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  • Santa Beer

    No one left any milk and cookies for Santa this year, fearing him to be a COVID superspreader, due to all the households he visited in the wee morning hours of December 25.

    With his advanced age and belly that shakes like a bowlful of jelly, Santa has plenty of co-morbidities, which is the only reason I can think of that he passed by my chimney this year, certainly not because I somehow made it onto the naughty list.

    In years past, I have fled south for sunny beaches over the Christmas break, but the ongoing lockdown found me at home alone on Christmas morning, keeping in touch with friends and family via Zoom.  Without Aunt Ethel’s disapproving eye upon me for Christmas morning, I made my own Christmas cheer by cracking open a bottle of Samichlaus, also known as the Christmas beer.

    Readers of teutonic descent will recognize that Samichlaus translates into Santa Claus, perhaps giving a hint as to its origins.  For those not in the know, Samichlaus is one of the strongest lager beers 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.  It is a little hard to find at smaller shops, but the Co-op Wines & Spirits in Strathmore is always reliable.

    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.  

    Because of the intense flavor, this beer pairs well with strong foods like a rich meat dish or a nice dark chocolate.  Thanks to the fancy chocolates I found in my Xmas stocking on Christmas morning, I enjoyed the Samichlaus with chocolate ganache, the perfect pairing for early morning boozing!

    If you would like to try a more local alternative without waiting until next December, look no further than Calgary’s own Outcast Brewing, located in the famed Barley Belt cluster of craft breweries, and their 1st Anniversary Imperial Stout, which coincidentally weighs in at the same 14% ABV as the famed Samichlaus, but is way more local.  Look for one of these at your local bottle shop, or ask your friendly neighbourhood booze merchant to recommend an alternative for all your holiday tipples!