is blended with vintages from Sam Adams' cellars going back to 1992 and aged in barrels that once housed cognac, brandy, ruby port, sweet Madeira, Buffalo Trace Bourbon and, new this year, white Carcavelos wine from Portugal. And oh yeah, it's 28 percent alcohol.

The brewery recommends pouring 2 ounces of room-temperature Utopias in a snifter glass. All we had were clear plastic Solo cups, but they did just fine. Although we may have had a scooch more than 2 ounces.

The 2015 batch is redolent of dark fruit, especially prunes. There's an intense malty sweetness, too, with caramel, toffee, maple syrup, vanilla, oak, cherries and layers of other flavors and aromas that aren't easily identifiable. And you really notice the alcohol - it's not exactly hot, but it's getting close. The body is so rich and thick, it's almost syrupy.

The 2013 vintage was a bit mellower, the alcohol more subdued but still very evident. It seemed even fruitier than the 2015, with prunes, cherries and raisins, and again a bit of maple. There was some nice sherry-like oxidation, and the overall impression was more like a bourbon than a port or cognac.

The 2012 was much darker, even a little hazy, with peppery notes and something like old leather. Again, there were plenty of prunes and other dark fruits, with some cherry and citrus.

We judged the 2013 the best overall - smoother than the 2015, with more interesting flavors than the 2012. But all were wonderful.

This stuff is very hard to find - only 10,000 bottles were distributed this year, with Sam Adams employees getting them first. Total Wine & More at the St. Johns Town Center received only 24 bottles and offered them first to members of their premium-level rewards program. What was left over was supposed to be offered to the public this week at $199 for a 24-ounce ceramic bottle modeled after a copper mash tun.

PROOF IN JAX

Tallahassee's Proof Brewing Co. has started distributing in the Jacksonville area, and judging from the first beers introduced here, we look forward to more.

The Mango Wit is a Belgian-style wheat beer with the aroma and flavor of fresh mango. It's medium-sweet but not cloying, drying out a bit at the end. If you are into fruit beers, this is a good one.

We really enjoyed the EightFive-O, an American pale ale with an intense grapefruit aroma and flavor from Citra hops. The fruitiness is backed up with a clean, medium malt body with moderate bitterness. The finish is very nice, with lingering notes of grapefruit, tropical fruits and pleasant bitterness.

You have to be a fan of coffee to enjoy the Coffee Creatures in the Dark coffee stout. …

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