What do you think Old St. Nick drinks after a tough night of squeezing down chimneys? It would have to be something strong enough to calm his nerves after an evening of globetrotting, but quaffable enough to beg another sip.
Samichlaus, once the strongest beer in the world at 14% ABV, came to be in 1979 when Swiss-based Hürlimann Brewery decided to brew a Christmas lager on December 6—St. Nicholas Day (feast day). Until its doors closed in 1997, Hürlimann Brewery produced Samichlaus every year on December 6, and built up a loyal fan base along the way.
Samichlaus, the Swiss-German name for Saint Nicholas, is an enormous dopplebock weighing in at 1.140 specific gravity that undergoes nearly a year of lagering before being bottled and enjoyed in the following year’s holiday season. Despite the founding breweries closure, this festive lager was able to live on through homebrewers and eventually another commercial brewery, Braurei Schloss Eggenberg, in 2000.
AHA Governing Committee member Drew Beechum describes how his homebrew club, the Maltose Falcons, turned December 6 into their own Samichlaus tradition:
“The Falcons had a long love affair with Samichlaus since we have quite a few guys who specialize in lagers. They would get together every year and taste the vintages. Just before I joined the club, though, Hürlimann Brewery closed down —no more Samichlaus.
Kevin Baranowski and the rest of the crew eventually decided that this just wouldn’t stand, so every December we got together and brewed a scant 5.5 gallons of the brew. Over the years we tried a number of lager yeasts and Kevin shepherded the beer through its near year of fermenting at lager temps. We finally nailed the beer in all of its strong sweet massively potent glory when White Labs released the “Zurich Lager” strain.
The best way to do it—brew a smaller beer ahead of time and use the entire yeast cake, all of it, to get the fermentation down to the right gravity. When you’re dealing with a 1.140 starting gravity you need all the help you can get!”
- 28.75 lbs (13.0 kg) Weyermann Pilsner Malt
- 1.50 lbs (680 g) German Crystal Malt 65L
- 1.50 lbs (680 g) Munich Malt
- 1.00 lbs (454 g) Vienne Malt
- 0.50 lbs (226 g) Melanoidin Malt
- 1.00 lbs (454 g) Dark Candi Sugar
- 1.75 oz (49 g) Styrian Goldings pellets 4.0% (60 min)
- 1.50 oz (42 g) Hallertauer Mittelfrüh pellets 3.8% (15 min)
- 0.50 oz (42 g) Hallertauer Hursbrucker (whole) 2.3% (2 min)
- WLP885 Zurich Lager Yeast (cake from a previous batch)
Yield: 5 gallons (19 L)
Original Gravity: 1.143
Boil Time: 90 minutes
Mash in at 124° F (51° c) for 30 minutes with 36 quarts of strike water. Saccharification rest at 154° F (68° C) for 60 minutes. Collect 7 gallons of wort for boiling.
Substitute 17 lbs Pilsner LME and 2 lbs Munich extract for the malt. Eliminate melanoidin malt.
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