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10 Best Holiday Beer Buys of 2012

10. Port Brewing Santa's Little Helper
Style: Imperial stout

Think you won't be able to get by on just beer this holiday season? Think there isn't a beer out there that can warm you up like a good wine, a hearty cup of egg nog or a hot toddy? You're obviously not familiar with Port Brewing.

This San Diego County brewer is one of the reasons California craft beer has a reputation for pushing limits. Port Brewing and its sister brewery Lost Abbey turn out great high-potency beers, and this 10% alcohol by volume is no exception. Port loads up Santa's Little Helper with nine kinds of malts, four kinds of hops, brown sugar, Belgian chocolate, espresso and lots of roasted and black barley to give it a smooth flavor with a fiery finish.

Port's been brewing Santa's Little Helper since 1997, so there's a bit of holiday tradition behind it, but drink cautiously. While it's an old favorite, the affectionate nickname Santa's Little Hangover should give some idea of the kind of pain you're in for if you quicken the pace and drink yourself into a long winter's nap.

9. Hair Of The Dog Doggie Claws
Style: Barley wine

Brewers have no sense of charity around this time of year, as evidenced by this 11.5% ABV beast of a beer.

Hair of the Dog brewmaster Alan Sprints makes clear that while this beer is good to go now, that alcohol content will help it improve with age. You could cellar this beer for years, open it during some Christmas Future and have a far more complex beer than the one you bought. Even straight out of the bottle, Doggie Claws is a tough customer, though. Its deep copper color masks an intense hop flavor courtesy of a truckload of Simcoe and Amarillo hops. It also contains just a bit of dark wildflower honey collected on Mount Hood, just to sweeten the pot a bit.

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