Good Beer Brings Holiday Cheer
A gift guide for the brew enthusiast
If you have a beer lover in your life, holiday shopping for them can be a daunting task. Craft beer has taken off in the past decade in the U.S., and a tour of the beer aisles of your local liquor store will reveal a colorful and crazy array of breweries and quirky styles that is, frankly, intimidating. Even if you find some help, you might want to give a gift that’s a little more permanent — once you drink a beer, that beer is gone!
With that in mind, here are some gift ideas that will complement the brews your beer lover enjoys.
Reading about beer is definitely not the same thing as drinking it, but reading can definitely improve the experience. The Comic Book Story of Beer: The World’s Favorite Beverage from 7000 B.C. to Today’s Craft Brewing Revolution is a fun, breezy and surprisingly in-depth graphic novel covering the long history and cultural impact of beer. For those with a more encyclopedic bent, there’s The Oxford Companion to Beer, which has more than 1,000 entries written by top beer experts from around the world. For the home cook, there’s The Craft Beer Cookbook, featuring 100 recipes using many different styles of beer to make beautiful food. If you want to go local, KC native Pete Dulin released a book this fall called Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland, which explores Kansas City’s beer-soaked history and more than 60 breweries from the frontier era to the 21st century.
Good glassware is a nice gift for a budding beer enthusiast. Williams-Sonoma stocks many of the Spiegelau beer glasses, where the shape is tailored to a particular style. An assortment of wheat, pilsner, lager and IPA shapes will have the receiver ready for most basic styles of beer. There's an ever wider variety of Spiegelau on Amazon.
Home Brewing Kits
Give someone a beer, and they'll have a beer to drink. Let them learn how to make beer, and they can take care of that themselves. Overland Park's Brew Lab is an amazing local resource for aspiring home beer makers. It has more than 60 different grains and malts sold in bulk, as well as yeasts and pellet hops. Besides the raw materials, Brew Lab has all the other supplies you will need to make your own beer at home.
Home Brewing Classes
If you have an aspiring brewer on your hands, but they have no idea where to begin, sign them up for one of Brew Lab's classes. There are two levels offered: an introductory extract class, where the basic principles are taught (how the ingredients work together, how to use that to create a recipe, and all the terminology) and All-Grain, which is a little more intermediate and brings in the mysterious art of mashing. brewlabkc.com
A Bottle Opener
Simple and practical. Done and done.
Beer Terminology 101
If you are going to ignore the advice provided and want to find a brew to give your special beer lover this holiday, here’s a (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) guide to a few words you’ll find on labels that will increase your chances of getting them something interesting.
Imperial – This term originated for beers destined to be shipped to the Tsar’s Court in 19th-century Russia. Now it indicates a beer the brewery believes to be particularly big and bold. Think more malt, more hops and higher ABV.
Brettanomyces – This is the name of a yeast strain that many beer lovers enjoy. It used to be an accident, but brewers learned how to use it to add a distinctive funky note to their beers. You may see it shortened to just “Brett.”
Oak-aged/barrel-aged – This is a technique typically reserved for high-quality beers. The oak adds extra layers of flavor and texture, and if the barrels have been previously used for aging something else — bourbon barrels are particularly common — hints of flavors of the previous liquid resident can be found in the beer.
Cascade, citra, saaz or any other hop species – One of the great discussions in the beer world is the difference between various hop species and their effect on beer.
If you find a beer with all of these words on the label, you know you’ve done well!