Southern Tier Krampus: See You In Helles

beer - southern tier krampus hellesAre 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 cardAnd 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.

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Chilling With Michael Beckmann at Boombozz Taphouse

louisville beer - boombozz taphouse

The Boombozz Taphouse in the Highlands has, well, lots of taps.

Michael Beckmann sells a lot of craft beer at his Highlands Tony Boombozz location. A lot of it. And it’s not just because there is only one non-craft or non-local tap, either.

The general manager and brains behind the beers thinks a big part of what drives craft beer’s popularity is growing rebellion against big corporations. Secondly, people like to drink locally.

“Localness is what drives craft beer,” he said.

He told me this as I sipped a New Albanian Brewing Company Houndmouth, one of several local and craft beers I tried while sitting at the bar with Beckmann and his girlfriend Caroline. His taps are always rotating in new brews, stuff from local and regional breweries as well as from around the world. It’s quite a journey for the taste buds.

I also tasted Southern Tier Live, Widmer Alchemy Ale, Mikkeller Wet Hop Kellerbier, Country Boy Cougar Bait and Sierra Nevada Oliva Quad. I’ll spare you wordy reviews, but the Mikeller reminded more of a pilsner than an ale, and the Oliva Quad was so interesting, flavorful and ripe with plums that my first thought was that it would be delicious poured over pancakes.

Beckmann spoke of how he makes sure his taps always feature local brews, and that he does a “TALL4small” (tall beer for a short beer price) special every Thursday for local brews only. “I love supporting the locals,” he said. “And it works.”

He wants a visit to Boombozz Taphouse to be an experience, versus a get-drunk session; no two beer drinkers are created equally, and yet he also wants to make sure each person’s palate gets some respect. (He said one woman actually wrote a dissertation about how well she was treated at Boombozz as a female beer drinker. Apparently, the bar staff didn’t jump to the conclusion she would want a Blue Moon with an orange wedge.)

louisville beer - boombozz tap room beckmann

Michael Beckmann and Caroline Knopf both enjoy a tasty brew.

And while there is a shortage of such beers in the taps, Beckmann also makes sure there are “simpler” local and craft beers bartenders can recommend to customers looking for a new experience. The house BoomBrew, for instance, is the very drinkable Bluegrass Brewing Company Amber. In fact, in recent weeks there’s been no corporate beer on tap at all.

“We went through April and May without it, and no one complained,” he said. At the same time, “I don’t think anybody here is going to make you feel guilty about ordering a Bud Light.”

So, he makes sure to have the corporate beers always available in bottles, just to be safe.

But for those who like their taste buds to be challenged, the Boombozz Taphouse is a great place to be. Beckmann and his bar staff like to mix it up. Literally. For instance, he recently mixed the Southern Tier Live, Mikkeller Wet Hop and Widmer Alchemy Ale. Another popular blend was a Cumberland Brews Roasted Pumpkin Ale with a Southern Tier Creme Brulee.

“It tasted like pumpkin pie with whipped cream,” he said.

And next time you’re in, be sure to ask him about the seven-stout blend.

Anyway, for Beckmann, his position at Boombozz is like “a play thing.” He likes to not only treat his customers, but to also treat himself.

“And I’ve got the pick of the litter here,” he said.