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Samichlaus Helles 2007

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I discovered Samichlaus a few years ago and immediately sought out some bottles to lay down in my cellar. Breaking out a vintage bottle on Christmas eve whilst I belatedly wrap presents is quickly becoming one of my favorite Christmas traditions. Last year, I cracked open bottles of both 2009 and 2010 and was quite impressed with how well the age treated the 2009 edition.

Today's beer was actually bottled in 2007, but it's also the Helles version of the beer. Helles is German for "bright" and this beer is supposed to be a paler version of the traditional Samichlaus, but the trouble with this is that the beer has such a high original gravity that the end result looks more or less the same as the traditional variety. Back in the day, Michael Jackson noted that: "In recent years the brewery has accepted the traditional view that Christmas and winter beers should be dark." This translates to the fact that the brewery only puts out the Helles every four years. However, it appears that they haven't completely given up on the idea, as I've seen 2011 bottles around.

In truth, this may be the oldest beer I've ever had (aside from a miniscule sample of 2003 120 Minute IPA I snagged a while back, but I don't think that should count). Fortunately, I bought this just last year, so it's not like it was sitting in my cellar for 5 whole years. Let's see if age has treated this one well:

Samichlaus Helles 2007

Schloss Eggenberg Samichlaus Bier Helles 2007 - Pours a clear amber/orange color with visible sediment (my bad) and next to no head at all, just a thin film of white head fading quickly to a ring of head that eventually disappears completely. Smells strongly of dark fruits, cherries, sweet malts, and maybe some booze. Actually really nice, better than what I remember from other Samichlaus vintages. Taste is very sweet, intense flavors of caramel giving way to fruitiness, plums and cherries, and a sorta rummy booze liqueur character pervading throughout. Mouthfeel is sticky and syrupy, but carbonated enough that it doesn't get cloying, lots of alcohol heat, a sipping beer for sure, but it's got a very smooth, almost creamy texture that I'm going to credit to the age of this particular bottle. Though I've never actually had the Helles before, given my experience with the regular Samichlaus, I'm going to say the age has actually improved this beer considerably. I'm really enjoying this more than I expected. It feels more like an old English Barleywine than a doppelbock (or helles, for that matter), and I'm guessing that a bottle of this stuff would age really well for many years (even more than the 5 year old bottle I've got here). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/24/12. Bottled in 2007.

At this point, I regret not loading up on the 2007 when I could. But I still have a few bottles of the 2009, and each year thereafter. So let's just say, you'll be seeing this every year.

Troegenator Double Bock

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One would assume that a Doppelbock grew out of the single Bock style, but apparently not. Doppelbocks have their roots in monastic brewing, and it was after the beer became secularized that goat-loving drinkers1 began to notice similarities between these beers and regular Bocks. Apparently, a bunch of drunken Italian monks2 found their way to Munich and began brewing this extra strong beer to sustain themselves during the fasting periods of Advent and Lent3. Full bodied with a rich, chewy malt character, these beers became known as "liquid bread".

Their beer was called Salvator (translates to "the Savior") and the Monks kept it to themselves for over a century. Once they began selling it to the public, that's when the whole Doppelbock moniker came up, though interestingly enough, other breweries who copied the beer called the style "Salvator" too. Eventually trademark protection forced those other breweries to come up with new names for their beer, though many try to keep it traditional by using words that end in "-ator", including new takes on the style like today's example:

Troegs Troegenator

Tröegs Troegenator Double Bock - Pours a deep, dark amber color with hints of ruby and a small amount of light colored head. Smells of caramel malt with a yeasty note, maybe a hint of fruitiness as well. The taste tends towards those caramel malt flavors, though it's a bit muted. Clearly there and very sweet, but not overpowering either, and while there's no real hop character to the beer, it's balanced enough not to be cloying either. Mouthfeel is smooth with just a bit of richness filling out the body, making this easier to drink than a sipper, but not quite at the level of a super-quaffable beer either. Overall, this is a solid beer. Not a ton of complexity, but quite nice for what it is. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.2% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of one of them fancy Sam Adams glasses on 3/30/12.

Tröegs continues to be an interesting semi-local brewery. I enjoy trying their beers, but I've rarely been blown away... though I will admit that Nugget Nectar has grown on me quite a bit and I'm always on the lookout for new beers in their Scratch series....

1 - For the uninitiated, "Bock" means "Goat" in German. Like a lot of beer origin stories, there are a few interpretations of where that comes from. One is that it was a shortened, mispronounced version of Einbeck, a city famous for its beer. Another is that the beer was often brewed in the Capricorn (symbolized by a goat) timeframe. Regardless, that's why you see a lot of goats on labels for Bocks and Doppelbocks.

2 - These monks were from Paula, Italy, and became known as Paulaners... a name that exists to this day, though the brewery seems to have been secularized.

3 - Yeah, I probably should have posted this on (or before) Easter, eh?

January Beer Club: Hoppy New Beer!

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Tonight was beer club, a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together for a meal and lots-o-beer once a month. We had an average turnout this month, with 5 folks drinking beer and one pregnant club member who actually brought some non-alcoholic beer for us to try:

January Beer Club

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we tried are below. As usual, conditions were not ideal, so take it all with a grain of salt. Or a giant hunk of salt. In order of drinking (not necessarily the order in the picture):

  • Samuel Smith Winter Welcome Ale - I already reviewed this beer last month, but this bottle seemed a lot better than the one I had before. Not sure what the deal is there, but it was a better balanced brew than I remember, and certainly not a C. Maybe an upgrade to a B- is warranted.
  • Clausthaler Premium - The first of our non-alcoholic beers, this one was actually not the worst thing I've ever had. It's not particularly great either, but it's certainly comparable to a solid macro lager, maybe even better. If you're pregnant, this would certainly hit the spot (though apparently there's an amber version that is better). I give it a C
  • Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale - I've had this a few times before, but it's actually better than I remember. Very nice, lots of hop character in the nose and the taste (nice floral and pine notes), but not overwhelmingly bitter or anything. I don't get a ton of oak out of this, but it's definitely more complex than the standard Arrogant Bastard. A-
  • Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon Ale - Rogue's collaboration with the Voodoo Doughnut shop generated a lot of buzz when it was announced, but once it was released, it got denounced as a "foul abomination". Fortunately, it's not that bad, though it's certainly not a mainstream beer. It smells very strongly of maple syrup with a little smoke coming through. The bacon comes out a little in the taste, but I'm still getting more maple syrup than anything else. There's some smoke there too, but it's not an overpowering flavor. Mouthfeel is actually quite nice, though it's still not an easy drinkin beer. I'm not sure I'd want to drink an entire bottle, but I did seem to like it a lot more than most beer club peeps. Perhaps because I was drinking this along with the burger I had ordered? Whatever the case, it is a bit of a gimmick, but I kinda enjoyed it. B-
  • Kaliber - This is the other non-alcoholic beer we tried, and we had high hopes. It's brewed by Guinness, and when my pregnant friend asked around, this was one of the recommendations she got. But yeah, this is horrible beer. Bland and watery with some off flavors or something. The only good thing I can say about it is that it was a kinda nice palate cleanser after the strong character of the Voodoo Doughnut (but then, water would probably have done just as well or better). F
  • The Bruery Mischief - A classic. I reviewed this a while back, and it's just as good as it was the first time. Still an A and probably my favorite beer of the night.
  • Tröegs Troegenator Double Bock - Very sweet and malty beer, I rather enjoyed this, though it was far from my favorite beer of the night. Perhaps a bit too sticky sweet, though still quite solid. I actually have one of these in my fridge somewhere, so I'll have to give this some closer attention at some point. For now, I'll give it a B
  • Port Brewing Santa's Little Helper - During a beer run in early December, I actually bought one of these (along with a few others) and put it on my passenger's side seat for the trip back home. At some point, I had to brake suddenly and my beer went flying... and this one broke open. I knew what happened right away, but since I was driving I couldn't really address it until I got home. For the next week or so, my car smelled of imperial stout... which, actually, wasn't that bad. I eventually picked up another bottle, but never drank it, so I brought it to beer club. It's quite a solid imperial stout. Roasty aroma with a taste that features a lot of dark chocolate and roasted malts. It was quite good, though perhaps my taste buds were a bit shot at this point of the night, as this wasn't quite as great as I was expecting. I'll give it a B for now.
  • My Homebrewed Christmas Beer - I think this is perhaps my best crafted beer yet and other folks at beer club certainly seemed to enjoy it (it went pretty quickly, which is pretty gratifying). I keep saying this, but I should really do some reviews of my homebrewed beers at some point.
  • Dana's Homebrewed Tripel - This did not come out as Dana had planned - there was a bit of a sour flavor present in the beer - but it actually turned out ok. Very citrusy nose and the taste, while not a typical tripel, was actually pretty good.
And that covers all the beer that we drank. As always, a great time was had by all, and we're already looking forward to February.

Samichlaus Double Feature

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I discovered this beer last year and somehow manged to get my hands on a few bottles to lay down. Since it was such a rich, malty, boozy, almost syrupy beer, I figured that laying it down in my basement for a year would do it some good. And, of course, I needed a basis for comparison, so I picked up a few bottles of the most recent incarnation as well.

Unlike the annual Holiday beers I've been having lately, this one is brewed with the same recipe every year, so drinking these two different versions actually does represent a "vertical" tasting. To recap the beer's background: it's only brewed once a year, on December 6 (for the uninitiated, that's the feast day of Saint Nicholas, hence the name of the beer.) It is then laid down to mature in cold cellars for at least 10 months. This is an extremely long period of secondary fermentation, owing to the beer's extraordinarily high original gravity (apparently around 1.224), which of course leads to an obscenely high alcohol content (14% - thank goodness I was able to get the small bottles for this tasting). Michael Jackson speculates that "the brew is moved from one lagering tank to another, in order to restart the secondary fermentation. The brewery is coy about this, but the fact is that conventional methods will not easily make a beer so strong." This is indeed quite true. Most beer yeasts start to crap out once the beer reaches 9 or 10% ABV, and thus the brewer needs to be tricky to coax more out of the yeast. There are a lot of techniques for doing this, including the use of a more tolerant champagne yeast to finish off the beer. But the brewers of Samichlaus instead prefer to use patience and time (and apparently agitation during the lagering process).

It's not entirely clear to me when this beer is bottled. The labels for the beers showing up on shelves in 2011 said "bottled in 2010". When you consider that this beer is brewed in December, I'm not sure if that means that this year's beer was originally brewed in December 2009, or if the lengthy 10 month aging process all happens in the bottle. Well, whatever the case, the years listed below are what the label says.

Samichlaus 2010

Samichlaus (2010) - Pours a clear amber color with just a hint of head. Smells strongly of clean, dark fruits, along with some general malt-based sweetness and alcohol. The taste is sticky sweet and clean. That muted fruitiness is here in the taste too, maybe raisons or plums. There's a strong alcohol component to the taste, an almost rum-like character. As it warms, complexities emerge. Caramel, brown sugar, and more fruit. The mouthfeel is smooth and slick - actually better than it was on tap, perhaps more carbonation here this time around. The finish is very sticky and sweet, almost syrupy, but it never quite reached cloying, which is good. The alcohol provides a nice warming feeling as you drink. Overall, this year's variety is just as good as I remember, and even more complex. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/23/11. Bottled in 2010.

Samichlaus 2009

Samichlaus (2009) - Pours a clear amber color, maybe a little darker than the newer vintage, with that same minimal head. The smell is similar, though perhaps a little cleaner. That sweet fruitiness and alcohol seem a little more well balanced here, but it's a subtle difference (if there's a difference at all). The taste is also very similar, with that dark fruitiness and sugary character. The real difference is in the mouthfeel, which is a little more creamy than the newer versions. Less sticky and more creamy. Definitely a better balanced version. I'm really glad I still have a few bottles of this year's vintage which I can try in a few years, as I'm sure it will get even better. For now, I'll say that I'm enjoying this more than the 2010 version, but the differences are subtle. Also a B+, but again, this one's slightly better... Perhaps in another year, this one will reach an A-...

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/23/11. Bottled in 2009.

Well, there you have it. I was drinking these as I wrapped presents and watched Christmas movies, so I had paced myself rather well throughout the night... and I still got pretty well drunk. These things happen. I still have 3 bottles of the 2009 and one of the 2010. I do believe this will become a nice annual tradition in the Kaedrin household. I really can't wait to try one of these 2009 beers a few years from now to see how well the flavors marry.

While my last update covered some fantastic beers, I was a little disappointed by the variety of good beers available to me in Vegas. I'm sure that if I actually sought out some beer bars, I would find something new and interesting, but it seemed that most places stocked the standard Macros and maybe one or two interesting beers. Fortunately, I did managed to have a few other beers, even some that I'd never had before:

  • Moretti La Rossa - At some point we ended up at an Italian restaurant for a sponsored junket/open bar and they actually managed to have a few Italian beers available. I picked one that I hadn't heard of (because most of what I have heard of from Italy is not so good, like Peroni) and it turned out to be pretty good. It's technically a Doppelbock, a style I'm not terribly familiar with, but which I should probably check out more often. It was a darkish red/brown color with a finger or two of head, and the smell was much fruitier than I was expecting. It's also got some roastiness and maybe caramel sweetness in the nose. The taste went along with that. Medium bodied with high carbonation, it was quite drinkable and the alcohol was well hidden (I had no idea it was as strong as it was). As doppelbocks go, I understand this one is a bit thin, but it worked well enough for me, and was a welcome diversion from the typical macro selections. I have no idea if Moretti is part of the burgeoning Italian Craft beer scene, but my gut says it isn't, even though I enjoyed this. More research needed... B+ (Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a plastic cup (yeah, no good beer geek glasses to be had - hard to complain about then when I'm getting free beer though))
  • Sin City Stout - Walking around the maze that is the Venetian shops, I spied this little hole in the wall:

    Sin City Brewing Logo

    In talking with the bartender, I learned that this is an uber-local brewery, only distributing to Las Vegas. Their lineup seemed rather standard (though I should note that their "seasonal", apparently some sort of IPA, was out when I was there), but I wanted to try something new and different, so I ordered up a stout:

    Sin City Stout

    It was on a nitro tap, so I got one of them gorgeous pours, even if it had to be in a plastic cup. Indeed, it took forever for the nitro foam to subside, which wasn't really a problem for me, as I do enjoy a good nitro pour every now and again. The beer itself was actually a pretty solid stout. Nothing particularly special about it, save for the nitro pour, but it holds its own against the other nitro stouts I've had, including Guinness. Dark, roasty, and tasty, I would probably order this before a Guiness, actually. Not a huge flavor-bomb or anything, but a really solid standard entry in the style. B+ (Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV on nitro tap. Drank from a plastic cup.)

  • Sin City Weiss - I stopped back into the bar to try this one out, and what I got was another solid example of a rather standard style. When I ordered it, the bartender told me that it had a "banana clove" taste to it, as if it was a bad thing (apparently lots of people order it without realizing what wheat beers taste like), but that's music to my ears. Again, very good beer, but not really exceptional or the best of its kind. Still, I really enjoyed it and if my upcoming homebrewed attempt at a wheat beer turns out this good, I'll be quite happy. B (Beer Nerd Details: 4.5% ABV on nitro tap. Drank from a plastic cup.)
  • Chimay Grand Reserve (Blue): Chimay seems to the be the Fancy restaurant's go to beer in Vegas, as it was available in a lot of the nice restaurants. So ordered one of these, probably my favorite Chimay variety, to go along with a really good steak I was having. As usual, it's fantastic. Deep, dark brown color, sweet and fruity in the nose, and a taste to go along with the aromas. Fruity sweet, full bodied, and complex, it's a classic. A

Of course, I had quite a few other beers during the course of the week, but nothing particularly interesting or that I could do a good review of... As noted in the comments to my previous post, Vegas isn't quite a real place. Somehow the laws of the universe don't seem to function properly there. It's a good time, but after a few days, it wears on you pretty quickly. Still, from an alcohol-scared state like PA, it's nice to be able to walk around outside with a drink. But that's not really enough. I'm glad I'm back.

Update: Removed La Rossa picture. Because it's a bad picture, that's why.

Samichlaus

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Yesterday, I made the trek into Philly to see Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, a Finnish movie that might be the world's greatest homicidal Santa movie (not a highly populated subgenre, to be sure - when your chief competition is Silent Night, Deadly Night, the bar's set pretty low). Anyway, the film let out around 5 pm, and rather than battle the traffic, I headed over to Eulogy for some dinner, and, of course, good beer. After perusing the on-tap list, I noticed something labeled only as "Samichlaus". Say, that sounds kinda like "Santa Claus"! The bartender says that it's an "intense" Doppelbock, very high in alcohol (she also says it's kinda like a Barleywine). I say: Pour me a glass! Ordered some Belgian style mussels and sipped this beer throughout.

Samichlaus

Schloss Eggenberg Samichlaus Bier: This beer is only brewed once a year, on December 6 (for the uninitiated, that's the feast day of Saint Nicholas, hence the name of the beer.) It is then aged for at least 10 months before being released to the public, which means what I was having was probably brewed in 2009. Apparently it was once among the strongest beers in the world, and is even now in the Guinness Book of Records as the strongest lager beer in the world. Coming in at 14% ABV, that's not hard to believe, and it certainly smells and tastes of alcohol. The color is a nice, clear reddish brown. There was no real head on the beer, thus no lacing, and the carbonation was also low. This made for a relatively smooth mouthfeel, though there is a bit of a bite due to the alcohol. There's a distinct syrupy texture going on with this beer, but it's not super sweet or cloying. Taste is complex and boozy. I have to admit that it's not really my favorite style of beer, but it was damn good and indeed, very intense, as promised. I don't know that I'd have it on tap again, but I would love to get me a bottle of this and wait a few years to see how well it ages. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV on tap. Drank from a Snifter glass.

I've been to Eulogy before, but it was always so crowded - this time I got there right around opening time, so it wasn't as crazy as usual (it was also only a Wednesday night, so that might also have something to do with it). Nevertheless, I think I'll have to take in some more movies at the Ritz and head over to Eulogy after...

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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