It's Cyber Monday, and you've undoubtedly already blown a substantial amount of your net worth on gifts for your friends and family, because you love them so much and...well, enough about that - let's get selfish here. What are they getting for you?
Fellow brewers, this post isn't so much for you to read as much as it is something for you to share far and wide. Because this December 25th (or whatever particular winter holiday date you celebrate), I want to help save us all from our perpetual and terrible fate: unwrapping that Guinness holiday gift set with logo pint glasses and bar towel and having to smile (as we die a little inside) and thank the person who gave it to us.
So brewer-adjacent people, I'm talking to you this week. Follow these guidelines, and your beer geek friend/spouse/sibling/parent/child will thank you. Ignore them, and St. Arnold of Metz will personally stop by your house this holiday season and shake his head in disappointment at you.
What I Don't Want, Didn't Ask For, and Can't Use
I acknowledge a certain flexibility in tastes and preferences, but I'm pretty comfortable with the idea that virtually no brewer will genuinely enjoy the following gifts...
The Pint Glass
And by this I mean in virtually ANY form. I suppose that in theory I might appreciate a branded glass from an obscure brewery that evokes a pleasant memory of a great night, but we'd have to be talking one hell of a great night. As in "Emily-Blunt-feeding-me-bacon-wrapped-dates-while-petting-my-dog-and-watching-the-Eagles-win-the-Super-Bowl-on-Oscar-Night-after-a-day-at-the-spa" great. Otherwise, I can safely say that your average beer enthusiast has as much use for another pint glass as he/she does for herpes.
I could go all "Greek celebration" and smash every pint glass I drink out of from now until Rapture, and I'd still probably never run out.
Roughly the same logic applies to beer t-shirts (especially if they say anything about Corona and a "whole new lattitude").
The "Guide to Breweries in [Place]" Book
This is a little uncomfortable because I have friends who have written these, but the reality is that in the modern beer world, they're simply not practical or helpful. For one thing, that book was out of date about five minutes after it was printed: there are so many new breweries out there, and they're opening all the time, and others are folding up shop. For another, while I appreciate the input of a dedicated beer geek in terms of evaluating the places in the book, it's hardly the only opinion I want. Maybe I like modern, and he/she likes rustic. Maybe the beer has gotten better since the author reviewed it. Maybe they changed chefs. Maybe they realized that Black IPA isn't a thing (column coming up on that one...) and decided to focus on locally-sourced beer ingredients. Anyways, long story short, I have the internet and all that entails. Buying me a local beer guide is the beer equivalent of buying me a Playboy subscription.
Cutesy Beer Paraphernalia you found at a chain store
I get it - you're walking through Bed Bath & Beyond and see a bottle opener/"I'm here for beer t-shirt" combo pack, and think, "Oh, Tammy likes craft beer and brews - she'll love this!" No, she won't. Tammy will think you got taken, and that a fool and his/her money were parted. If Tammy is so into her hobby (beer) that you're aware of it, then I'm about 99% sure that what she wants isn't to be found on an end cap at Target. Resist the urge to buy her that Multicolor Beer Goggle Six Pack (awww, they're GOGGLES for BEER BOTTLES!) - she'll thank you (and she doesn't drink beer out of the bottle anyway).
Beer Ingredient Kits
If you're not standing in a homebrew shop surrounded by surly dudes with facial hair, don't buy beer ingredients for me. I know that Williams-Sonoma has kits that look (and, possibly, are) pretty sophisticated, but there's just as good a chance that you're buying a box of mediocre and stale ingredients that wouldn't make good beer if you doughed in with Westvleteren 12. You wouldn't buy cigars for someone in that setting, would you? Or a fancy box of no-cook and ready-to-eat bacon? The same kind of environmental care is required for beer ingredients, and the shipping department probably isn't all that fastidious when it comes to storing and handling them.
OK Alehole, then what do I buy?
I'm glad you asked. There are a great many things you can get for the beer geek in your life that will bring a genuine smile to their tipsy face (and why do people look at me funny when I pop open an Oktoberfest at 10AM? You're drinking mimosas, you judgmental snobs...).
I don't need another pint or pub mug. But you know what I can sometimes use? A nice tulip or thistle glass. Perhaps even (kitschy though it might be) a bierstiefel or "boot" (I already have one though, so not for me). But you just said not to buy glassware! No, I didn't. I said not to buy something every beer person already has dozens of. But a great gift idea is to find a well-reviewed beer from a particular regional style and then gift a sixer of that and a traditional glass that pairs with it! That way I can now show off to my beer geek friends that I'm drinking Gaffel Kolsch out of a hand-blown German stangen. Score.
Beer and Brewing Books
There's a lot of information out there, and beer geeks tend to like learning it! But the beer internet is a bit soured as a source for sour beer (or any beer) knowledge, so it's nice to get a well-researched and reviewed tome from an expert in the field. Consider picking up a new title from a place like Brewers Publications, which has a great selection of recipe, style, process, and ingredient books! Or even a classic like De Clerck's two-volume "Textbook of Brewing".
Get me beer. It doesn't even really matter what kind. If it happens to be something interesting or rare (this list is a good place to start, though of course it isn't comprehensive or exhaustive), then fine. Something new and local is great, too, and gives me a chance to check out another local brewery. But even something run-of-the-mill is still a nice gift - my father-in-law once bought me a six-pack of Boston Lager, and I was more than happy to receive it!
Quality Brewing Equipment
No joke, you know what's basically the only thing on my Christmas list this year? A Thermapen. Because it's the perfect kind of gift: it's a very high-quality item (thermometer, for those who don't know) that costs more than I would part with easily, and I can't justify the expense when I already have a decent thermometer. But it'd make a GREAT gift! Talk to the crew at the local homebrew shop about fun and useful toys, and you may find a wonderful gift.
A Cool Brewing Ingredient
Don't know much about beer, but want to encourage your beer-obsessed gift recipient? Pick her/him up a rare and valuable honey, obscure spice, or exotic fruit and challenge that brewer to make something that lives up to your ingredient. They'll love the challenge, and you've got something to talk about when the beer is done - and if you're lucky it might even end up named after you.
Homebrew Supply Gift Cards
I hate to say it, because gift cards are kind of a dodge, but most brewers can really use them. Either they're saving up for an expensive piece of equipment, or they could use a fresh sack of Maris Otter, or it's hop rhizome season - but in any case, an extra bump will almost certainly be appreciated. $50 buys a full batch of ingredients in most cases, and makes a nice dent in even an expensive capital brewery purchase.
A Word in Closing
In all sincerity, homebrewers are often very passionate about their hobby, which makes us a tremendous pain in the ass to shop for. I get that. And if you do happen to give me a Newcastle Brown Ale t-shirt for Christmas, I'm honestly going to smile and thank you and be touched that you remembered that I'm into beer.
But I'll also die a little inside before nipping off to the bathroom for a hit off of my Sierra Nevada Celebration.
Keep it simple.