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While a beer-enhanced cooling off is always welcome during a sweltering summer day, hearty winter beers offer such a burst of flavor that, quite frankly, we look forward to the return of snow all summer long. Here are six flavor-soaked brews to get you through the cruelest months.

But take them slowly - their alcohol content is a bit higher than that of their run-of-the-mill brethren. And since everybody needs a hobby, try brewing up a batch of your own. We tapped (pun intended) Gary Glass, director of the American Homebrewers Association, for some tips on how to get started and what to expect.  By Jenna Schnuer

Chocolate desserts will thank you for treating them so kindly if you pair them with this concoction, which has hints of caramel, oak, and Bourbon. Brewed in St. Louis, Missouri. www.schlafly.com

If you like pumpkin pie (or want to charm somebody who does), buy all the cinnamonand- nutmeg-spiced Winter Warmer ale you can find. Brewed in Windsor, Vermont. www.harpoonbrewery.com

Even though the brewer uses oatmeal and organic Mexican coffee to produce this hearty stout, you still might want to wait till, say, the afternoon to crack one open. It's delish with barbecue. Brewed in Milton, Delaware. www.dogfish.com

ALASKAN BREWING CO.'S ALASKAN WINTER ALE Salmon, shmamon. Our favorite taste of the state right now is this beer, brewed using glacier-fed waters and Sitka spruce tips, which add a bit of a floral aroma to every sip. (Don't worry, it's still quite a manly beverage.) Brewed in Juneau. www.alaskanbeer.com

Odell shies away from anything fruity or spicy for its boldly traditional winter warmer, a higher-malt, big flavor brew. And though we don't judge a beer by its label, we love this one so much, we'd like to hang a poster of it on our wall. Brewed in Fort Collins, Colorado. www.odellbrewing.com

This is another big one with a smooth caramel fl avor. And the deep ruby color? It'll make many a glass of wine hide in shame. Brewed in Seattle and Woodinville, Washington, and also in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. www.redhook.com

Make Your Own

In four to six weeks, and with enough patience, you could have some fine beer to show off to your friends. "[These days] people who are home brewing can expect to make beer that's just as good as anything they can buy in the store," says Gary Glass, director of the American Homebrewers Association. "You actually have a much wider range of possibilities than somebody who has a commercial brewery and has to sell their beer." First, do a little learning about brewing by checking out the American Homebrewers Association guide, Zymurgy for Beginners (303-447-0816, www.beertown.org/homebrewing/beginning.html). Then, for a quick start, Glass recommends buying an all-in-one kit: "It doesn't give you much room to experiment, but it's a good way to get your first batch in." After that, it's brewer's choice. Chilepepper beer? Cinnamon beer? Paprika? If you can dream it, you can brew it. The website Beertown.org lists home-brewing supply shops throughout the United States. Beginner beer kits - with your choice of extract, which will produce beers such as American cream ale, Irish red ale, American Amber Ale, and many more - hover around $120.

Leeners Northfield, Ohio (800) 543-3697, www.leeners.com
Keystone Homebrew Supply Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (610) 997-0911, www.keystonehomebrew.com