Arts & Entertainment

Dowd On Drinks: But Is It Beer?

Non-carbonated. Resealable bottle. Aged in used sherry or bourbon barrels.

Is this stuff still beer, or is it somewhere in the cognac universe?

There is more to Samuel Adams' newest product than the container. Yes, Utopias is bottled in a replica of one of the Boston brewery's brew kettles, and its makers are suggesting that it be served at room temperature as an after-dinner drink in a snazzy glass specifically designed for it by the glassware makers at Riedel.

But what is causing the biggest stir is that Utopias has five times the alcoholic strength of the average beer.

At 27 percent alcohol by volume, or 54 proof, Utopias is a powerful brew. However, it can be saved because of its resealable bottle, so consumers used to lower-proof beers can pace themselves when drinking this non-carbonated brew.

The world of brewing, therefore, has entered the same field of controversy as that of Scotch whisky and tequila. When the original product is changed to a marked degree, is it legitimate to include it in the same category?

Some Scotch distillers and blenders have succumbed to the lure of changing their manufacturing process to expand their product line and, ultimately, their sales.

The switch to closed-pot stills, for example, blocks the traditional smokiness of the whisky, making it more like Irish whiskey (yes, spelling the liquor with or without an "e" also is a difference between them), and maturing it in used brandy, sherry or bourbon casks further changes it.

Likewise with tequila, a Mexican spirit usually consumed young but in recent years becoming available in an "extra-aged" style that involves maturation for longer periods in used casks and results in more of a cognac-style spirit.

Back to Utopias.

This is the latest version of a product introduced to the market in 2002, then released again in 2003 and 2005. But this release is blended with some batches that have been aged 13 years in different wood barrels.

Some of the Utopias have been aged in Portuguese Madeira barrels and sherry casks. Some is aged in used bourbon casks. It is brewed with a variety of malts and hops and several yeasts, including champagne yeast.

The company has limited production to 12,000 bottles. The holiday gift box package of Utopias and a Riedel glass will retail for a suggested price of $150.

Automating the perfect pour: Guinness is an old brewery in a very old town and both have an interesting dual reputation: historic, yet with an eye toward the latest technology.

The city has become the technological center of Europe while the beer has been … well, let's just say it has been going through a few internal tremors as it tries to keep up with the ever-changing, ever-fickle, international beer market.

Guinness's latest move is a gimmick called the Surger, a unit that uses small sound vibrations to release the nitrogen gas in the beer and cause a cascading effect, also referred to as "the surge and settle."

A Guinness Surger can, which contains the same Guinness beer found in kegs and brewed at the company's St. James's Gate facility in Dublin, is poured into a glass and placed on a small plate. Similar to the draught tap system, the Surger unit releases the gas in the beer, creating the surge and settle that forms the signature creamy head.


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