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Sam Adams' Strong Line:

Since the brand was born in 1985, Sam Adams has been making beers that have greatly impact on the brewing industry. Sam Adams Lager helped bring about the microbrewery revolution and introduced better beer to many Americans. Not satisfied with one great success, the brand’s founder, Jim Koch, has constantly pushed forward by using innovative techniques to brew a beverage without parallel. These efforts led to the development of a line of non-carbonated strong beers that defy convention.

The first result of Koch’s experimentation led to the release of the Triple Bock in 1994. Early consumers, expecting the usual frothy brew were shocked to find a flat, syrupy liquid fill their glass. Like a fine spirit, it was meant to be drank at room temperature from snifters and enjoyed in small amounts like an aperitif. At the time of its release, the Triple Bock officially became the world’s strongest beer (17.5 % alcohol) due to a generous amount of maple syrup, fermentation time and ageing. Though technically a beer, it more closely resembles a spirit or fortified wine.

Five years later, Koch upped the ante with the one-time release of Millennium. This beer commemorated the arrival of the year 2000 by weighing in at a whopping 19.5% alcohol. Remaining bottles sell for hundreds of dollars at auctions, establishing a niche market for such an unusual brew and proving that Koch’s risk was worth taking.

This commercial success egged him on to further develop an even bigger beer, Utopias MMII. Koch’s latest masterpiece, weighs in at 24% alcohol, nearly double that of most wines and higher even than some whiskeys.

Utopias is another limited, one-time release with only 3,000 bottles crafted. Each 22-ounce bottle retails for a hundred bucks and has become something of a phenomenon in the beer world. Illegal for sale in some states, buyers seeking a bottle are paying two or three times the retail amount in auctions. Early reviews rave about the beer and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the prices go up as store inventories run out.

Like the Triple Bock and the Millennium, Utopias uses maple syrup to provide the additional sugars needed to produce such a high alcohol content. Using imported ‘noble hops’ handpicked by Koch in Germany, the beer boasts a notable a spicy flavor. After fermentation, the beer is aged for long periods in scotch, cognac and port barrels to smooth the flavor and add complexity. The result is about as far from Miller Lite as a Mercedes is from a Datsun.

Koch says that these beers represent his efforts to develop a beer that will approach 50% alcohol. Thus far, his attempts have produced some outstanding beers that defy conventional standards. The laborious brewing and ageing process shows how dedicated Jim Koch and his brewers are to producing the best that beer can offer. This line of beers is without question one of the finest in the world for originality, quality and taste. Whether or not they reach the 50% goal remains to be seen, but I suspect the journey will be worth the trip.

April 8, 2002
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