SAM ADAMS INFINIUM: There are many who would be more jazzed to toast in the new year with a fine beer rather than champagne. What if there was a drink that combined the best elements of both? Venerable Sam Adams  comes out with a special holiday brew every year, but this year's is unique. Infinium ($19.99) released this month as a two-year collaboration between Sam Adams brewer/founder Jim Koch and Dr. Josef Schrädler of Weihenstephan Brewery in Germany. It's the first new German beer style created under the Reinheitsgebot in over a hundred years (sometimes called the German Beer Purity Law, limiting the production of beer to four ingredients - water, barely, hops, yeast). While this beer sticks to Reinheitsgebot standards, it pushes boundaries with an acidic, bubbly profile. It's dry and tart like a champagne, malty, rich as a beer, bracing at 10.3% alcohol by volume. You can find it at many local specialty beer stores.
PURE DARK CHOCOLATE POP-UP SHOP: In the true spirit of last minute gifts, Pure Dark , a popular new New York artisan chocolate line, heads West for the first time with a pop-up shop opening December 22nd at 1775 Union Street (at the corner of Octavia). With plans to remain open until at least March 2011, they'll sell their chocolates (slabs, bark, rounds), chocolate-dipped fruits and nuts, cocoa nibs for cooking, and holiday gift sets, including samplers. Their product has a global/roots feel, whether in gift packaging of burlap sacks or hand-woven African baskets, or in three cacao "levels": Striking (level 1 - 60% cacao), Serious (level 2 - 70%), Stunning (level three - 80%). Opt for plain dark or go for chocolate laced with the likes of caramelized nibs, mango, cherries, macadamia nuts. This is chocolate for the hardcore: earthy, intense, robust in flavor, rustically modern in it's rugged slabs.
HAPPY GIRL KITCHEN: Central Coast-based Happy Girl Kitchen  is one of those special, family-run companies both current and vintage in their approach to canning and preserving foods from their farm. Simple packaging appeals but the real joy is the quality and taste of products from owners Todd and Jordan Champagne. A jar of Happy Girl ($5-10) is a fine representation of the boundless wealth of California produce for family or friends further afield. Happy Girl's pickles please the pickle-obsessed. But venture beyond with spicy carrots or pickled beets, lush jams, crushed heirloom tomatoes, and seasonal offerings like preserved Bing cherries. There's convenient samplers ($37-$43) to give a range. Find Happy Girl at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market  or order online.
ZAGAT'S SMARTBOX: TABLE FOR TWO: I've been a Zagat member for years. Though some bemoan their lists not being the most up-to-date, paid memberships weed out some of the yahoos you get posting "reviews" on free-for-all sites (plus I like to feverishly mark up their books with my own notes). Recently landed on my desk? Zagat Smartbox , which operates as choose-your-own-dining experience or a $99 gift card in a box. A booklet details 39 eligible Bay Area restaurants and what each offers with the card: all include at least three courses for two people, some offer four or add on drinks. For one who dines out as much as I do, I'd prefer more restaurants and no menu limitations (some have them, some do not). But for the indecisive, or to give your recipient a range of options, Smartbox narrows down and even highlights under-the-radar gems locals would do well to visit, like Saha, Albona Ristorante, Matterhorn, or Lolo. There's also Bay Area restaurants such as the winning Central Market in Petaluma, or Camino and Mezze in Oakland. P.S. There's a Smartbox for NY, LA, Chicago and DC.
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