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A Mixed Bag

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About the only thing this week's picks have in common is that they are all beers. First up: an amber ale in a can from Oregon. Next, a collaborative effort between two breweries from opposite ends of the country. Last, a local brewery's winter seasonal. Oh yeah, and all three are pretty darned good.

Calderas Ashland Amber

I love cans. They keep the beer fresher and are more easily recycled than bottles. This amber comes from an Oregon brewery that only does kegs and cans. It's a nice change from the heavier winter brews I've been tasting, offering piney hops on the nose that carry through on the palate. It's light to medium bodied, with fruit, sweet malt and toffee flavors. It's not overly complex, but that can be a good thing.

Life and Limb Ale

This one springs from a partnership between California's Sierra Nevada and Delaware's Dogfish Head. The label is gorgeous, but when I read "limb" was a reference to the birch and maple syrup used in the brew, I cringed. I've no idea what birch syrup tastes like, but I was pretty sure maple didn't belong in beer. Wrong. This is a rollickingly good ale, very dark in color with a rich, toasty malt nose. It's a chewy mouthful of roasted barley and malt, mocha, coffee and smooth hops with a light touch of smoke on the finish (no discernible maple). It's more like a barley wine than anything else, with a potent 10 percent alcohol. Don't miss out on this one.

Sockeye Brewery Winterfest

From one of Boise's own breweries, this winter seasonal is definitely worthy. It pours a dark brown with a thin but frothy head. It has plenty of just-sweet malt up front, laced with chocolate and nice touches of berry. It's all colored by a big hop bite in this earthy, impeccably balanced brew that finishes on the dry side.