Helluva Bock

Snow has arrived, finally, and lager season continues apace. Judging by the beers racked recently, step mashing and decoction did add a lot of malt character to, respectively, the Vienna and Munich Dunkel. Time will tell if the taste was worth the extra effort and time.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of the winter holidays, more brewing happens. Yesterday was St. Nicholas Day – kids (and some adults) in the German-speaking world (and those of German extraction in the US, frequently) leave their shoes by the fireplace to be filled with candy, fruits, small toys, etc. As my father-in-law’s middle name is Nicholas, today’s brew is in his honor. It is also in honor of what used to be considered the world’s strongest lager, if not the strongest beer in general.

Brauerei Hürlimann, in Zürich, Switzerland, started producing a strong seasonal lager in the 1980’s, brewed only once annually, on December 6th, and lagered for months, to be released the following December 6th. This brew, “Samichlaus”, for a while came out in both a pale and a dark version, and packed something like 14 or 15% abv. Although they didn’t call it a doppelbock, that’s what Michael Jackson always insisted it was. Once or twice, I got my hands on several different years’ vintage dated bottles and did a sort of vertical comparison. Hurlimann discontinued the pale version fairly early on, but continued brewing the dark until only a few years ago, when they were bought out by the same mega-conglomerate that owns Carling and many others. Schloss Eggenburg Brewery, near Salzburg, Austria, bought the name and rights, and now produces it.  They have recently re-introduced a “helles” (light) version, perhaps for the American market?

My version, although big, malty and alchoholic, doesn’t come close to Samichlaus’ strength. Its deceptive golden color and malty smoothness are reminiscent of a Munich Hell. When done fermenting, I expect an abv of about 8.5 – 9%, certainly big enough for a cold winter night, waiting for St. Nicholas to leave a present in my shoes. I might even share one with him when he drops by.

Nicholator Doppelbock

5 gallons, all-grain


  • 6 lbs. Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 5 lbs. light Munich malt
  • 1 lb. cara-pils malt
  • 4 oz. melanoidin malt
  • 1 lb. light candi sugar
  • 1/2 oz. Perle hop pellets (@8% aa)
  • 1/2 oz. Styrian Goldings hop pellets (@4.5% aa)
  • 1/2 oz. Hallertauer hop pellets (@3% aa)
  • White Labs German Bock yeast (WLP833)
  • 2/3 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure: Crush grains. Heat 16 quarts water to 164°F. Mash in and hold at 152°F for 75 minutes. Heat another 18 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collect 30 quarts sweet wort. Add candi sugar to kettle, bring to a boil. After 30 minutes, add Perle hops. Boil 15 minutes, add Styrian Goldings hops. Boil 35 minutes, add Hallertauer hops. Boil 10 more minutes (90 total) and remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading and pitch yeast. Seal and ferment warm (62 – 64°F) for eight to ten days. Rack to secondary, age cold (38 – 40°F) for six weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and cap. Condition warm for three days, then store cold for eight weeks, or until Saint Nicholas Day.

OG: 1076

IBU’s: 25

Note on style: Doppelbocks are usually dark beers, reddish amber to brown. So are winter/seasonal beers, usually. This beer goes against both conventions, being a light-colored holiday doppelbock. Sneaky, huh? The candi sugar is not absolutely traditional; indeed it goes against the Reinheitsgebot, and could not have been used in a German bock. But it does up the alcoholic strength without bogging down the fermentation.

Note on name: As you probably remember or know, most doppelbocks are, by tradition, named with something ending in -ator, after the first one brewed, Salvator. Not absolutely necessary, but why not? Nicholator works for this one.

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