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Classic Beer of the Month October 2012: Paulaner Salvator
Paulaner Salvator, 7.9%
Sometimes beers are so influential that they immediately generate copies.
Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon lies in the story of Paulaner's Salvator, a strong lager first brewed more than 200 years ago.
The beer's origins can be traced back to monks in Munich. Followers of St Francis of Paula (not to be confused with St Francis of Assisi) established a community in the city in the 17th century.
The Paulaner monks, as they became known, installed a brewery in their settlement, providing safe drinking liquid for themselves and their guests at a time when most water was infected.
The beer they brewed also served as a food: in times of fasting, liquid nourishment in the form of malty beer proved invaluable.
For this particular purpose, the monks brewed a notably strong beer, the strength reflecting the amount of malt used to create it, and thus also the nutritional value of the drink.
When Napoleon surged across Europe, and religious institutions were privatized, the monks' beer became more openly available and, we are told, the strong beer proved especially popular.
The name it was given for commercial sale was Salvator, meaning 'saviour', and it quickly led to a number of copycat beers. Indeed, it seems that Salvator became a beer style rather than just a name, rather like Pilsner a few decades later.
However, that was to change when the then owner of the Paulaner brewery decided to trademark the name in 1896. Thwarted rival breweries did not back down completely. They continued to turn out their own versions and linked them to the original by adding the suffix 'ator' to the end of the beers' names.
Today, in Germany, you can still find beers such as Celebrator (brewed by Ayinger), Triumphator (Löwenbräu), Maximator (Augustiner), Animator (Hacker-Pschorr) and Optimator (Spaten).
But what of the original? Well, Salvator remains an iconic beer, the very first doppelbock. It is said to have been the responsibility of one Brother Barnabus, a brewing monk who managed the Paulaner brewery from 1773. He is still depicted on the label today.
The russet colour in the glass reveals that roasted malts are included in the grist. Both its aroma and taste are heavy with raisin, caramel and malt loaf flavours from the abundant malt.
The hops used are all grown in the Hallertau region north of Munich but here they play second fiddle to the malt characteristics, at least until the end, when, with raisin and malt loaf notes diminishing, the finish turns pleasantly bitter.
Smooth, warming and teasingly spicy with alcohol, it's a big, satisfying, tasty brew with a crispness and cleanness indicative of a well-lagered beer.
Salvator comes into its own particularly in March, when Munich begins celebrating Starkbierzeit, or 'strong beer time'. A keg is ceremonially tapped to launch the event on St Joseph's Day (19 March) and for a couple of weeks afterwards many a strong lager is downed to see off the last of the winter chills.
We may be at the wrong end of winter at the moment but there's no reason to hold off opening a bottle or two right now.