Beer Break

Beer Break Vol. 2, No. 19
The 48 proof beer

Feb. 14, 2002

Those wild and crazy guys at Boston Beer Co. have done it again, brewing a beer so strong they label it 48 proof, using terminology usually reserved for spirits. Sam Adams Utopias MMII, which goes on sale this month, is in fact 24% alcohol by volume, making it the strongest commercial beer in the world.


The previous strongest was Sam Adams Millennium, a one-time batch brewed in 1999, at 21%.

To create the beer, Sam Adams' brewers used two-row, caramel and Vienna malts, then all four types of noble hops, leaving the beer spicy enough that some call it "fiery." The beer was aged in scotch, cognac and port barrels from February 2001 until late last year. The aroma has a "distinctive smell of cinnamon and vanilla with subtle hints of floral, citrus and pine."

"At a time when light beers are growing in popularity - we wanted to introduce a rich-tasting and unique beer that would rekindle interest in the other side of the beer spectrum," said Boston Beer founder Jim Koch, whose own brewery recently rolled out Sam Adams Light.

Sam Adams Utopias

Utopias MMII is packaged in a copper-finished brew kettle designed to look like larger kettles used by brewers. The suggested retail for the 3,000 24-ounce bottles available is $100. The Millennium was priced at $200 when it first shipped in 1999, with a few bottles commanding $1,000 in Internet auctions before sanity prevailed.

Because we knew you'd ask, here's where Utopias will be available: Chicago, Denver-Boulder, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Detroit, Boston metro area, New York, Hartford (Conn.), Rhode Island, Long Island, Burlington (Vt.), Springfield (Mass.), Monmouth-Ocean City (N.J.), Albany (N.Y.) metro area, New Haven (Conn.), Augusta-Waterville (Me.), Portland (Me.), Stamford-Norwalk (Conn.), Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Sacramento, Washington D.C., and Baltimore.

And also because we knew you'd ask: Samichlaus, first brewed in 1980 by Hurlimann in Switzerland, was long the reigning strongest beer at 14% abv. A lager, it was brewed on St. Nicolas Day (Dec. 6) each year and released exactly one year later. Hurlimann raised a major ruckus when it quit brewing Samichlaus, but fortunately the Eggenburg Castle brewery in Austria has taken over production and shipped the beer each of the last two Decembers.

Sam Adams surpassed Samichlaus in 1994 with its Triple Bock, which included maple syrup as an ingredient. It was fermented with champagne yeast and finished at a hefty 17.5% abv. For the arrival of the millennium, Sam Adams and Dogfish Head in Delaware both went after the record. Dogfish Head released its World Wide Stout, fermented with seven different yeasts, in December 1999 with a record 18.1% abv.

Millennium, which was the talk of the Great American Beer Festival a couple of months before, was then shipped to the public a few weeks later.

Pairing of the week

Beer with your starter: Michael Jackson suggests St. Bernardus Tripel "with asparagus, artichokes or grainy salads. Could be good with cracked wheat, humus, or similar starter dishes from the Balkans, Armenia or the Eastern Mediterranean."

Tasting notes

Brewed by Loterbol in Diest, Belgium

Stephen Beaumont writes:
As I was in Belgium, where hoppy beers can hardly be considered the norm, I was quite surprised when a strong, apparently dry-hopped aroma greeted my nose. This character continues in the flavour, with a light sweetness at the start quickly giving way to a mildly fruity, bitter and herbal body. The finish carries a soft vegetal flavour, some notable alcohol (from the beer's 7% ABV) and a lingering, though reduced bitterness. Overall, I was left with the impression of a Belgian India pale ale.

Brewed by Flossmoor Station Brewing Co. in Illinois

Richard Stueven writes:
Dead black, big brown head. Smells sweet and black. Big and creamy and black. Lots of coconut flavor from 18 months' oak-aging. Lingering warming finish. Real Tasty Beer!