Beer of the Week: Samichlaus Classic

Categories: Beer Beer Beer
Unrepentant beer drinkers, rejoice! Each week, Clean Plate Charlie will select one craft or import beer and give you the lowdown on it: How does it taste? What should you drink it with? Where can you find it? But mostly, it's all about the love of the brew. If you have a beer you'd like featured in Beer of the Week, let us know via a comment.

I've talked a lot about aging beers in past columns, but I've never really found a beer that was necessary to age until now. Last night, I picked up a four-pack of Samichlaus Classic at ABC Liquors. At $20 for the package, this beer touted as "the world's most extraordinary beverage" is one of the most expensive options in the store, beating out typically high-priced Belgian bottles like Abt. 12 and Delerium Tremens.         

Samichlaus (AKA "Santa Claus") is a Swiss beer brewed by Schloss Eggenberg, a brewery that's been around since the 14th Century. A winter lager brewed only once a year on December 6 (the day of Saint Nicholas), Samichlaus is aged for ten months in the beer cellars of Eggenberg Castle, making it not only rare but very expensive. As far as doppelbocks go, it's extremely potent at 14 percent alcohol, making it a beer for sipping and savoring.

This 2009 vintage I picked up is as young as Samichlaus gets. People talk of cellaring this potent brew for many years, if not a decade or more, allowing its already complex taste to develop over time. After trying it myself, I could tell right away it's a beer that needs to age.

Samichlaus pours an oily, thick garnet color. There's little carbonation or head to speak of, just a slightly bubbly froth on top that dissipates quickly. It smells thick and potent, like molasses spiked with whiskey. Rolling it around in a wine glass, it looks beautiful as well. The beer shimmers in the light like precious metal, a golden, coppery sheen offset by earthy mahogany.

Samichlaus looks beautiful in a glass.

A sip of Samichlaus reveals a layer of flavor. At first sip, you may taste only a deeply intense, almost cloying sweetness. But as your palate acclimates to the brew, you begin to pick up on Samichlaus' other qualities. The beer has a creamy mouthful and a peppery finish. Somewhere in between is a sea of ripe, dark-skinned fruit: grapes, cherries, and figs. There's a dry, liquor-like sweetness that reminds me of a cross between cognac and sherry. And a deep alcohol burn that asserts itself after the last bit trickles down your throat.

The combination of flavors is a bit overwhelming, to be honest. The sweetness of the beer makes it difficult to drink without its best friend on hand: a piece of dark chocolate. And that's where I think Samichlaus will improve with age. That sweetness should mellow, revealing much more of the pungent fruit flavor and complex sherry and vanilla aromas. I recommend if you do pick up a four-pack that you drink only one bottle now as a reference, then store the rest for at least two to three years. I personally won't crack another bottle of Samichlaus until September 2013.

If you want a beer to drink tonight, this isn't the one for you. But if you'd like to try holding onto a bottle and seeing what proper aging can do, grab some Samichlaus now before it's gone (remember, it comes around only once per year).

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