The brewery Hürlimann has been founded in 1836. The brewery in Zürich has been closed in 1997 and integrated in the Feldschloesschen-Hürlimann-Holding Group (which was bought by Carlsberg in november 2000) where the Hürlimann’s beers (except Samichlaus) are still brewed. Hürlimann was a well-respected brewing company, which had especially developped skills in the breeding of yeasts and was known for supplying yeasts commercially to its contemporaries.
One of the difficulties of brewing strong beers comes from the fact that the yeast gives up at about 12% ABV, overwhelmed by the alcohol it has produced. Hürlimann worked for decades to develop a yeast able to ferment at higher alcohol levels. In 1979 Hürlimann used the new culture to make an experimental Christmas beer.
Samichlaus, which means "Santa Claus" in swiss german, was produced from an original gravity of 27-30 Plato and had about 30 units of bitterness. After its maturation was complete, it had an alcohol content of 14%, which at that time was higher than any other beer in the world. As a result, it has been listed in the Guinness Book of Records in 1982. It was brewed on december 6th and was spended almost one year in maturation before bottling. Samichlaus was produced in a "pale" (only available outside of Switzerland and now discontinued since quite a long time) and "dark" versions. Feldschlösschen , after having absorved Hürlimann, promptly announced they would stop brewing Samichlaus. So the dark version was bottled for the last time in 1996. But in 1999, the brewery Eggenberg (from Austria) made an agreement with Feldschlösschen to have the exclusive production of Samichlaus. So the beer, using the original recipe and yeasts from Hürlimann, came back on the market in December 2000.
Unlike other lagers, Samichlaus should be stored during many years at cellar temperatures in order to improve its definite barley-wine-like qualities. Young vintages are terribly sweet, syrupy and overwhelming. The qualities are evident but somehow unconnected and it needs time - much time - to come together. A four years aged vintage could be described as having a deep ruby colour, a very malty nose with touches of burnt caramel, a very complex flavour where alcohol, spices and caramel begin to fit together, sweet and fairly bitter with a hint of acidity in its brandyish finish.
Love it or hate it
Like most beers at high alcohol levels, Samichlaus is a love-it or hate-it beer. Here are some thoughts from Ratebeer.com Users:
"THE perfect beer..." (opiate, who is even talking about orgasm :-))
"I did enjoy it" (Beergirl)
"Not what beer should do" (Indra)
"soy sauce" (Oakes)
In any cases, if you haven’t tasted it yet, you are not likely to find an Hürlimann version anymore (except if you come to my home, of course :-). So instead, go for the Eggenberg version. But remember: don’t touch it before its aged of minimum 3 years!