November 30, 2015
The Ultimate Beer Gift Guide 2015
The holidays are once again upon us (even if you refuse to admit it before Thanksgiving), which means music, presents, decorations, and drinking (for our above 21 readers).
Many of us have beer lovers in the family, both male and female. And we at redOrbit are big beer fans ourselves, so we (I) set out to come up with a list of gifts for your resident zythologists. The good news holiday-gift-needers? There are beer-related gifts ranging from free, all the way up to several thousand dollars. Everything here is all but guaranteed to please.I know you're thinking: "You must be drinking while you write this article; how can I possibly get something for free that Dad would enjoy?"
1. One word: Coasters.
And yes, a Jo•vi•al from Tröegs brewery. You can get beer coasters for free at almost every bar, as well as some liquor stores. It's advertising for the brand, and some coasters are very unique works of art. There are many people that collect coasters. Or sometimes it's nice to have a stack of different beer coasters one can use when serving beer to guests.
At this point I must interject a bit of caution. Giving someone items such as coasters could result in them being bitten by the "collector bug." This means they start wanting to collect, catalogue, bid on, sell, and trade coasters (or arrange them in a nice array and photograph them for beer gift guides).
When someone is infected it can be a concern, because in extreme situations they forsake all, for the benefit of the collection. You were warned.
These aren't collectible, but still kinda cool, and only $20. (Click image to follow link.)
2. A locking bottle stopper is good if you want to save an opened beer for the next day or so ($7 ea).
Now I would only recommend this for certain types of beer, and in some rare instances you can re-seal it for months or even years later. For example, a bottle of Sink the Bismarck is 41% alcohol; it is now five years old, the seal is tight, and I imagine it will still be exquisite when it's finished in the next year or two. If you only want to cover the beer bottle for a bit, silicone rubber bottle caps ($7 set) may do the trick.
3. Cool bottle openers
To open your beer bottles, there's any manner of churchkeys available. You can sometimes get bottle openers for free at the local liquor store, but prices typically range from $3 to $20. The Sentol push-down opener ($12) is a personal favorite. If someone's never seen it, when the cap pops off the bottle as if by magic, they'll exclaim, "Whaaaaaat??"
4. Beer bottle stein lids
Stein bottle tops are sort of silly, but a fun bit of kit ($12). These tops clip onto a beer bottle, so you have to lift the stein lid with your thumb to drink the beer, just as you would with a real stein. There's also the advantage that if you are drinking from a bottle on a summer day, you're not likely to find a live hornet in your beer.
Beer glasses can, if you're fortunate, be acquired for zero cost, depending on who you are visiting--ie a brewery or some sort of beer event at your local bar. Glasses range in price generally from the aforementioned $0 to about $50 US for something like a Corne glass. Now that's a glass I wouldn't mind adding to my collection, but they are hard to get in the US; best place to try is eBay.
Another unique one is Pauwel's Kwak beer glass, replete with wooden stand ($22, as seen above). The design of this glass was such that allegedly an 1800s carriage driver could grab a beer on-the-fly while passing a tavern. It's also tradition in Belgium that you typically leave one shoe with the bartender when you order this beer--to curb theft.
Sam Adams Sensory Perfect Pint glasses, four for $28.99. (Note: I do have a small collection of glasses, but am limited by the square footage.)
As I have not done a single-blind test, I cannot confirm this personally, but generally speaking there are different shapes of glasses which are the optimal way to serve certain beers. For example, a tulip-shaped glass would be used for a Belgian ale, and a taller glass will be used for a Pilsner lager. Sometimes you don't want to use your collectible glasses, as they can and will break. You can pick up a set of various glass types (pilsner, English pub, Belgian tulip, craft pub, porter/stout, wheat beer) for less than $20.
6. Beer steins
A fancier type of beer drinking container is a Stein ($12 - $150+, the one above is $139 on Amazon, click the image to see more). Steins are substantial porcelain jugs with a handle. There is usually a hinged pewter top, with a tab that you depress with your thumb to uncover the beer before you drink it. Now just a comment, yes there is possibly lead in that pewter top, but unless you're pouring some acid over it and then drinking it, that I wouldn't worry about it. Steins are really nice because you can often get one from a country in Europe where your ancestors may be from.
7. A simple glasses-related gift, but quite practical, is a Madesmart Expandable Shelf Organizer ($16).
It's an expandable 3-tier shelf that makes getting to the glasses in the back far less hazardous.
Let's start with t-shirts.
This is also another of those things where I dangerously approach collector status. Because, frankly, there are a great many breweries/brewpubs/beer events out there, and if you have visited them the best ways to inform other zythologists is to wear a t-shirt.
Pricing typically starts at about $8, and rarely is above $30 (The Brooklyn Brewery one above is $21.95-23.95 depending on size. Click image to see more.) In fact, note to brewpubs and breweries: It's free advertising, so don't gouge your fans too much, no matter how popular you are. Thank you.
In addition to T-shirts, other shirt styles such as short sleeve polo/golf or button down are available. These have the added benefit of being more acceptable to wear in certain social situations.
Besides T-shirts and shirts in general, breweries and brewpubs offer other memorabilia: hats, jackets, umbrellas you name it. Although I wouldn't necessarily recommend a bumper sticker, as that may attract undue attention from the local constabulary.
9. The ultimate shirt for beer spills
Have you ever been sipping on your favorite chocolate or coffee stout (Young's Double Chocolate, for example) and gotten so excited that you spilled it all over your shirt? And ruined it? Well, this is the answer to that problem: The Threadsmith's Hydrophobic t-shirt.
It looks like your run-of-the-mill white t-shirt, but it's not. This shirt has been redOrbit tested and approved to deflect any and all water-based liquids. We went out in the rain in it and watched as drops flew off of it. It was actually kind of fun, and we encouraged people to throw anything at us. It was all deflected. The only thing we wouldn't recommend it for? Any wet t-shirt contests you might have coming up.
10. The ultimate underwear for those post-beer farts
Do you love beer, or have someone in your life who loves beer, but you can't stand the eyebrow-blazing flatulence it produces? Well, gather 'round children and listen here: Again, we have the answer for you.
RO editor-in-chief, Christopher Pilny, threw everything he could at them--brussel's sprouts, red meat, eggs, cheese, beer--and they worked. It was magical/frustrating. But they don't work by magic, just a simple coal filter. They're a little more expensive than your normal pair of undies, but we promise, if you can't stand your spouse's flatulence another minute, this is the gift for them/you.
11. Some reading material for the bathroom
Besides some of the memorabilia, you can always get your beer nut any number of books related to beer. As with coasters, the prices of these as range from $0 on up (for the e-books anyway):
Tasting Beer: An Insider's Guide to the World's Greatest Drink by Randy Mosher ($10)
Good Beer Guide Belgium by Tim Webb & Joe Stange ($23)
The Complete Beer Course: Boot Camp for Beer Geeks: From Novice to Expert in Twelve Tasting Classes by Joshua M. Bernstein ($13)
A Study Of American Beers and Ales by L. M. Tolman & James Garfield Riley ($0 Kindle)
Treatise on the Brewing of Beer - E. Hughes ($0 Kindle)
This is but a few choices. There are dozens and dozens of good books on beer and beer brewing. And here's a plea to publishers: Kindle and/or iBooks format please! (especially for the next update to Webb's book).
For magazines, you have some choices listed below:
All About Beer - ($25/yr)
Beer Advocate - ($20/yr)
Belgian Beer & Food - ($6/issue)
Craft Beer & Brewing - ($30/yr)
Draft - ($16/yr)
12. Actual beer
Of course for anyone who likes beer, the gift of beer would always be welcome. This does get difficult because you may not necessarily know what types or styles of beer a person likes. Keep in mind: If the person only drinks Bud Light, you go out and buy them more Bud Light. However, if you do know the person likes to try other beers, here's what you do:
- Make a note of what kinds they drink--or take pictures of their empties (in states with bottle bills or recycling).
- Get yourself to a liquor store that you know carries a varied beer selection.
- Work with the staff to help you pick up a goodly amount (I'll leave that up to you to decide) but that could be a mixed six pack, or several 750 mL bottles.
- Don't forget if you are fortunate enough to be near a brewpub or brewery that sells beer in "growlers," pick up one or two of those ($8 -15 plus cost of growler). If available, half-growlers are generally cheaper, so you can get two different types of beer for a bit more than the price of one growler.
And that's an important thing, many beer fans like to try different styles. With all due respect to wine drinkers or Scotch drinkers, the taste palate of beer spans a much, much broader range. So if you pick them up some beers, just get a mixed selection as this should be well received.
One thing you might want to try:
Purchase several of the same beers. The intention would be to drink one and age the remaining beers. You might be thinking to yourself, "Wait this isn't wine, why would we age it?" A bit of an explanation. First, one would not age every beer. In fact, the American-style IPA is one type with which time is anathema to the flavor. Some of the chemicals in hops (humulones) are sensitive to light, heat and oxygen, and break down over time.
So very hoppy beer is not one you would purchase with the intent to age, at least not more than six months (if stored properly). But other beers, typically higher alcohol percent (>10%) can be stored two, three, five, 10 years or more. This includes "barley wine," anything with "strong ale" in the name, "Imperial" stouts or porters, Belgian Tripel-style, etc. Belgian Lambics and Geuze come alive after aging. The oldest beer I have tried was a 27-year old Chimay Speciale, and it was quite enjoyable. I even picked up two bottles of de Molen's Bommen & Granaten (heaven and hell, 15%) and had one with friends in 2014. The bottle says it's good to 2035, so in 20 years...
13. Beer coolers
If you are going to store beer properly for aging, you actually don't want to do it in your traditional refrigerator, as that is too cold. Beer should be aged at a "cellar temperature" which is about 10-15 degrees Celsius or 50-59 degree Fahrenheit. Your basement may not be the best place, because of temperature variations over the year, especially if there's a furnace. The best ways to store beer is to get a beer cooler. Of course, you won't find this in Amazon or most places. Unless you search for "wine cooler." These range in price from about $150 to several thousand dollars. (The one below is $255 on Amazon. Click image for more info.)
One thing here is that depending on the value and quantities of beer stored, you may want to look at a few accessories. A temperature and humidity indicator($10) will show you the storage conditions, as typically the thermostat on these units is not that accurate.
Although probably not necessary unless you're storing more than a few beer bottles with corks, a tiny humidifier ($12) is not a bad idea; keep the humidity about 50% - 60%. You may want to get a temperature alarm as well ($28). The good news is if the unit stops staying cool you'll notice it eventually, and no real harm done. However if the thermostat sticks, and the temperature gets too cold and the beer freezes and bottles burst - that is messy.
Much of this may seem daunting, and we are not suggesting running out and buying a whole bunch of beers to age, and the refrigerator for them, when that may not be the best present. Don't forget that a gift certificate to the local liquor store, brewpub, or brewery will always be greatly appreciated.
14. Beer of the Month Clubs
This option does two things: It puts the beer choice into an expert's hand, and it's a gift that keeps on giving (you choose intervals of six months or more). I am referring to BOTMC - Beer of the Month Club. Here there's really nothing to choose except who gets the beer, how much, and for how long. Prices range from $27 (12 beers from 2 microbreweries) to $80 per month (3 bottles of each of 2 featured beers).
Now I've had people ask me, "Is BOTMC any good?" (Translated: "Are you getting your money's worth?") Well, I've received: Boon - Geuze Mariage Parfait; Boulevard Brewing - Imperial Stout Smokestack series; Cigar City Brewing - El Monstruo Lùpulo, To Øl & de Proef - Sans Frontière; to name a few. Not a clinker in the bunch. And if there is something Dad doesn't like, I'm sure he can trade with someone.
15. A four course meal with beer pairings
You could be very daring and prepare a dinner with some beer pairings. Yes, believe it or not different beers go well with different foods. A cloudy puckeringly-tart Berliner Weisse would go very well with an appetizer of smoked salmon. A rich chocolate dessert would complement a black lager or milk stout. Don't worry if you're not a beer and food pairing expert; just type "beer and food pairing" into Google for a plethora of choices.
16. Home brewing kits
The next suggestion comes with a warning, because it is worse than the "collector bug." I am speaking about the "brewing virus." Not brewing with viruses (we use yeast and to a lesser extent bacteria, but viruses, hmmmmm...), we are cautioning you that a small home brewing kit can expand to a full-time hobby. Even a vocation. Or an obsession.
If the person you are shopping for has mentioned they want to brew beer, there are some basic brewing kits. These are simple, inexpensive ($40), and make 1-2 gallons of beer. Self-contained, easy to use, almost idiot proof. The one below is good example, but a little more at $60 (Click on image for more info).
If this person already has a brewing kit, a slightly more advanced brewing kit might be in order. These range in price all over the map, $100 to several thousand dollars; the BrewDemon Signature Beer Kit is $105. Depending what your person's doing or planning, it would be best to consult with them and see what they would like.
One other option is what's called one gallon brewing. Here you make one gallon batches as opposed to two-five gallons or more. It's more technically more advanced than basic home brewing, but about equally priced. The Strange Brew One Gallon Home-Brew Beer Making Equipment Kit is $43.
For someone who is already home brewing, a wonderful gift would be membership to the American Homebrewer's Association for $43 a year.
17. Ah, accessories for your resident home brewer
If they get so into beer that they like to estimate the SRM scale color, perhaps some precision cuvettes ($12) might be given. And personally, it never hurts to have an FDA-registered breathalyzer that plugs into your smartphone ($40).
18. Drinking beer in unusual places
You could also find the "-est" bar in your locale. By "-est" I mean highest/oldest/ smallest etc. In the UK, I had the pleasure of going to the Tan Hill Inn, which is the highest and possibly remotest bar in the UK. It has its own generator and is one of the few pubs I've been to with its own Snowcat.
19. Beer certification
If someone is into brewing beer, or is involved with beer on a professional level (such as a restaurant), a professional beer certification may be a good idea. One can become a cicerone at the Cicerone Certification Program. There is the Siebel Institute Beer Sommelier program as well. The Prud'homme beer certification program has on-line tests, and last but not least is the Beer Academy Accredited Sommelier Scheme. No prices are listed as cost depends on the level of certification pursued, but let's call it $400 on up.
20. Become a beer judge
If someone wants to become a beer judge, the Beer Judge Certification Program will be the way to go.
21. Brew tours
Going on a brewery tour is usually pretty easy because most places have published tour times, etc.
Tours range in price from $0 up to $20 or more. However the more expensive tours usually get you things like a souvenir glass or extra tastings. And don't overlook the small brewer over the large brewer.
Small brewers - being much less commercial - often offer more personable tours of their operations. We were actually invited to stay and sit with the family for dinner at a brewery in Belgium.
22. Larger scale brew tours
There are also places that offer what might be called euphemistically a brew bus tour, such as one in Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. You make a reservation and pay a tour fee, meet at the departure point, and the bus will take you to different breweries as per your tour package. Packages usually range around $50 or more per person, depending on the number breweries and the like. Google "Brew bus tour" for your area.
23. Make him a "brewer for a day"
This makes a great gift for the person who is a homebrewer. What this means is just as the title says: You get to be a worker at a brewery for a day. These are reasonably priced in the $500 range, and are usually sold out well in advance. Just Google "brewer for a day" with your state or city name and you'll be amazed what you find.
24. Take a vacation to a brewery hotel
Depending where you are in business or vacation, you could stay at a brewery hotel. These are hotels that actually brew beer. For some like the Kerry Hotel in China, the brewing is an incidental. For others like Het Anker in Belgium, it's mostly a brewery with a small hotel. I have been to all of these, and have stayed at those marked with an asterisk, and would so again. There is no price listed, as most of these are on par with local hotels. So if you have to be in Shanghai, for example, you now know where to stay.
Het Anker Brouwerij*, Mechelen, Belgium
Faust Brewery Hotel*, New Braunfels TX, USA
Kerry Hotel (BREW brewery), Pudong, Shanghai
Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel, Sydney, Australia
Wittenberg Brewhouse*, Wittenberg, Germany
A cool thing to grab from these (if possible) is a tap handle. If not, Amazon has a pretty cool selection, like the one below, which is a chalkboard ($35), allowing for great variation at your home pub. Click the image for more info.
25. Tickets to The Adventure Science Center's "Science of Beer" night
If you're in Nashville, TN, or willing to travel (which this is a good reason for), the Adventure Science Center is having their annual Science of Beer night on December 17. And as you may deduce from the banner...it's Star Wars themed. Admission is $45 and a driver's license (21+ only), but it's going to be a blast, with "local and American craft beer featuring tastings of over 70 brews, fun beer-science demonstrations and activities, liquid nitrogen beer ice cream and more." On top of all that? We'll be there. Handing out coozies and enjoying the heck out of it.
26. Tickets/passes to beer festivals or beer events
Beer festivals or beer events across the US are a great place to go. Many people like them because you don't have to go there for the beer. They often have really good food and music, as well. Tickets to these events are in the $50-$150 range depending on food options, and if you want "backstage passes" so to speak.
Beer festivals in Belgium or England would typically cost about $10-$100 to attend. Part of your budget (if in the US) should include travel: $800 for airplane and train, as well as $60 a night for hotel (at least). I am not saying that UK craft beers are better than US craft beers. They are different, and the UK has CAMRA (CAMpaign for Real Ale) to partially thank for keeping the craft alive; membership in CAMRA is about $35.
Belgian beer is a personal favorite and there are no people more passionate about beer than Belgian brewers and bars. There's a statute of a hop plant in Poperinge, for heaven's sake. Almost no one in the States will serve you a bottled beer in the exact brewery glass every time, as they do in most Belgian bars. And no one will carefully dip the glass of beer 7/8 of the way into a sink of warm water, to rinse off any foam that ran down the side. And no one but Belgians reverently set the selfsame glass down, with the label of the brewery facing you. But I digress.
27. The final, ultimate gift
In closing, I suppose the penultimate gift to a beer fan would be a visit to the Brouwerij de Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvleteren, Belgium. This is one of but eleven true Trappist breweries, where typically no one (but government inspectors) gets to see the brewing process; all work is usually done by Cistercian monks. All Trappist beers are very good, but folks on Rate Beer and many others (me included) consistently rate Westvleteren XII as one of the best beers in the world. It is, but it is truly a transcendental experience to drink it fresh at the Abbey's shop, over a lunch of cheese and bread crafted by the selfsame monks. So for about $1,500 for airfare, rental car, and hotel (Palace Hotel in Poperinge), they'll have truly a beer gift to remember.
Feature Image: Thinkstock