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The Brilliance of the Holiday Beer Sampler

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- This is a wonderful time of the year for beers, but it's also just about the best time to try some holiday beer you're unfamiliar with and not spend a whole lot doing so.

One of the beer industry's finest holiday traditions, especially among its established smaller brewers, is offering a cost-effective 12 pack of seasonal varieties just as shoppers are stocking up for their holiday parties. Boston Beer's Samuel Adams brand does this to great effect each year, trotting out its Old Fezziwig winter warmer in a pack with Boston Lager and four other varieties. It's not only a way to get folks familiar with the flagship Boston Lager to try new varieties, but to get loyalists familiar with the product to transition from familiar brands such as Holiday Porter and Chocolate Bock to new offerings such as Juniper IPA and Cherry Chocolate Bock.

It creates a nice holiday shelf display and some added interest for breweries during what is typically their low season, and it offers buyers some options for guests who might be lukewarm on a whole lot of any one particular beer. As a gateway to a company's beer, however, it's also fairly cheap.

The Beer Institute, a beer industry organization based in Washington, put the price of an average six-pack at $5.05. Domestics fetch a little less at $4.95 and imports charge far more at $6.88, but those prices will vary depending on the taxes in each state. When Samuel Adams lets its "Winter Classics" 12-pack go for $14 -- the going price at national wine and beer chain Total Wine -- it's still dabbling in the high end at $7 per six-pack, but it's creating one of the least expensive avenues for enjoying a holiday beer in the current marketplace.

According to market research firm Symphony IRI, craft beer usually fetches an average $33 a case. That trumps the $29 brought in by imports and the $20 a case for premium domestic beers such as Anheuser-Busch InBev's Budweiser and MolsonCoors' Coors Light.

At the equivalent of $28 a case, Sam Adams' 12-pack is still a 40% premium over a case of Bud, but comes in under the price a consumer would have to pay for more costly trial sizes. If Old Fezziwig were available on tap at your local pub for $5 a pint, you'd be paying the equivalent of $48 per 12-pack. Boston Beer makes 22-ounce "bomber" bottles of a gingerbread-flavored winter seasonal called Merry Maker that, if you somehow picked it up for $6, costs the equivalent of $40 per 12-pack.

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