The Monk's Kettle
Considering that Belgian beer has its origins in medieval monasteries, its status in craft brewing remains white-hot. A number of local brewers, from Sierra Nevada to North Coast, have tried their hands at Belgian-style beers in recent years, but they all owe a debt to Allagash, the Maine-based brewery whose products have grown increasingly popular in California over the past few years. While the brand's flagship remains the White, a Belgian-style wheat beer that was also the first beer they brewed, their brewing structure is surprisingly open and inventive.
Last night, I had the opportunity to sip what amounts to the Holy Grail for many craft beer lovers: a snifter of Samuel Adams Utopias, the ultra-rare beer that the Boston brewery only makes every other year. While it's made from the basic ingredients of beer (hops, malt, yeast, and water), Utopias really stretches the definition of "beer" in every way. It's served uncarbonated, clocks in at 27% alcohol by volume (the average brewski is a mere 5%), and has the look and mouthfeel of nice brandy or cognac. It takes several years to brew and blend, and is aged in whiskey, wine, and cognac barrels.