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Give the gift of alcohol!

I went trolling the busy aisles of World Market last week, scouring stacks for the annual Samuel Smith Selection gift box.

The youngest Rutherford is gonna find it under his holiday tree, part of an ongoing strategy to ruin his palate for cheap, fizzy, yellow beer. The oldest son? Mission accomplished.

The box contains three 18.7-ounce beers from the Brit brewer Samuel Smith, a branded pint glass and a pair of Samuel Smith coasters. Compared to the per bottle cost of three beers, it's a good deal.

Cut-outs let you see which three beers you'll get. There are no dogs among this pack - I even groove on the organic strawberry beer, which delivers a scant essence of berry flavor without being cloying.

While at World Market, an operating company of retail giant Costco, I also noticed a nice Framboise Lambic gift box - two bottles and a pint glass - and was told more holiday gift packs are arriving daily.

The wine program here is pretty interesting as well. Sure, there are plenty of "grocery store" brands on the shelves, but also some very appealing second label projects.

As you might recall from a prior column, second labels are declassified juice that big wine makers could not use. They sell the juice, or repackage it themselves, under secondary labels that typically don't carry any reference to the parent. The World Market clerk I met was pretty savvy at pointing out the deals - and identifying the source of the juice.

This is a great way to score an under $20 wine that, under its original label, might have cost you $50 or more.

But this isn't just another cheapie wine outlet. I found a nice price tag on Silver Oak Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and an ample supply of Orin Swift's The Prisoner - a cult red blend that flies off of shelves as quickly as it lands.

I also learned that the store hosts its own tasting nearly every Saturday from 1-3 p.m. It's free - and no reservations are required.

Charity Beer

While in the store, I also found 22-ounce bottles of Abita Brewing SOS - a Weizen Pilsner the brewery is using to raise money for Gulf Coast relief projects. It's an unfiltered Pils - and really hit the spot along a spicy bowl of chili whipped up by Ms. T.J.

From Colorado...

Comes a handful of specialty beers from Fort Collins Brewery - another World Market find. I particularly liked Kidd Black Lager, a Schwarzbier with bold smoked malts, chocolate malts and a decidedly bitter finish. Obviously, you'll detect chocolate notes, but also strong black coffee - and less hoppiness than pale ales.