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99 Bottles

Samuel Adams Utopias is sophisticated, and not cheap

Gary Dzen/Globe Staff

Happy new year. Let’s end the year with a special brew.

Samuel Adams Utopias is a beer to toast special occasions and share with friends. At 29 percent alcohol by volume it’s still a beer, but in both taste and appearance it’s more like a liqueur. It’s most certainly a sipper.

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The eye-popping feature of the Utopias is always the $190 price tag, which can be both instructive and prohibitive. It’s instructive because you know you’re getting a beverage that took a lot of time and money to craft. It’s prohibitive because you may not take the leap and make the purchase, and because even if you do, you’ll likely be thinking about the price the whole time. Here’s hoping you made enough beer friends in the last year to make sampling the Utopias possible.

First brewed in 2002, the latest release of Utopias is a blend of previous beers aged in various liquor barrels. Beer from barrels from the original Triple Bock 20 years ago, from subsequent Triple Bocks, from Millennium (released in 1999), and from each subsequent release of Utopias is blended into the 10th anniversary edition. This particular beer was aged in single-use bourbon casks from the Buffalo Trace Distillery and also spent time in a variety of finishing casks, including Tawny Port casks and Vintage Ruby Port casks from Portugal and rum barrels from Nicaragua.

“The barrels are an ingredient, and we take the same care and attention selecting the individual barrels as we would selecting hops,” Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch explains in a video on the company’s website.

A note about the bottle: There’s a traditional cap to pop off, but the outer cap is resealable. Since the beer is non-carbonated, it has a long shelf life. Keep it in your liquor cabinet like a bottle of bourbon and you can take small pours of it whenever you please.

Held up to the light, Utopias appears dark or light brown, depending on the angle. It looks like a whiskey, though it smells much sweeter. A long whiff produces vanilla, oak, alcohol, licorice, raisins, and cherries.

After smelling my two-ounce pour, it’s time to take a sip. The first thing I notice is some port-like bright fruit notes. The flavor profile is nothing like a beer, but it also doesn’t fit one kind of alcohol, instead wandering in and out of the world of ports, brandies, cognacs, and old sherries. On one sip I detected some dry whiskey. Figs and cocoa come through from the rum barrels, adding to the drink’s complexity. The feel is thick, syrupy. Lacing sticks to the side of the glass as if it had nowhere to go. Put out a bottle of this on New Year’s Eve and folks are likely to stick around for awhile.

Guild names director

The Massachusetts Brewers Guild has hired Kristen Sykes to be its first executive director. Founded in 2007, the guild promotes craft brewing and protects the interests of craft brewers in the state.

“We are excited to have Kristen represent the Brewers Guild and to help fulfill our goal of promoting Massachusetts craft beer throughout the Bay State,” Rob Martin, guild president and president of Ipswich Ale Brewery, said in a press release. “Her passion for craft beer and experience in the nonprofit world are going to help us take the guild to the next level.”

Sykes is a certified judge through the Beer Judge Certification Program and is a founder and president of the Boston Area Beer Enthusiasts Society (BABES), a women’s beer club founded in November 2011.

“I am thrilled to be promoting the fantastic breweries in the state of Massachusetts. The quality has never been better, the range of styles has never been greater, and the number of breweries has never been higher,” said Sykes

Part of Sykes’s work will include organizing the annual Mass. Brewers Guild Fest, which takes place at the end of August in Boston.

Gary Dzen can be reached at gdzen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ Globegarydzen.
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