Beer Beer Beer

Beer of the Week: Samichlaus Classic

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


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.

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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John Linn