December 25 is always a special day for your intrepid liquor reporter. No, gentle reader, it’s not because I somehow managed to keep my name off of Santa’s naughty list.
Rather, Christmas day is the one day each year that I drink Samichlaus, the Christmas beer.
Readers of teutonic descent will recognize that Samichlaus translates into Santa Claus. Perhaps you should be leaving a bottle of this for Santa instead of those boring old milk and cookies!
For those not in the know, Samichlaus is the strongest lager beer in the world, weighing in at 14% ABV.
This fine beer is brewed only on December 6, to commemorate the historical feast day of the 4th-century Saint Nicholas, then left to mature for 10 months before being bottled and sold.
Well-stocked booze merchants in North America generally see this beer hit their shelves in late November, much to the glee of the eager beer nerds.
So what makes this beer so special, and why shouldn’t it be drunk every day of the year?
To begin with, it is only produced in a single Austrian brewery, and is only brewed for one day each year. That makes it pretty hard to lay your hands on more than a few bottles at a time.
The brewery in question is the Schloss-Eggenberg brewery, located in Eggenberg Castle in Upper Austria.
The castle was originally a monastery, and beer production for the monks started in the 14th century. The monastery was purchased by a commercial brewer in 1681, and brewing continues to this day.
With more than 500 years of brewing history to draw upon, this is definitely a brewery you want to make your special Christmas beer.
The idea for the Samichlaus beer was hatched in 1979, with the first bottling just before Christmas of 1980. The brewmaster was recognized as a world leader in yeast research, and the extremely potent Samichlaus was the fruit of his labours.
The beer itself is made in the style of a Bavarian Doppelbock, which was first brewed centuries earlier as a liquid bread to sustain monks during times of fasting.
I’m sure that drinking only high-alcohol beer with nothing else in the stomach made for a few giggly monks back in the middle ages. Maybe that’s why they were always taking vows of silence; to prevent the unwashed masses from figuring out they were usually tipsy.
Doppelbock beers tend to be darker than most lagers, due to the high levels of barley used to get the alcohol levels so high. The aroma is intensely malty, with very little hop bitterness. The flavour is very strong, often with notes of prune or raisin in the finish.
The ten-month lagering process in a cold room slows down the fermentation process, and leaves very little residual sugar in the final product, making for a very strong flavoured beer.
Unlike most other beer styles, this will actually mellow and improve with age, with the complexity of the flavour improving with longer storage.
Your intrepid liquor reporter buys a six-pack every year, and always squirrels away a few bottles in the wine cellar for aging. This Christmas, I enjoyed 3 separate bottles from the 2009, 2010, and 2011 vintages, and it was obvious that the older beers had improved with age.
Because of the intense flavor, this beer pairs well with strong foods like a rich meat dish or a nice dark chocolate.
If you happen to find a few fancy chocolates in your stocking on Christmas morning, I can think of no better way to enjoy them than with an early morning Xmas beer!
Your humble narrator still has a few bottles from the last several years aging in the cellar, but they will be staying there until next Christmas. Luckily, there are other similar Doppelbocks that are readily available all year round to slake your thirst.
If you would like to try a similar brew without waiting until next December, look no further than Kelowna’s own Tree Brewing, which released Captivator Doppelbock this past summer.
Served in a 650mL bottle with 8% ABV, it is not as strong as Samlichaus, but you’ll be drinking twice as much of it. Try to enjoy it with a friend, but enjoy it soon, as it is a seasonal brew that will likely disappear soon.