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10 Best Holiday Beer Buys For 2011

2. Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig Ale
Style: Winter warmer
When you spend each year stocking your holiday party's beer fridge with variety packs, it becomes immediately apparent which beers disappear before the bowls of red-and-green M&Ms need refilling and which will be taking up fridge space until St. Patrick's Day.

Old Fezziwig has become just as popular as the jovial, party-loving boss from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol since being introduced in 1995. It wasn't Samuel Adams' first holiday seasonal, as the much-debated Cranberry Lambic preceded it in 1990, but its delicate balance of mild, malty chocolate, caramel and toffee notes, fiery ginger and cinnamon spices and just a bit of orange peel tang has held its spot in the company's winter variety pack -- the only place it can be found.

"We're in New England, we have real winters here and we wanted to create a rich, malty beer and balance it with some spices that have a little bit of heat to them like ginger and cinnamon," says Boston Beer's Jim Koch. "Our kind-of inspiration was a Christmas cookie, which has a lot of things in it and you can taste everything."

Where the cranberries in the Cranberry Lambic can be a bit overwhelming, for better or worse, Old Fezziwig uses its malty base to bring all its elements to the fore while keeping its stronger spices at bay. The lambic has since been booted from Boston Beer's holiday 12-pack, but Old Fezziwig has laid a sweet, malty base for smooth-drinking boxmates Holiday Porter, Chocolate Bock, Winter Lager and the newest addition, Black & Brew Coffee Stout.

Though Fezziwig is subtle enough to win over holiday beer scrooges and just benign enough at 5.8% ABV to warrant more than one during a party or meal, Koch admits that it can be as tough to stomach after January as the Christmas cookie it's modeled after. Though it could once be found in 22-ounce bottles and six packs, Fezziwig production was pulled back when its holiday leftovers looked as out of place on shelves in January and February as a Tickle-Me-Elmo in a 34-year-old's bedroom.

"The basic reason -- and it's not that we can't get enough of the ginger or cinnamon or anything -- is that freshness is a big deal for us and this is a beer that has a season. Beer at its foundation is a performance art that exists in the moment of its creation and that's it, and Fezziwig is very much in that situation of being perfect for a certain time."

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