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The year in beer

The beer drinkers among us live for the holidays -- that's when the great seasonal packs come to market. These brews make great gift ideas (hint, hint) and represent some of the most interesting flavors of the season.

Consider Magic Hat Brewery's "Feast of Fools" 12-pack. It contains three bottles of four different labels, including a pair of the the brewery's standards: Lucky Kat IPA and #9, a fruit beer laced with apricots.

Two new, limited edition beers join the "Feast" package this season:

Howl, a black lager, replaces longtime seasonal Jinx in Magic Hat's stable. I love a good black lager and Howl delivers with a rich toasty flavor and subtle smokiness. It's a winner with a steamin' bowl of stew or chili.

Winter Odd Notion '09, an American sour ale, is a limited edition that stops short of classic lambics (not among my favorites) but offers enough complexity to be intriguing. I enjoyed all three Odd Notions from the "Feast" collection and grew to respect its authority when paired with some sharp cheddar and grilled bratwurst.

Ten Breweries That Rocked Savannah in 2009

Lots of new brews came to the Hostess City last year -- here's the list you should have tried:

Yuengling: America's oldest brewery finally got a truck to Savannah and judging by the neon signs, the beers have been embraced. My favorite among the lot: Yuengling Traditional Lager, the brewery's flagship. Tasty and easy drinking.

New Belgium Brewing Co.: We waited years to get this Boulder, Colo., beer east of the Mississippi. I'm going with the flagship again, New Belgium's famed Fat Tire Amber Ale, a rich mouthful of sweet malt with just the right bite of hops.

Oskar Blues: Another Colorado brewer, Oskar Blues gained notoriety for, egad, putting its beer in cans! A lot of science and a little marketing savvy pushed Dale's Pale Ale to the top of favorite IPA beers, but this summer, the brewery's new Mama's Little Yella Pilsner became my go-to session beer on hot summer days.

Full Sail Brewing: This employee-owned Oregon brewer racks up accolades for environmental consciousness -- and the beer's good, too! Session Lager and Session Black Lager (a gold medal winner at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival) are staples in my beer fridge with low alcohol, a handy 11-ounce "squat" bottle and plenty of great flavor!

Victory Brewing: Storm King Stout first caught my attention, but then this Pennsylvania-based brewer rolled Golden Monkey Belgian-style ale into stores. Wow! Rich, slightly sparkling and loaded with great flavors of herbs, spices and citrus fruit, this monkey is no circus act -- it's a headliner at a bar near you!

Moon River Brewing Co.: Our own brew pub may not have nationwide distribution, but who cares? Brewmaster John Pinkerton has conjured brews like Savannah Fest, Swamp Fox IPA and the session version, Slow-vannah Pale Ale. Once he catches up on production after a remodel, watch for Nuptial Pilsner -- a classic German Pilsner that should earn a place in the tap rotation.

The Bruery: Hard to find, worth the effort. The California brewer puts a unique spin on Belgian-style beers and has caught the attention of national media. Look for the 750 ml bottles and start with Orchard White, a bottle-conditioned witbier.

Bell's Brewery: The darling of Michigan beer drinkers came south with a remarkable line-up -- my current preference is Two-Hearted Ale, a bold IPA.

Stone Brewing Co.: Order an Arrogant Bastard strong ale if you dare, but don't expect a fizzy, yellow beer. Monstrous hops bite back from the glass of this aromatic and richly flavored California brew.

Terrapin Beer: Athens-based beer maker Terrapin also commands a shelf in my fridge with its award-winning Rye Pale Ale. Gentle rye grain, sweet malts and hoppy bitterness prevail -- and what's not to like about a label sporting a turtle playing the banjo?