Thursday, 27 December 2007

The strongest lager beer in the world?

The Doctor Who Christmas special was woeful. It came close to ruining my day. Fearing the worst within minutes of kick off, I armed myself with "the strongest lager beer in the world". That claim, made on the label, is probably untrue. However, it is the strongest beer of any kind that I've encountered.

Samichlaus is a brew with history. It was originally Swiss, with pale and amber versions being produced until 1996 by Hürlimann of Zurich. In 2000, Austrian brewer Eggenberg took up the challenge. They now brew the 14% abv dark version once a year on 6th December, being the feast day of St Nicholas. It's lagered for a full ten months. The consumer is expected to allow it to age further in the bottle. My bottle was from the 2006 batch.

As soon as the aroma hits your nose, it leaves you in no doubt: this is seriously alcoholic. Make sure you're seated comfortably. The initially impressive head quickly subsides, leaving barely a trace of life behind. Unsurprisingly, syrupy sweetness dominates. There's dark fruit and a malt presence, but more than anything Samichlaus reminded me of sherry wine. Reaching the half way point, I didn't feel the need to stop but didn't regret it's diminution.

For such an iconic and mighty beer, this made little impression on me. It wasn't unpleasant, but I certainly wouldn't bother with it again. Lots of people judge beer according to "style", a practice that makes my eyelids itch. I have my own criteria, and one of them revolves around strength: if a beer is very strong, I expect it to repay me for exposing my precious liver to such potency. Samichlaus, like so many other "extreme" beers I've tried, didn't deliver.

18 comments:

  1. The Eggenberg version of Samichlaus was first available in 2000, not 2006. Looks like someone got the info wrong on Wikipedia. ;)

    And I think the "strongest lager in the world" claim might still be true. I've had some stronger ales, but it's still the biggest lager I'm aware of.

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  2. I tend to agree, this one does not deliver. If they had focus on brewing an interesting beer instead of just a strong one, it would probably have been better.

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  3. Greg, I didn't use Wikipedia and never do! However, the person who wrote the entry there clearly used the same (incorrect) source as me. I'll make a change. I blame too much food and booze over Christmas for the lapse! When I start saying SABMiller and Molson Coors have merged and that Guinness tastes better in Dublin, you'll know it's time to shoot me! Cheers

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  4. this stuff sounds horrid! presumably they make it mainly for american beer geeks?

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  5. Anonymous, Samichlaus predates the current vogue for "extreme" beers in the US by some decades, so I think the answer to your question is no.

    Right, I'm off to the January sales to buy myself nice things. Will be hitting The Harp later.

    Cheers all

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  6. January Sales - You fool it'll be an utter mad house, at least you'll have an excuse to crack open a few more bottles when you return.

    On the subject of beers, I'd like to see a move towards tasty low gravity pale ales next summer, only a truly skilled brewer can get one of those right.

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  7. John, crowds in Central London don't really bother me as I know where I'm headed* and can just elbow people aside. I don't see what the fuss is really.



    * normally a quick raid of the big H&M and Top Man followed by a choice boozer.

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  8. Crowds in general are a no go area for me I loose my blob really easily with the shuffling spatially unaware "slackjaws" that inhabit the various parts of Darlington. I reckon the stress of it all would give me an aneurysm within ten seconds of hitting Oxford Street!

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  9. If I recall correctly, the "pale" version was dropped in the mid-80's (it was primarily an export product, if I remember the Michael Jackson entry right), which left only the "dark" (which was also labeled "Samichlaus Brown" in certain US markets, I recently learned) for most of it's time as a Hurlimann product.

    In the US, reportedly, a new "Helles" version, with a red label, was released this year, tho' I haven't found it. Also, reported in the US, there are "big bottles" of 3 liter and 750 ml, the former (at least, going by photos in beer mags) with a "flip top" porcelain cap. I don't know if I'd want to trust that sort of closure for 10-20 year aging, considering what those rubber gaskets look like after a few uses by homebrewers (tho' some of the cracking and hardening may be due to chemical sterilizing in that case).

    Samichlaus, I find, is definitely one of those beers that just doesn't benefit from cellaring, but demands it. I had a bottle of 1996 while I watched- I mean, "helped" my wife decorate the tree this year. It was an amazing beer- chocolate-y, with nice coffee and raisin hints and a very a understated alcohol "burn". Still sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. I'd say the "sherry" comparison is a fair one, and so one should be prepared for that rather than just a "big beer".

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  10. I just had one here a few days ago. I thought it was awful. I rate it about the same as EKU 28.

    Stanch, the readers of this blog love you, but so does someone else. I don't think you want to be on a fiery lake sipping a Pedigree. Lets get it sorted so you can reserve your place with the lord in his Kingdom of ale.

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  11. I seem to have liked it ok when I reviewed it in March but I really liked their Doppelbock Dunkel. I have a case of it making the slow walk through the LCBO special ordering system which may get here for springtime.

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  12. I had a Pedigree tonight Stonch, come on mate, if you dont post about it I will to name and shame you ...

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  13. Stonch, you're going out drinking Harp Lager? I thought you had more taste.

    I quite liked Dr. Who. At least what I could hear of it other Alexei's screaming.

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  14. I wonder if that bottle could have benefited from a couple of years in the cellar.

    Speaking of cellaring did you ever drink the bottle of 15 year old Worthington Whiteshield?

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  15. I don't like extreme beers, blah blah, BLAH! Stonch, if you don't appreciate interesting brewing, why write a beer blog?

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  16. Who says "extreme" brewing is the only interesting brewing going on...or interesting at all for that matter?

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  17. Hmm, I've noticed on my blog that the unecessarily antagonistic comments only ever come from an anonymous source - can't think why!

    Anyhoo, on the subject of extreme American beers I've got a soft spot for Hercules Double IPA, Sam Smith's Triple Bock and Utopias and John's earlier post about brewing light low ABV beers has prompted me to wrap my tastebuds around the bottle of Harvester's Ale that the boys from Badger sent me - and I like it.

    Full review going up on my blog now!

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  18. ANDYGATOR made by ABITA Beer is a nice Strong beer if you can find it.

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