Southern Tier Krampus: See You In Helles

Photo by Kevin Gibson
Photo by Kevin Gibson

Are you naughty or are you nice? That’s the question this time of year, when it comes right down to it.

Southern Tier’s Krampus, an imperial helles lager available for a limited time, certainly falls on the “nice” side, even if it’s named for a mythic creature that is anything but.

For the uninitiated, Krampus is sort of the anti-Santa Claus, a Germanic sidekick to the jolly old elf that many haven’t heard of, probably because it was decided a few generations back that he was probably too evil to be a universal Christmas tradition. Krampus is the enforcer of the “naughty” list, you see, and his job is to seek out the bad little children, stuff them into a bag, and carry them off to hell while the good children got to play with their brand new toys.

Hey, sometimes Christmas is a bitch. So be good, for goodness sake.

Southern Tier isn’t the first brewery to release a Krampus beer, but this is the first one I’ve personally seen that isn’t a dark ale of some kind. Brewers seem to equate Krampus with darkness, and for good reason, but Southern Tier took a different approach, choosing a relatively young German beer style that dates to 1894. I have to believe they created a helles lager as a play on where Krampus will take you if you don’t mind your mommy and daddy – well, that and because of Krampus’ ties to the Germanic region of Europe.

Getting down to it, this is a really good beer, even if it isn’t your traditional holiday brew. Bottom fermented, it pours a clear, burnt orange color with minimal white head. When you raise the glass to your face, it’s quickly apparent how bold this beer is – bold like Krampus himself, of course!

My experiences with helles lagers have been that they have a bite, but aren’t usually big beers. Krampus imperial helles blows all that out of the water with a big floral nose that invites you to sit there and soak in its essence for a moment before taking that first drink.

Krampus_Greeting_Card_by_Lazzo51
Krampus_Greeting_Card_by_Lazzo51

And when you do finally imbibe, the hop and malt qualities engage you immediately – they pounce on your taste buds like Krampus on a sniveling 6-year-old. This crisp beer is brewed with two-row pale malt, debittered black malt, Munich malt and caramel malt, along with Chinook and kettle hops. It really drinks much more like a pale ale than any lager I’ve ever had.

The piney hop bite is strong but not lingering, which is interesting; the sting is temporary. What really makes this a good brew is the robust malt character, which asserts itself more subtly, sneaking up on you while you sleep snug in your bed on Christmas eve, thinking all is right … yeah, sorry. That’s hard to resist.

Anyway, even if Krampus isn’t a favorable tradition for your kids – it’s hard to believe they used to even make holiday greeting cards featuring this goat-like freak – but if his legacy continues to spawn beers this good, well, I’d say it’s going to be a merry Christmas after all.