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10 Best Holiday Beer Buys For 2011

10. Shipyard Prelude Ale
Style: English ale
The first week of every December in Kennebunkport, Maine, Santa Claus arrives in Dock Square via lobster boat and the giant tree in Dock Square and the tree made of lobster traps in Cape Porpoise are lit for the town's Christmas Prelude festival.

Just before the festival's 11th installment in 1993, Maine brewer by way of England Alan Pugsley and his friends at Federal Jack's brewpub in Kennebunk decided to mark the occasion by making a 7.2% alcohol-by-volume English ale teeming with chocolate malt, roasted barley and American and English hops.

"Seasonal beers weren't a very common thing back then and it's funny when you think that now seasonal beers are some companies' biggest brands," says Pugsley, founder of Shipyard Brewery in Portland, Maine, who designed Prelude to stand up to Maine's harsh seasonal conditions. "It was a winter warmer that made you feel a lot warmer as you enjoyed the flavor of the beer and sort of keep adding that glow; Back in those early days, one didn't design beer to go with food."

When Pugsley founded Shipyard in 1994, Prelude came along for the ride and served as the brewery's first winter offering. Prelude's smooth caramel and chocolate sweetness pairs well with rich holiday dishes such as turkey and stew but, as Pugsley discovered, tends to wear out its welcome with consumers by January. That forced Shipyard to limit its availability to January and February.

Pugsley also dropped Prelude's alcohol content to 6.7%, which makes it far more tame than Shipyard's 8.5% ABV Barleywine or 11.2% ABV Double Old Thumper extra-special strong bitter ale. That's just fine with the beer's creator, who admits he prefers its subtle flavor and low octane because it allows for more than one in a long holiday-dinner-style sitting.

"Back when we first made that beer, it was the strongest beer that we made," he says. "Now you see beers out in the marketplace with 11%, 12%, 13% or 14% alcohol and Prelude has almost become boy's beer."
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