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The Twelve Beers of Christmas

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Perhaps you're thankful to be a craft beer drinker in the United States right now, and for good reason: there's a lot of good beers on the shelves nowadays. Impact Databank numbers show craft brewers saw 13 percent by volume industry growth in 2011. Additionally, the Brewers Assocation, which represents 99 percent of the beer brewed in the U.S., reports an additional 12 percent growth for the first half of 2012.
To satisfy your thirst for craft beer, we thought it natural to find some of the best options for winter that not only are delicious, but pair well with cigars.
You won't find any leaping lords or milking maids on this list. What you will find, though, are a couple of barley wines, some beers from Canada, a 28 percent alcohol liquid that defies normal beer standards, and a brew based on a 2,800 year old recipe.

Hop City's Barking Squirrel Lager
(5 percent alcohol by volume, $7.99 for four-pack of 16 oz. cans)
Hailing from Ontario as the flagship beer of Hop City Brewing, Barking Squirrel recently debuted in the United States market (lucky us). A combination of malts—Canadian Pale 2 Row, Crystal and Munich—provide a backbone that is balanced by traditional Hallertau Mittelfrüh and Saaz hops.
While not high in alcohol, this red lager remains flavorful, sessionable and surprisingly warming.
APPEARANCE: Clear amber color with a surprisingly foamy white head. Sticky lacing.
AROMA: A crisp and clean hop smell dominates, with just a touch of cereal, herbal and floral notes.
PALATE: The slightly spicy beginning turns to biscuit and grassy notes, followed by a hint of nuts. Mouthfeel is light and finish is crisp, but leaves the tongue tingling with the same spice note from the start.
CIGAR: Quesada Oktoberfest Kurz (Not yet rated) The dry smoke softens the spice of the lager and brings out some earth flavors in the liquid as well as a caramel note in the cigar.
Samuel Adams' Stony Brook Red (9 percent a.b.v, $9.99 for 750 ml)
In the world of wine, brettanomyces yeasts and lactobacillus are considered undesirable, but in the hands of a skilled brewmaster, magic can happen. Inspired by the tartness of Belgian Reds and Flemish Oud Bruin, the folks at Sam Adams began with a unique "starter" ale of sorts called Kosmic Mother Funk (KMF), then added brett and lactobacillus to create a liquid that was then aged in Hungarian oak tuns, before emerging as Stony Red. It is one of four barrel-aged beers that make up the brewery's Barrel Room Collection, which all feature KMF in their respective blends.
Stony Brook is by far the most sour of the four Barrel Room creations, and since it's been bottle-conditioned like the other three, it's a great candidate for aging.
APPEARANCE: Pours a ruddy, reddish brown with a nice beige head that sticks to the glass and remains throughout the life of the beer.
NOSE: Strong sour fruit smell, with a touch of esters, earth and meat that culminate into a note that is reminiscent of a McDonald's chicken nugget (no joke).
PALATE: Tart flavors, particularly sour apple, hit the tongue and then at midpalate, a delicate earthy-oak flavor emerges until the sour and floral finish. The liquid is lively throughout.
CIGAR: Romeo y Julieta Petit Churchill (91 points) The saltiness of the cigar adds wonderful balance to the tart juice, and it brings out more of the oak quality of the beer.
Shmaltz's He'Brew Jewbelation Sweet 16 (16 percent a.b.v, $10 for a 750 ml bottle)
You didn't think I overlooked Chanakuh, did you? Shmaltz Brewing, a proudly Judaic-inspired brewery started in San Francisco, used 16 different hops and 16 different malts in this high-alcohol brew, which is the eighth expression in Shmaltz Brewing's acclaimed Jewbelation series. This barrel-aged, limited-edition brew's high a.b.v. and flavor profile make it a great one to cellar.
APPEARANCE: Pours nearly pitch black with almost no head, save for a thin layer of dark tan foam that sticks nicely to the glass.
NOSE: A boozy, complex bouquet that offers hints of chocolate, licorice, pumpernickel bread and dates.
PALATE: Strong alcohol anchors this full-bodied brew before it turns to caramel and crème brûlée at the midpoint. The finale is a complex array of toffee, anise and boozy coffee.
CIGAR: Alec Bradley Prensado Torpedo (92 points) The leather, toast and chocolate notes of the cigar play off the complexity of the beer, balancing as well as enhancing flavors. Pleasant bursts of chocolate are especially evident.
Redhook's Double Black Stout (7 percent a.b.v, $3.99)
First brewed 17 years ago, Redhook brought Double Black Stout back to the market, due to popular demand, as part of the brewery's famed Blueline Series in 2008. Since then, the brew has been released annually on a limited basis.
This year, the brewery worked with Seattle's Caffe Vita Coffee Roasting Co. to really ramp up the java taste.
APPEARANCE: Dark brown fades to black with a wonderful cappuccino-colored head.
NOSE: A bouquet of strong, dark-roasted coffee, caramel and toffee notes.
PALATE: Definitive coffee flavors become a bit more caramel at mid-sip, with delicate floral, mocha and chocolate nib notes emerging on the end. Solid medium body throughout.
CIGAR: La Reloba Selección Sumatra Torpedo (94 points) The coffee notes of the smoke ramp up the coffee in the beer while the cigar's vanilla quality rounds out the caramel and nibs flavors.
Widmer Brothers' Old Embalmer '12 (10.2 percent a.b.v, $12.99 for a 22 oz. bottle)
A member of the Widmer Brothers Brewing Alchemy Project, which started in 2011, Old Embalmer is the third expression in the series and the first barley wine. Each of the beers has been brewed to be cellared, and all use the brewery's Alchemy hops, which is a blend of Horizon and Warrior made just for Widmer.
APPEARANCE: Pours a translucent, polished amber with sticky, off-white lacing.
NOSE: A thick pine scent is rounded out by delicate notes of grapefruit, lemon, biscuit and a hint of rose water.
PALATE: Bold spice up front leads this effervescent liquid with a silky mouthfeel to a toffee, vanilla, sweet caramel, and chewy finish.
CIGAR: L'Atelier LAT52 (92 points) The wood and leather notes play well with the vanilla in the beer while the nuts and salty taffy quality of the smoke balance the sweet caramel. A joyous pair.
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