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Des de Moor
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Des de Moor


Schloss Eggenberg Samichlaus Bier

Originally published in What’s Brewing December 2004

Origin: Vorchdorf, Upper Austria
ABV: 14 per cent
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Schloss Eggenberg Samichlaus Bier

Samichlaus Bier

Samichlaus, an ideal sipping beer for the festive season, used to be the world’s strongest regularly brewed beer, and still claims to be its strongest lager.

The name is Swiss German dialect for St Nicholas, aka Santa Claus, and the beer is brewed annually on his saint’s day, 6 December, in many European countries a jollier occasion than Christmas Day. It’s matured at the brewery for ten months before being released in time for the following season.

This Austrian brew’s Swiss name is explained by its origin at the Hürlimann brewery in Zürich, once a leader in the cultivation of pure yeast strains. It was first produced there in 1979 to test an experimental yeast that would not “go to sleep” at higher alcohol levels, but immediately became a regular speciality.

In 1996 Hürlimann merged with another big Swiss brewer, Feldschlösschen, and the combined group is now part of Carlsberg. Samichlaus was soon rationalised out of existence, but after an international outcry from enthusiasts, it was recreated under license across the border in Austria after a break of three years.

Its new home is at 10th century Castle Eggenberg, overlooking the village of Vorchdorf between Salzburg and Linz. The castle has boasted a commercial brewery since 1681: the Stöhr family, the present owners, date their involvement back to 1803.

The beer is made to the same recipe as before, including dark malts and Hallertau, Hersbrücker and Styrian hops. The original cold fermenting yeast brought from Hürlimann is now supplemented by a second strain from Eggenberg.

The beer comes out rich brown with a burgundy tinge, very slightly cloudy with a gentle carbonation and a low head that soon subsides. It has a malty, spirity aroma with touches of glacé cherry, fruit cake, sherry and old books.

There are also sherry notes on the sweetish, malty and very complex palate, with juicy cherry fruit and darker iron and coffee flavours. The alcohol is obvious but not overbearing and the texture is smooth rather than cloying, aided by the subtle sparkle.

Gently drying and slightly raspy hop tones emerge in the long, warming finish, which remains overall malty and fruity, with notes of sweet wine, brandy and dates. There’s also a faint but noticeable bitter and woody sting in the tail.

Although not bottle conditioned, Samichlaus is capable of bottle development — my sample was bottled in 2001 with a best before date of 2005 and certainly showed some additional complexity. A treasure of a beer, and one that deserves looking after following its narrow escape from corporate oblivion.

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