This week’s beer is a rather extraordinary number thanks to its relative rarity and former status as the strongest lager in the world at 14% ABV. It comes from Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg in Vorchdorf, Austria and goes by the name Samichlaus―“Santa Claus” in Swiss German. It’s brewed once a year on December 6th, Saint Nicholas’ Day, and is lagered for a remarkable ten months. It can be aged further in the bottle, bringing out greater complexity and a creamy and warming aftertaste.
Samichlaus Classic (not to be confused with the brewery’s Samichlaus Bier Helles) is a Bavarian doppelbock, or “double bock,” which is a stronger version of the more traditional bockbier first brewed by the Paulaner Friars in Munich sometime around the mid-17th century. Paulaner’s Salvator (Latin for “Savior”), the original doppelbock, is still widely available today and can be found in Japan at such retail outlets as Yamaya. The brewing of bockbier by monks began as a means to endure periods of fasting, the longest being the six weeks of Lent, giving it a reputation as “liquid bread.” The stronger variation appeared in the late 18th century.
Doppelbock is an intensely rich and malty lager. The aroma can be toasty or caramel-like, and darker versions may also have fruity aromas reminiscent of prune, plum, or grape. It often appears deep gold to dark brown in color with a creamy and long-lasting head, although high alcohol content may cause it to diminish quickly. The flavor is usually similar to the aroma. There is typically a strong, warming alcohol presence. Hop bitterness may be present, but it should not interfere with the predominant malt.
Samichlaus Classic pours a very clear mahogany body with a cream-hued head. It smells like a freshly opened bag of bread with a good dose of raisin and a twang of spice. There is surprisingly little alcohol detectable in the aroma. The flavor is dominated by intensely sweet and flavorful malt, like a mouthful of liquid brown sugar and toffee. Rye bread also comes to mind. There is a little prune-like fruitiness along with a touch of fennel seed-like spiciness. The alcohol is rather strong; it becomes vaporous and fills the mouth upon swallowing and quickly fades. The body is on the full side, and there is only a little carbonation. Very smooth, like thin syrup, and almost sickly sweet.
Overall lovely in color and astoundingly sweet and rich in flavor. On a personal note, I don’t normally care for high alcohol content in beer, but the alcohol in Samichlaus doesn’t linger and interfere with the other aspects. And with such intense flavors and high alcohol content, it’s great for sipping at a leisurely pace.
Today’s beer was purchased at Tanakaya in Mejiro, just a couple minutes’ walk from Mejiro station in Tokyo.
―The Mad Capper