Fearful Symmetries

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06 January, 2016

For the Naughty Beer Drinkers: Krampus Imperial Helles by Southern Tier Brewing Company



Because I automagically think of the bearded Spock in “Mirror, Mirror” when I am confronted with evil twins, I was going to begin this post by writing that Krampus is like the bearded Santa Claus. Luckily I was immediately struck with the stupidity of the statement and quickly abandoned the idea. Instead I shall say that Krampus is this horned, cloven hooved figure in European folklore that leaves the nice kids to Santa and deals with the naughty ones. Representations of him are a bit Pan-like but much more sinister and without the flute. St. Nicholas Day is 6 December (and still celebrated in Milwaukee) with the preceding night dedicated to Krampus. Some cities’ celebrations feature people dressed up as the beast himself and running around the street causing low-level mayhem.

Just as finding candy in your shoe on the morning of 6 December serves to remind you that Christmas is coming, so does the appearance of Southern Tier’s Krampus, an imperial helles, on store shelves.

The idea of an imperial helles seems contradictory. The German Beer Institute** describes the style as “a gentle beer”. It’s one that is “mildly malt-accented” and never has a harsh finish. The hops in a helles are “less aromatic” and “less aggressive” than those in pilsners. So what is an imperial helles? A kinder, gentler take on the style? With even milder malts and duller pacifist hops? It is as if we approach a homeopathic brew.

Krampus pours a light copper color. This was my first clue that this was going to be a different beast from your average Joe helles. The bier was quite clear. I got about ¼” of tan head that dissipated in what I consider to be an average amount of time, roughly a minute. There was a healthy amount of bubbles in the glass going upwards.

On taking in the aroma, I knew that I’d have to leave behind all descriptions of the style. I had feared that 3 Floyds’ helles would be over-hopped and was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t. Southern Tier, on the other hand had no qualms about hopping the living fuck out of Krampus. The floral and citrus hop scents here were very aromatic and quite aggressive. Behind the almost impenetrable wall of lupulin was a modest bit of honeyed malt sweetness.

I fully expected the taste to be hoppy scorched earth policy. The hops lost the citrus and most of the floral qualities too in the taste. In their stead were aggressive, nay warlike, hop flavors that reeked of pine and resin. They waged war on my tongue as some remaining floral hoppiness stood idly by. The malt, the part of the bier that should really stick out in a helles, struggled against the bitter lupulin assault so I was only able to taste a moderate – moderate when compared to the hop flavor, that is – honey sweetness.

Krampus finishes very dry as what little malt flavor there is quickly overrun by that piney hop flavor. My glass was left with some really nice Schaumhaftvermoegen as there was a good amount of webbing lining it.

Southern Tier claims that Krampus is brewed with 4 kinds of malts and 2 kinds of hops. Numerical superiority didn’t help the grains here as tradition and style guidelines were dispatched with for this brew. This bier is severely hoppy. It looked nicely effervescent but not even the carbonation could cut through the tangle of pine and floral hops. There was no sign of the helles’ sine qua non - those wonderful toasty, melanoidin-y/Maillard reaction-y malt flavors.

If a blitzkrieg of piney/resiny hops are your thing, you’ll no doubt enjoy Krampus. I guess I was naughty last year because drinking Krampus was not unlike punishment. Sadly, it bears little to no resemblance to the style I have enjoyed for 25 years.

Junk food pairing: Launch a counter-assault on Krampus by pairing it with fried foods like jalapeño poppers or cheese curds dipped in a bold, zesty ranch or blue cheese sauce.

**While I wouldn’t say that everything at the German Beer Institute’s site is gospel and there is bound to be variation, I find their description to generally be true.

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|| Palmer, 11:11 AM

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