SOMETIMES, the hunt for interesting, new beer is frustrating. That's because beer distribution in America is a post-Prohibition nightmare called the "three tier" system. There are brewers, distributors and retailers. Each distributor and retailer has a vote and even with 'yes' votes, distribution can be glacial.

I learned this week that not even mighty Anheuser-Busch is exempt. One of the brews I was trying to find was Michelob Celebration, a new, unusual, 10 percent alcohol by volume, craft-style, all-malt beer from A-B, the world's largest brewer. The other was a stunning Imperial Pilsner from Sam Adams.

In a phone interview, George Reisch, the fifth generation brewer who runs the test brewery at A-B in St. Louis, assured me that his Celebration was "in the stores."

A little while later, a Sam Adams staffer in Boston said Imperial Pilsner was in Beverages & More stores. Not.

Looking for Celebration, I tried a few stores with no luck. I called Horizon Beverage and Markstein Sales Co., distributors for A-B in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. One store in Alameda County took the beer: Piedmont Grocery, 4038 Piedmont Ave., Oakland. In Contra Costa, BevMo in Walnut Creek had it.

At the store in the Creek, the sales folks had never heard of it. I insisted, so a manager disappeared into the back and came out minutes later with the beer.

I never found Imperial Pils0

ner. But BevMo assistant beer buyer Amy Gutierrez located it for me: BevMo, 3455 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, had 12 bottles, because the distributor, Golden Brands, decided to carry it. Other distributors turned it down, so BevMo's bringing it in to Bay Area stores. Expect to see it about Dec. 10, Guttierez says.

-Sam Adams Imperial Pilsner 2005 Harvest , Boston Brewing, 24 ounce bottle, $4.99.

This one's a treasure. Boston Brewing has neatly duplicated in a bottle, some of the wonderful, high-hopped ales being brewed here in California like Denogginizer from Drake's, San Leandro, and Pliny the Elder , from Russian River, Santa Rosa.

Imperial Pilsner's a high octane (8.8 percent ABV), hugely hoppy beer: 110 International Bitterness Units. (Your basic Bud's 12 IBU). It's a lager, not an ale, so the taste is lager-like: clean and aromatic. Hops are German Hallertau Mittelfrueh, which impart a mild, spicy, earthy aroma. This is a beer worth the hunt.

-Michelob Celebration , Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, 24-ounce bottle in a gift pack with two Celebration brandy snifters, $15.99.

Bud & Co. has been producing some most interesting beers recently. They won gold medals last month at the Great American Beer Festival for Michelob Marzen and Michelob Pale Ale. Celebration (unfortunately, the name's similar to Sierra Nevada's classic Celebration Ale) is more a brandy than a beer.

One of the most interesting craft beer trends is beer aged in whisky barrels. A-B did it with a twist.

"We bought oak bourbon barrels, chopped them up, washed and sterilized them and put them in the lager tank with Madagascar vanilla beans," Reisch says. The test brewery's lager tank holds 1,000 barrels. (A beer barrel equals 31 gallons, about 330 12-oz. bottles). The yeast was A-B's regular house yeast; hops were Strisselspalt from the Alsace region in France.

Celebration's a brilliant copper with a nose of spice and whiskey, almost no foam. It's somewhat sweet with definite notes of bourbon and vanilla. This one demands to be sipped along with your favorite chocolate: Perhaps chocolate mousse or an assortment of the best chocolate truffles. For more on A-B's new craft-style beers, check out our blogs at http://www.beernewsletter.com and http://www.insidebayarea.com/beerblog.

-Calendar: One of the best ways I know to survey a huge assortment of holiday beers is Pacific Coast Brewing's Holiday Beer Tasting: Dec. 10, noon to 4 p.m. Brewmaster Don Gortemiller walks us through a long list of the best from the Bay Area and beyond. The $40 admission includes the beer and a lot of food, served continuously throughout the tasting. This is Pacific Coast's 17th annual Holiday tasting and it usually sells out.

Reservations are essential: (510) 836-2739. Pacific Coast is at 906 Washington St. in downtown Oakland.

-Pilgrim's progress: And finally, Thursday's Thanksgiving. Can't leave without this.

The Pilgrims did not plan to land in America at Plymouth Rock in what is now Massachusetts. An entry in the diary of a passenger on the Mayflower explains: "We could not now take time for further search ... our victuals being much spent, especially our beer ..."

Salud.

Beer ratings are based on a star system. — world classic; — outstanding; — excellent; — good; — average.

Staff writer William Brand publishes What's On Tap, a consumer craft beer and hard cider newsletter. His column runs every other week. Write him at whatsontap@sbcglobal.net or P.O. Box 3676, Walnut Creek, CA 94598, or call (510) 915-1180.