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10 Best Holiday Beer Buys of 2012

4. Three Floyds Alpha Klaus Christmas Porter
Style: Porter

Exactly how is a dark, roasty porter related to this brewery's flagship Alpha King pale ale? Three Floyds claims it's all in the hops and, after tasting it, we can see the resemblance.

The holiday spices mask the citrusy hop aroma a bit, but it's apparent immediately after the first sip and fights continuously with mellower chocolate and coffee flavors of the porter. English chocolate malt and Mexican sugar are apparent in Alpha Klaus' sweet finish and 7.5% ABV, but fans of maltier holiday beers should probably get in the gift-giving mood and hand this off to a hop-loving friend.

3. Cascade Lakes Slippery Slope Winter
Style: English strong ale

The entire point of a warmer like this is to get you warm from sip to stomach. Mission accomplished, Cascade Lakes.

Even for an English strong ale, Slippery Slope can be a bit of a scorcher. We tried it on draft out of a nitrogen tap such as those used to pour Guinness and even with the lighter, bubblier body and creamy head, the alcohol from the crystal, chocolate and honey malt made its presence felt. There are just enough Cascade hops to round out the flavor, but even at a relatively scant 6.4% ABV that hop bitterness just blends into the overall heat. It's sweet at the start, but stokes the fire at the finish.

2. Hill Farmstead Twilight of the Idols Winter Porter
Style: Porter

Happy holidays from the decidedly non-nihilist winter wonderland of Greensboro, Vt.

Hill Farmstead and its Vermont neighbor The Alchemist have been giving the beer intelligentsia reason to reconsider Northeast beer with brews such as the Alchemist's formidable Heady Topper imperial IPA and beers such as Edward Pale Ale, Abner Double IPA and Ephraim Imperial Pale Ale, named after founder Shaun Hill's ancestors.

Hill's lone nod to the season blends his education as a brewer in Denmark, his travels through Europe visiting breweries and absorbing local flavors and his years as a philosophy student. Twilight of the Idols takes its name from the 1889 Frederick Nietzsche book of the same name. Perhaps best known for its line "From life's school of war: What does not kill me makes me stronger," Twilight of the Idols decries cultural nihilism, decadence and weakness in favor of vitality and lust for life.

How does that translate into a winter porter? Well, brewing a porter with coffee and cinnamon and aging it over vanilla beans gives it a flavor mistakenly referred to as "decadent." In truth, the embrace of those winter flavors as nature's defense against seasonal disappearance of daylight indicates a love of nature and the sensory world. Eat that, Plato.
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