The Tippler: Samichlaus lager, Shepherd Neame

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Indy Lifestyle Online

A mass to thank God for the world's strongest lager has been held in the chapel at the brewery where it is made, in Eggenberg Castle, in the Alpine town of Vorchdorf, Austria. The chapel is the private place of worship of the Stöhr family, who own the brewery and live in the castle.

The book of Deuteronomy provided the text: "For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land of brooks of water... a land of wheat and barley... the precious things of the lasting hills... the precious things of the earth." "What have the Alpine water and the earth of Upper Austria brought forth?" I asked the avuncular parish priest. "Last year's Christmas beer was good. This is even better," he beamed.

We were marking the release, on St Nicholas' Day, of the 2001 "vintage" of the 14 per cent lager, Samichlaus ("Santa Claus"). The priest and congregation left the chapel to witness the marriage of Alpine water and barley-malt, the first step in the production of a beer that will be ready on St Nicholas' Day (6 December) next year. Samichlaus is a dark lager. Its colour is reminiscent of "black" cherries; its flavour juicy, nutty and malty; its body liqueur-like; its finish warming and long. A mug of Samichlaus lager with Christmas cake and Wensleydale cheese would be a precious thing. Samichlaus is available at Booth's supermarkets and specialist wine shops, at £2.39 per 33cl bottle.

The first seasonal beer from Britain this year was from Cain's brewery, in Liverpool. There is about to be a change of management at Cain's. The departing Steve Holt produces good beers, quickly, and I hope his successor keeps up the standards. Cain's Christmas Ale, at 5 per cent, has a bronze colour and an excellent hop aroma. It is firm and dry, with a hint of Christmas spices, and a lemony hop bitterness in the finish. Restorative but appetising.

Having produced Christmas beers with fruits and spices, Kent's brewer Shepherd Neame has created a hop-varietal for 2001. The fashionable First Gold is the variety chosen. This hop produces fruity, citrus-like aromas and flavours. Shepherd Neame Christmas Ale (6.7v) has an earthy English hop character. The beer has an oily, creamy body and big, toasted-malt flavours, developing hints of vanilla, raspberries and Seville orange. A mid-winter breakfast beer?

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