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Winter is coming/a $200 beer lands

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The 2012 bottling of the Samuel Adams Utopias, which also came with a Riedel glass.

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The 2012 bottling of the Samuel Adams Utopias, which also came with a Riedel glass.

I know, it seems like all I do in this space as of late is write about beer, but I guess there's just been more immediate/local/important stuff happening on that front as of late, what with the Half Pints Pro/Am Challenge having taken place. (The results, by the way, can be seen here.) As we move into the New Year expect some whisky stuff in this space as well, as the Winnipeg Whisky Festival on Feb. 21 draws closer.

So for now I continue writing about beer in this little corner of the Internet, in part because of the announcement (via Twitter) that the Samuel Adams Utopias is returning to our province via Manitoba Liquor Marts.

With a staggering retail price of $166.41 (plus taxes), your average beer drinker won't be picking up a bottle of the Utopias, but rest assured the 30 bottles coming into the province (27 are going to the Grant Park Liquor Mart, while three are off to Brandon) will sell out quickly. The first time Utopias came into the province only six bottles arrived, and they didn't really even make it on to the shelves.

It just so happened I knew someone who was on their way to pick up a bottle of the 2012, and who texted me to see if I wanted one. I said yes, unaware at the time I was about to be out about $170 after taxes. You know what they say about a fool and their money...

So why the heck is the Utopias so bloody expensive? Well, the easiest thing to do is to link to the Liquor Marts page on the brew — click here to see that (as well as details on sales info, etc.). As you'll see, there are a number of different brews and finishing techniques that go into the Utopias, and the alcohol by volume is a whopping 28 per cent. So no, you don't fill up a pint glass with the stuff — rather, you'd serve it like you might a cognac, brandy or single-malt scotch (hold the ice cubes).

In 2012 only 54 barrels of the Utopias was made - they made about 100 this year, hence the increase in number of bottles coming. It comes in a kettle-shaped ceramic bottle, and (at least in the case of the 2012) with a specially designed glass created by Austrian wine-glass producer Riedel.

I know, it's still really darn pricey, but if you've got that impossible-to-buy-for hop-head in your life this might just be the perfect gift. Even better, anyone who enjoys good port, scotch or Cognac would like this...

So how do you get a bottle of the 2013 Utopias? Well, they go on sale Saturday morning at 9 a.m. at the Grant Park Liquor Mart (as well as Brandon's 10th and Victoria Liquor Mart), and there's a one-bottle limit per customer. You pretty much have to be there in person, and early.

Will there be a lineup? Probably — just how many people deep it goes is anyone's guess.

Ok... so in the interest of product knowledge I popped open my bottle of 2012 Utopias - the tasting notes appear at the bottom of this post. To get you warmed up, here are a few more interesting seasonal bottlings you should consider picking up, including a couple of locals...

Fort Garry St. Nick's Oaked Spiced Porter (Winnipeg, MB - $6.55/650ml bottle, Liquor Marts)
Coffee black in colour, the St. Nick's features has had spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon and all-spice added to it, and has spent some time mingling with oak chips in production (they're cheaper than oak barrels). The spices come out in full force on the nose, with some caramel and vanilla notes in there as well. There's a hint of sweetness to this dark porter that's almost reminiscent of gingerbread, and it brings a good deal of chewiness in texture as well. A decidedly Christmas-y brew for those looking for something festive. 3/5

Fort Garry Frontier Pilsner (Winnipeg, MB - $31.24/2x650ml bottles plus two glasses, Liquor Marts)
Fort Garry has relaunched this long-time favourite, reaching back into the vault for the 1930s recipe. This means the new Frontier tastes almost nothing like what we've seen on shelves for many years now. Pale gold and slightly cloudy in colour (this beer isn't filtered), the Frontier pours with a white head, looking almost like a wheat beer. Pils malt and Noble hops are bright and clean on the nose, and there's some citrus rind and peppery notes in there as well. It's a decidedly dry, crisp, and citrusy lager, with a fairly hoppy note (although there's a rating of just 30 IBUs here). The texture here walks the line between soft creamy effervescence and a brighter peppery bite, and there's far more complexity than your average pilsner. One of the better local brews I've tasted in some time, it comes packed in a two-pack wooden crate with two glasses, meaning it's gift-wrapped and ready to go. Delicious - watch for a January release without the festive packaging. 4/5

Ommegang Game of Thrones Take the Black Stout (Cooperstown, N.Y. - $11.25/750ml bottle, Liquor Marts)
Game of Thrones fans and beer geeks alike have been waiting for this brew for some time. Espresso black in colour and with a beige, foamy head, the Take the Black brings cocoa powder/Nestle Quik, cola, roasted malt and Tootsie Roll notes on the nose. It's a crisp, mainly dry, medium-plus bodied stout that's got some bright effervescence as well as roasted malt, dark chocolate, white pepper and cola flavours and a long, almost-tannic drying finish. At 7 per cent alcohol by volume there's some kick here too. A bit pricey for what it is - I figured it would be a bit heavier/richer - but there's no denying the GoT fan will dig this in a big way. Certainly a good winter stout. 3.5/5

Samuel Adams 2012 Utopias 10th Anniversary (Boston, Mass - N/A)
Once the Utopias was opened, the smell totally took over my kitchen - it smelled like I had spilled tawny port all over the place. Deep reddish-brown in colour, there's no visible carbonation or head to this beer - rather, it looks just like a tawny port too. My initial impression aromatically was that the Utopias smells almost exactly like fruit cake. Digging deeper, aromas of dried fruit (raisin, fig, apricot) are big and bright on the nose, with more subtle notes of brown sugar, bread pudding and vanilla. On the palate it's medium-plus bodied and viscous, with medium sweetness coming through on the initial attack, then slightly tart citrus that's bolstered by light acidity followed by some real heat and peppery notes on the finish thanks to the higher alcohol. Flavour-wise, the dried fruit notes are certainly front and centre, with the citrus notes offering more of a hat-tip to Cognac than Port. Port/Cognac references/similarities, there's still something about the Utopias that tastes decidedly like beer; I think it's an underlying malty note on the finish as well as a hint of wheat that do the trick here. It's not really fair to rate this, as it's unlike any beer I've ever tried. Fans (like me) of Port, scotch, Cognac or other similar spirits would really dig this - and while I'm glad I had a chance to pick up/taste the 2012 Utopias, I don't think I'll be braving the lineups come Saturday morning to get the 2013 version - if only because the timing means it's a big hit heading into the holidays.

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About Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

When he wasn't bashing on a drum kit in local punk rock bands, Ben spent the mid '90s hucking cases of wine around to pay for two English degrees. Now he's the Winnipeg Free Press wine columnist and blogger.

The extent of Ben's wine experience in the mid-90s was memories of accidentally leaving a bottle of White Zinfandel in the freezer overnight, and the ensuing mess he was left with. Between 1996 and 2005 Ben absorbed all he could about wine while working at wine shops to pay for school. Meanwhile, he was churning out papers for his BA and MA in English (from the Universities of Winnipeg and Manitoba, respectively).

Ben became the Winnipeg Free Press' weekly wine columnist in 2005, and two years later joined Wine Access magazine as a contributor, a member of their national tasting panel and a judge at the Canadian Wine Awards and International Value Wine Awards until the magazine closed up shop in 2013.

In 2013 Ben joined the Winnipeg Free Press as a copy/web editor.

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