Brewery: Brewery Castle Eggenberg, Eggenberg, Austria
Rating: 4 stars
No misprint: 14% alcohol. The self-proclaimed 'world's most extraordinary beer' hit shelves again late in 2008 as the world's highest-content lager. So, how do they achieve this insane content level? Well, the beer is brewed once a year on December 6, then fermented slowly over the next ten months. There is a more complicated and technical beer-speak explanation, but just imagine what would happen to any food you kept in the fridge for ten months. You can imagine the strong character it might develop.
Samichlaus is the perfect example that a beer's color has no direct correlation to its strength. You could put this beer next to a Killian's Irish Red and I'd bet it would be difficult to tell the difference. It's a light-deflecting red--remember, it is a lager, not an imperial stout.
I was pleasantly delighted at the aroma. My first sniff yielded a potent alcohol kick, but when I dipped down again, I found many subtle touches. I swear I smelled Greek olives or some kind of vinaigrette, but I could have just been hungry. There was definitely some sparkling white grape, though, and the intense sweetness had some acidic balance to it. Certainly I caught a whiff of caramel.
The taste was pure sweetness, though it took a few minutes to settle in. It's unfair to take one sip and make any proclamations, and this one had me reeling off the bat. Like the aroma, the alcohol kick was substantial--maybe not in the mouth, but going down the throat. It burned like the hard stuff does, and for a second I thought I might need a beer chaser. No matter, I pressed on.
The taste, as I found, improved as the glass emptied. As a skeptic, I must entertain the idea that this was because my level of intoxication was jumping dramatically each time I took a swallow. Did that have something to do with my increasing enjoyment? Maybe, but who cares. If a beer can get me buzzed enough during the course of 11 ounces that I change my opinion of it, doesn't that by definition make it an outstanding beer?
It, for the second half of the glass, tasted like I was drinking liquid caramel. Not the first taste I look for in a beer, but by no means was it unpleasant. You might think that a 14% beer would be borderline undrinkable (think of all the terrible high-content malt beverages out there), but the long fermentation process presumably gives this beer its smoothness. It does have a lingering taste in the mouth that isn't the most friendly, but it makes up for that with a nice warming burn that is welcomed on a winter's day. And the alcohol content was disguised quite well; I've had 8% beers that did worse.
Without question, this was a terrific experience for me. It will go on my mental mantle of beerdom next to the other classics and strange beers I've tried. Not the best beer I've had and not close, but was it the most extraordinary?
No, I guess not.
But I still liked it.