New beer too strong for some U.S. states

Originally published at: New beer too strong for some U.S. states | Boing Boing


That they have found/developed a yeast strain that can survive that much alcohol is noteworthy. Most yeast dies ~14% abv.
As for the beer, it looks like it costs >$200 and sounds awful


It’s funny this is a cool hip thing these days.

It might also be a symptom of people trying to shorten their time at the bar. I’m also wondering about the difference in price. PA’s not on the list, so we’ll see…




Another publicity stunt pays off for the Big Beer companies.


Hipsters always latch on to anything that has a metric they can “compete” on. With beer, it became “more hops is always better” IPAs and “more ABV is better” Belgians. It’s annoying, but as soon as they find a number to attach to status for how “in” or “refined” you are, they latch on to it and go cray. This then ruins the whole field for several years until they pick up their fedoras and move on to something else.


“Beer”? More like something between whisky and barleywine, like a beer brandy.

I used to sometimes buy those blue bottles of Sam Adams “triple bock” back in the 90’s, ehh, they were OK.


It’s actually not. It was a “cool hip thing” about 15 years ago. High ABV and “extreme” beers were a driver in an earlier leg of the craft boom. And primarily appeal to older drinkers these days, the few things we tended to get in this model every year mostly ended up selling to places with a primary customer base in their 60s.

Otherwise the major trend in beer is in the opposite direction. “Session beers” are all the rage at around 5% ABV, there’s a growing trend for low ABV and Non-Alcoholic craft. And the whole North East IPA thing has significantly driven ABVs in IPAs down with regular IPAs now sitting in the 6%-7.5% range, Doubles in the 7.5%-8% range and so forth.

Utopias was first released about 20 years ago. As a sort of publicity stunt really, part of a trend for breweries competing to have the world’s strongest beer. The fact that it’s ABV is too high to be sold in some states, or even qualify as beer in some cases is part of the pitch. It’s also terrible I’ve had it a couple of times. It tastes of sugar, turpentine and bong water.

Apparently Boston Beer has had difficulty moving it the last couple of years. Once upon a time it was a hot commodity, with wait lists and retailers limited to a single bottle per year. More recently I’ve had accounts tell me the company is practically begging people to take it in, and you see quite a few bottles of it just kinda hanging out for years in the accounts that do.

I dunno that you can describe Jim Koch, a Harvard business school graduate who was 53 when this beer was developed as a “hipster”.

Though he was heavily responsible for the “more hops, more booze” approach. Sam Adams’ early “hops mean flavor” ad campaign with Koch huffing a whole fucking bucket of hop cones was really influential in cementing what craft meant to a lot people. But craft at the time was heavily driven by a boomer dad element.

Taste wise I’d say that’s pretty close. Though more hop brandy, (eta: and not good brandy). It’s syrupy sweet and all you taste is old man hops.


There’s this statement on the Sam Adams website:

(Not sure why they felt the need to write it in all-caps. I guess they’re just really proud?)


Kinda like tactical nuclear penguin, ice distilled down to some ridiculous percentage, made a stout that tastes like condensed soy sauce and burning.


I quit drinking 35 years ago. We used to drink beer with that much alcohol way back then.

A pint or fifth of vodka some lemonade and beer.

It was called strip and go naked.

It’s what I was drinking at the 1984 World Series in Detroit when I fell of the roof of a city bus and broke my ankle a few weeks before getting married(we’re still together). We were using some sort of grain alcohol.

It’s reason 437 why I don’t drink anymore.

But man, if I decided to start drinking again I would have no idea what to try first, so much has changed in 35 years. Can I even get a California Cooler or MD 20/20 anymore?


I was very invested in trying as many beers as I could in my early 20s and one beer that I had read about, but never managed to track down, was Samichlaus… a Swiss beer that was said to be the strongest beer in the world at 14%.

Years later, I stumbled upon it at a state-run liquor store in SLC, UT that specialized in wine (what?). I excitedly bought a 6 pack for a stupid amount of money and took it home. I cracked it open, took one sip, and was immediately repulsed. It was so cloyingly sweet that it was more like carbonated syrup. My wife took a sip, decided that it was delicious, and polished off the bottle before I could warn her about the content. She went from 0 to blackout drunk within minutes, I gifted the remaining bottles to friends, one of whom was a pretty serious beer afficionado but even he got blasted when he tried it on an empty stomach.

I will never chase the high-ABV beer dragon again… it takes waaay too much sugar to keep the yeast alive. Simply revolting. Like, I lose my appetite just thinking about it mumble years later!


I’ve had some incredibly delicious beers in the 9~10% range, but they put me right under the table (in the best way possible).

If I wanted to get absolutely blotto, I could see more pleasant-drinking ways to do it than with this marketing ploy.


Aside from the yeasts noted by @Otherbrother (which as you note don’t really survive much past 15%) in the past Utopias has been freeze-distilled, which helps jack the alcohol up about above the 15%.

I had some of this out of the keg at the Great American Beer Fest a few years back, and it is a dangerously smooth beer.

ETA: Not “about,” but “above”


I believe they also dope it with a lot of sugar to feed the yeast, might still be maple syrup. Beer like this is more of a science project than anything else.

I would disagree.


Well, why not lay it down for a few years? You never know, it might get better, like a good wine.

(Probably not, though.)


Kinda surprised that anything that goes through distillation could legally still be considered to be beer in any state.


I live near the original Sam Adams Brewery, so I’ve had a few tastes of Utopias over the years at various community events they’ve hosted there. It’s not terrible!…but it’s a LOT, and it’s really sweet. It gets compared to cognac a lot, but I think Port is more apt comparison — a fortified sipping dessert alcohol. But there’s no way it’s worth the cost. I think the price reflects the manufacturing process more than anything, and the bi-annual publicity certainly helps to justify its continued creation. Because the beer has no reason to exist other than publicity. You could accomplish a similar flavor by making a whiskey-based liquer … but then it wouldn’t be a “28% ABV Beer.”

Jim Koch is the epitome of Boomer Beer Dad. He definitely did some cutting-edge stuff for the beer industry (and Sam Lager is legitimately good!) when craft beer was still burgeoning.

What I find most hilarious about that visual of him huffing hops from the bucket is that the dude very vocally hates the hop-head trend. Again, I’ve been to small community events and fundraisers at the HQ, and he’ll just sit there behind a table whining about IPAs, and how they all taste like ass, and how he hates the fact that his company has to make IPAs in order to compete, because Sam Lager is perfect and everyone else can fuck off.

I genuinely can’t tell if he is always hammered, or if he is just the kind of person who normally acts like a drunken buffoon all the time.


Me too. But I’ve recently found some very palatable 2%-4% ciders and the odd perry. And the current 0.5% beers and lagers are much tastier than they used to be (they used to be far too sweet). I’m in UK so no point recommending any brands, but it’s worth buying one of each when you see them, to see if any suit your taste.

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.5 - 4% alcohol? No can do. Any amount is too much even after 35 years.


There are some readily available yeasts with alcohol tolerances of 18%, and if you keep them happy they can go 20+%. Lalvin EC-1118 is a workhorse that often fits the bill. But I think this is an ice beer - one that achieves a higher ABV through freezing at very cold temps to remove water and thus concentrate the alcohol.

ETA: I’m sure you know all this; details are for those who don’t know but are interested.