I’ve written on this blog before about Winter Warmer beers (Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome and Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale), but in my heart no other beer celebrates the category as Samichlaus Classic. At one point it was the strongest beer in the world at 14% alcohol, and on it’s label it brags that it’s the “World’s Most Extraordinary Beverage.” With swagger like that, you almost wonder if they were drunk on the stuff when they wrote its description. All this, combined with its slack and silver label tell you : this is not a Bud light. This is something big, but not in a childish way. There’s no childish Four Loko technicolor camouflage strewn across it here. No, the outisde of the bottle seems to both warn and entice. It says to you “there’s something good in here, but if you’re not man enough, it will dominate you.” I consider myself a Cesar Milan of booze. I shall now try to calmly assert myself.
When you take the cap off the bottle, its siren song commences, as waves of malty goodness begin to emit from its orifice. I smell the bottle and smell a layered maltiness, as if the brewers took the most flavorful malt and somehow distilled its essence into a beer. As I smell it in the glass, I am taken back. As a lapsed and lazy homebrewer, boiling wort (beer before its fermented) is a smell that’s both familiarly enjoyable and almost synonymous with an exhausting night of checking temperatures and waiting, lifting gallons of water around and hoping nothing is broken. The smell itself is, from a practical standpoint, the smell of caramelized malts now in solution in the wort becoming further caramelized during the boil, and volatile hop aromas evaporating into the air. Samichlaus screams these notes to me. Moaning even.
Seriously, in the time it’s taken me to type this, my mouth has been watering looking at this auburn glass, watching little CO2 bubbles rise to the top. The first sip is like a kiss from a lover who I’ve not been able to hold because of circumstances beyond our control. Malty sweetness, roasted caramel, dark raisiny fruit and a cognac like alcoholic presence. This is a beverage superior to what the idea of beer is in most people’s minds. This is a monster of the best kind. Power and potency combine with a certain eloquence. Samichlaus is like a bull in a China shop, but a bull who speaks five languages.
Samichlaus is not a beer for every day. Even in its native Austria (Samichlaus is Swiss German for Santa Claus), it’s brewed once a year and then aged 10 months. But it’s Christmas Eve. It’s cold outside, and the only way to fight sometimes is with a good strong drink. Merry Christmas, and I hope one Christmas in your future, Samichlaus visits you too. Merry Christmas!