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New tastes for a new year

You don't want to start the new year by cracking open yet another bottle of the same old chardonnay, Bud Light or scotch, do you?

Here are some fresh sips to get you off on the right foot in 2011:

*Sam Adams Infinium Ale: This new brew is a joint venture of Boston Beer Co., maker of Samuel Adams and Germany's Weihenstephan Brewery, the world's oldest.

They set out to create an ale under the German purity law that says it can be made only of malt, hops, yeast and water. It comes in a fancy bottle with a champagne-style cork and wire mesh. It's deep gold, with a fine, frothy head and off-dry flavors of fruit, malt and spices. It's 10.3 percent alcohol, $20 per 750-milliliter bottle.

*Chartreuse Green: Ever notice that off-green, seldom-poured bottle on the shelf behind the bartender?

It's Chartreuse Green, a strong, sweet liqueur usually consumed after a meal. Legend says it was developed in the 1600s by Carthusian monks in the French Alps. They say only three monks know the formula today, each knows only one-third of it and all three have taken vows of silence.

It's made by infusing alcohol with more than 100 herbs, which give it its color and shifting aromas of cloves, fennel, thyme, rosemary, pine and other botanicals.

Beware: It's 110 proof, meaning 55 percent alcohol. You can drink it on the rocks, with vodka and orange juice or with rum and tequila in a cocktail called Battery Acid. It's $60 a 750-milliliter bottle.

*Ilegal Mezcal Reposado: It is said that tequila is a form of mezcal, but mezcal is not a form of tequila. Both start with agave plants, but mezcal is made only in Oaxaca, while the center of tequila making is the Mexican state of Jalisco.

Mezcal is the more primitive drink from which tequila developed. It is made mostly in small batches, while tequila is more often made in big distilleries. It's light, smoky and earthy, with aromas of caramel and spice. It's mostly enjoyed as a shooter, with or without salt and lime.

The name comes from the way it used to be shipped across the border. It's $67 a 750-milliliter bottle.

*2009 Mission Hill Family Estate Riesling Icewine, British Columbia: It's no fun making ice wine. The grapes are left on the vine past Christmas, picked with frigid fingers only when they're frozen solid, then pressed under great pressure to extract the super-sweet juice and acids from the ice.

But the flavors are worth it -- sweet honey, apricots and spices, crisp enough not to cloy. It's $59 a 375-milliliter bottle.