Vendors at Pittsburgh International averaged 3 critical violations over the last two years vs. 14 when the Post-Gazette checked 4 years ago.
What's it taste like, this beer that costs $190 or more per bottle?
Granted, it's a 24-ounce bottle, so it holds twice as much as most, and it is absolutely lovely -- more of decanter, shaped, in black ceramic, like a brew kettle, complete with a little sliding door. It even comes with a specially designed Reidel glass.
But still, it works out to about $8 per ounce of ... beer?
Well, Samuel Adams Utopias is no normal beer. Some would say it's not really a beer at all, given that it's a whopping 29 percent alcohol by volume. That's the strongest yet over a decade of releases of this boundary-pushing, news-making and sought-after brew that started making waves in 2002.
The 10th anniversary edition, only 15,000 bottles of which were made, just started showing up in this region, and is starting to be snapped up as usual. Sidelines Bar, with locations in Millvale and Sewickley, scored a half dozen bottles for each. Owner Bob Miller announced that they'll do a tasting party at each location at around 8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 24, where they will sell 1-ounce samples for $12, and then they'll sell the remaining bottles for $250 -- up from the $190 suggested retail (which started out at $160). Bottles likely will go for much more.
Samuel Adams describes how this batch is made with two-row Caramel and Munich malts, three kinds of hops (Hallertau Mittlefrueh, Spalt Spalter and Tettnang Teggnanger) and several strains of yeast.
It is, in fact, a blend of brews, some of which have aged in various wood barrels for 19 years, and the blend was finished in a variety of casks, including tawny and ruby port casks, Nicaraguan rum barrels and Kentucky bourbon casks (from Buffalo Trace Distillery). The label notes that it is brewed with maple syrup, which helps get the alcohol up so high.
But what does it taste like?
Newspapers and other media outlets received samples earlier this month. I think the reaction was nicely summed up by the Dallas Observer's City of Ate. Its headline from earlier this month was: "Samuel Adams' 2012 Utopias Is Great or Awful, Depending on Whom You Ask." Writer Jesse Hughey, who shared tastes with co-workers including Scott Reitz, who was quoted as saying, "I think it's more suited for incorporation into a vinaigrette dressing than drinking. I want to reduce it and drizzle it over figs and goat cheese. Buy it? No."
Other colleagues, some of whom liked Utopias better than that, noted it already tastes figgy and raisiny. And that's the point: This "extreme beer" is meant to be sipped and appreciated like a port or sherry or cognac.
If you'd like to try a taste of my bottle with me, email me and I'll try to set up a Downtown location and a time when 20 or so of us can try it. I'll just ask that everyone make a little donation for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
Heard of Pittsburgh's Native Blood Brewing? Read about it on The Forks blog at www.pgplate.com/forks.
Bob Batz Jr.: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.