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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
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.
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.
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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).