Beer

Is Sam Adams' New 28 Percent ABV Beer Legal in Your State?

Remnants of Prohibition-era policies continue to frustrate brewers.

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Fifteen states don't want you to try Sam Adams' new "extreme" beer. In fact, they make it a crime to sell it.

On October 15, Samuel Adams, the Boston-based brewing company, debuted this year's iteration of its Utopias "extreme beer." In addition to carrying the astronomical price tag of $210 dollars per 25.4-ounce bottle, Utopias has a substantial alcohol by volume (ABV) of 28 percent. That's about six times the ABV of an average beer, placing it well over the legal limitations that 15 states have imposed on ABV for a bottle of beer.

One of the 15 states banning Utopias is Utah, a state with notoriously strict alcohol laws. Earlier this year, the state imposed a 5 percent ABV limit on beer—a sign of the state easing up a bit. The 2019 law replaced an 86-year-old Prohibition-era law that placed a 3.2 percent alcohol by weight (ABW) cap on beer. (ABW is an outdated term, but a 3.2 percent ABW beer is equivalent to a modern 4 percent ABV beer.)

Jarrett Dieterle, senior fellow at R Street, a public policy organization dedicated to promoting, "free markets and limited, effective government," notes that while it's good that Prohibition-era laws are gradually being repealed, "many of the states that [do] repeal their 3.2 laws merely [replace] them with slightly less onerous versions."

Utah's 5 percent ABV limit on beer is only one of many halfhearted attempts by state legislatures to reel back the control the state has over what you can consume. Dieterle points out that Oklahoma simply created a new cap at 8.99 percent ABV, whereas Kansas' legislature only increased the 3.2 ABW percent cap to 6 percent ABV (a meager 2 percent increase in ABV).

The real issue with this archaic approach to beer regulating, is that the new laws are still, "arbitrary and especially unsuited to the modern craft-beer era." Dieterle tells Reason that "the vast majority of these laws would also impact beers with much lower ABV levels than 28 percent" such as Imperial IPAs, which typically range from 7 to 12 percent ABV. This means that the beer market in many of these former 3.2 cap states is significantly limited. State governments are essentially regulating away fun by stifling innovation in the craft beer industry.

Alcohol laws are a prime example of nanny state regulations that infantilize adults in the name of protecting citizens from themselves. Often the rules make no sense and don't even accomplish their stated purpose: Utah bans 28 percent ABV beer, but you can go down to the liquor store there and buy 50 bottles of vodka. A typical bottle of vodka has an ABV of 40 percent, and it sells for a lot less than Samuel Adams' Utopias beer.

As Dieterle says, "we have a wonderful diversity of beer varieties in modern America, and it just makes no sense to have these arbitrary caps on alcohol levels still in place."

More on ridiculous American beer laws:

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  1. One of the 15 states banning Utopias is Utah, a state with notoriously strict alcohol laws.

    Has Pierre Delecto issued a statement about this yet?

    1. I’ve heard that Mordecai and Jesus don’t like liars.

      Even her brother is okay with her profession.

      “My brother said, ‘I will definitely never watch your porn

    2. Does she come with the $210 beer? Because that is only way I can see justifying that price.

  2. You lost me at $210.

  3. It’s legal where I live. But still awful.

  4. The Kansas 6 % limit only applies to grocery and convenience stores. You can still buy stronger at liquor stores, bars, restaurants, etc. Still dumb though.

  5. Is this even ‘beer’ or a fortified beer based product.

    I wasn’t aware of yeast that could naturally ferment to that level of ABV.

    1. They use a special yeast according to the website.

    2. Special yeast under special conditions, or good old fashioned ice distillation (freeze the beer and strain out the ice). Even so, stuff about 15% becomes undrinkable. It’s not light like a wine, it’s heavy like a syrup.

      1. Undrinkable? I like it, personally. To each their own.

    3. They add a substantial amount of syrup to the fermentation.

  6. Is a 56 proof drink even a beer? How do they get the ABV that high without distilling?

    1. Read the description on the website. “Ninja yeast.”

      1. I’m going to call that “class A bullshit.” Sure champagne yeasts can survive up to just above 20%, but I’m not buying 28%. My suspicion is that some of those ‘aging’ barrels (maybe the aquavit) are bringing more to the party than just flavor.

  7. I live in NJ, a shining beacon of freedom and individualism. So I’m gonna say no, Sam Adams 28% ABV is not available here.

  8. You would need a wine license to sell it in my state.

  9. Illegal in NC from what I can tell because the cap on beer is 15%, but I don’t understand why they wouldn’t just classify it as a liquor and sell it in the ABC store. Why is a 15% beer a problem but not a 20% port wine or 40% whisky? Gov’t prohibitions aren’t even internally consistent.

    1. Possible reasons:

      Because its not distilled, calling it liquor would be deemed false advertising or some other nonsense.
      The law doesn’t recognize carbonated beverages as liquor
      The facility that brews it doesn’t have a license to produce liquor, only beer
      Or wholesale distributing liquor requires a different kind of permit

      I’m sure a government agent can come up with many more.

    2. Probably the inconsistency is is there to prevent fortification or distillation. Dirt easy to make a high ABV ale if you fortify it. And then you end up with Barley Cisco. Sorry, but I want to keep my brain intact!

    3. State alcohol laws are just that – up to each state, so they vary wildly. Although the one consistency is that, in every instance, they are written to the benefit of wholesalers. Wholesale alcohol distributorships largely being a license to steal.

  10. Above about 12%, it ceases to be beer, IMO, and should be called either barleywine or malt liquor.

  11. And I just noticed the price tag on that beer.

    $13.49 for a six pack of fucking Sam Adams? Where the fuck is this? Jesus.

    1. Somewhere with high alcohol taxes (probably the south?). When I lived in Florida the taxes weren’t too bad, but the blue laws were everywhere.

  12. I had an Sam Adams old ABV record (their triple bock, at 17 ABV). It was undrinkable. Frankly, anything above 15 ABV is undrinkable. Although you can get some good stuff in the 12-15 range. I once made a Wee Heavy at 13 ABV that was smooth as silk.

    But by the time you get up to those ranges you have so much malt in the beer that it becomes syrup, regardless of whether it’s natural fermentation of ice distillation. Reserve that alcoholic range for meads and wines.

    1. I don’t know. I’ve had a barleywine or two that were 14% or so and they were quite good. Not awesome, but good.

      And if you cover the boozy alcohol flavor/aroma with malt, hops, or yeast esters/phenols, then it can be much better, especially if the flavors are well balanced. For instance a Belgian quad or something can be 12-13% and it’s hard to tell because it’s got so much flavor punch (if made well).

      I recently brewed an imperial pilsner that was 8.4% and I was surprised at how awesome it turned out. No booziness whatsoever. It was dangerously quaffable. You just wanted to suck it down, but you couldn’t without hurting yourself.

      1. Most barleywines have too forward an alcohol taste IMO.

        But I’ve had a couple barrel conditioned ones from Black Abbey out of Nashville and they were quite good. Ballast Point’s Victor at Sea porter is 10%, which is good to know before you start drinking, because you really cannot tell it from the taste.

    2. The triple bock was a wretched, terrible beer. They made it 2 or 3 years in the mid 90s. Every version was awful.

      I actually still have a bottle from the last year, unopened, 20-something years old. I have no desire to see if it improved with age.

      I’ve had very few beers over 12% that were drinkable. An exception is Dogfish Head’s Raison D’Extra, when it first came out, a 19% version of their Raison d’Etre. However, either they’ve changed the recipe or my tastes have changed, because last time I had it, it wasn’t very good.

  13. State governments are essentially regulating away fun by stifling innovation in the craft beer industry.

    To say nothing of the craft heroin industry.

  14. It’s legal in Texas. I’ve had it, and would like to thank Marius Donnelly, the owner of the Trinity in Dallas, for supplying our table with one, gratis, a few years back. If you’re a regular there, you know how generous he can be.

    It’s … interesting, maybe. I took a shot glass’s worth, and left the rest for my table companions. Not something I’d pay even a buck for.

  15. Sorry to break it to you Noah, but Sam Adams Utopias is NOT banned or illegal in Utah. I have legally purchased it twice in Utah over the last decade. Though 5% may be the new norm for draft beer in Utah (Nov1st) there is no ceiling on the ABV a beer can have in a bottle or can. Cheers.

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