BOSTON – Limited edition batches in beer production may be neither new nor unique, but it's easy to raise a cynical eyebrow at them. If there's little difference between a brewery's deluxe anniversary release, priced at a markup of 20 percent, and their standard offering, it isn't that you've been conned. It's that you were naive enough to believe in exclusivity as a decisive factor in your personal tastes. Hell, even the Jonas Brothers hopped on the small batch bandwagon recently by announcing their partnership with Coors Light, the erstwhile purveyors of fine American craftsmanship. Although, if you're one of the Jonas Brothers there's a probably a very good reason you're drowning yourself in a small lake of watered down pap on a nightly basis.
Which isn't to say that there hasn't been some valiant attempts at limited edition releases. Frequently, they're pilot runs used to test market acceptance prior to regular production. But, let's face it. If you can admit to worshipping at the altar of anything pumpkin spiced, no matter how inconceivably wrong on any level it may be, you've been duped by a fairly transparent advertising ploy, Becky. So you might as well accept that somewhere in America, at one time, there actually existed a market for sriracha flavored stout.
But while sriracha flavored stout may have been an exercise in novelty as much as it was a gross overestimation of the general public's masochism, it didn't retail for several hundred dollars a bottle. That's largely because its manufacturer was as aware of both its limited market appeal as well as its potential as a tax write off. Boston Beer Company, on the other hand, seems more than happy to hedge their bets that someone is actually willing to pay over $200 for a single beer. For the eleventh year in a row.
The 2019 Utopia release from Sam Adams, which goes on sale this October 15th, is a micro-produced "extreme" barrel aged beer blended from multiple batches and matured for 24 years in Scandinavian Aquavitand Moscat barrels using (in their terms) a “‘ninja yeast,’ created for its ability to survive and continue fermenting in an environment that has such a high alcohol level”—a reference to Utopia’s 28 percent ABV. The end result? A 25.4 oz bottle shaped like a brewery still which retails for $210 each.
It’s not just an exercise in waste and stupidity. It’s not just an example of unimaginative marketing heads using the vaguely racist term “ninja yeast” as a selling point. It’s also illegal in 15 states, including Georgia, Oklahoma, Missouri and New Hampshire.
(That’s right. New Hampshire. You can get your firearms, your explosives and even your black market vape pods at 20 percent off, but don’t even think about forking over the better part of your paycheck for a couple bottles of the latest “extreme” offering from Sam Adams.)
It’s fair to say I don’t know anyone willing to pay $210 for a single beer. It’s also fair to say I don’t want to know anyone willing to pay $210 for a single beer. And I think it’s fair to say you probably shouldn’t, either. You can argue all you want about the transformation of beer into a luxury status symbol and the possible social and ethical implications which occur as a result. Lord knows, I have. Quite frequently. For less than $210. But you’re overlooking one critical factor which is a question more of utilitarianism than socioeconomic quandaries.
Beer is meant to be consumed. We’re not talking about a limited run of P. Diddy approved Ciroc or a 1989 bottle of Château de Booji-Booji-Boo. Those are just symbols of your own crass insecurity. We’re talking about about a beverage best enjoyed in multiple quantities, not an investable asset used as collateral for a commercial financing loan. The quicker you get over your fetishization of beer as a lifestyle indicator, the less we will see of this sort of crap.
But if you do have that sort of pocket change to splurge, Sam Adams has indicated this year’s Utopia pairs quite well with fish and chips and chili-mango chicken. Or maybe they just mean fish sticks and Qdoba.
Image via Flickr / mroach