Winter 2008: holiday gifts for beer lovers
Festive gifts for beer lovers can be as simple as a six-pack or exotic as beer-themed cruises. Here are my beercook.com picks for the 2008 season, from stocking stuffers to splurges on food and festivals, with illustrations and links.
before the current craft brewing movement inaugurated the calendar
of seasonal brews, Northern Europeans celebrated the solstice with special
winter warmers. Now, a new book by Don Russell, a.k.a. the popular "Joe Sixpack" of the Philadelphia Daily News, celebrates the "cheeriest, tastiest and most unusual Christmas brews."
From American brews such as Anchor's Christmas Ale and Lakefront Brewery's Holiday Spice to special imports such as Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome from England and Stille Nacht from Belgium, there are profiles and tasting notes for the top 100 holiday brews.
There's also a brief history of holiday brewing - who can recall tasting Miller Brewing Co.'s Christmas Special Beer? It's a lovely little book published by art house Rizzoli, suggested price $19.95, with loads of color photos - you can get it at major bookstores or from Don Russell at his Joe Sixpack website.
Russell's book belongs on your bookshelf, and in your hand when shopping to assemble a gift basket packed with popular winter ales.
Lost Abbey Brewing Co. even has its own beer club - check out details at the Patron Saints and Sinners Club.
Other gift basket ideas include an assortment of cheeses selected to match a specific beer style, such as the Foods of the World collection from National Geographic. National Geographic has launched an ambitious exploration of the flavors of the global village in an online store, and thoughtfully paired imported cheeses with styles such as IPA, brown ale, and more, with prices from $50 and up.
A hint for the folks at the National Geographic online store: make "beer" one of the choices for the sidebar navigation - as it is now, visitors have to type the word "beer" into the search bar to find all the gift basket selections...
For fans of Shiner beer and the Spoetzl Brewery, as well Texas history buffs, comes an entertaining read of the brewery's first century - Shine On, by Mike Renfro, from Bright Sky Press ($34.95). It's a coffee table book with loads of vintage photos and interviews about Shiner's iconic status in Texas and the world beyond.
Present this book with a gift card that promises a special beer later in the new year. The Spoetzl Brewery will be celebrating its centennial anniversary with a special release brew, aptly named, "Commemorator," in the style of a traditional doppelbock. Look for it to hit the markets by February 2009....
If Christmas really is for kids, then think about accessorizing your newest addition to the family with a very cool onesie in black, emblazoned with the heart-warming message,"My Daddy is an Arrogant Bastard." Yes, the marketing genii at Stone Brewing have managed to extend their defiant brand into the world of 100 percent cotton baby wear. It's cute, funny, just $18, and sized for those aged 6-months old with an attitude, already.
Stone has lots of other unusual gifts, from belt buckles to barbecue sauces. For those who attended the 2008 Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego and experienced the Stone World Bistro and Garden's awesome hospitality, you know how toothsome those sauces taste. Locals could celebrate the season with a gift certificate to their favorite pubs for a night out..
Wearables for women range from aloha artwork rendered in 100 percent cotton ("Liquid Aloha" from the Kona Brewing Co.), spirited in support of craft beer ("Real women don't drink light beer" proclaims a t-shirt from the New Glarus Brewing Co.) to worshipful ("Beer goddess" t-shirt from Ale Street News). One message that I wear is emblazoned on a Brewing News tank top designed for women: "Make beer, not war."
The Pike Pub and Brewery in downtown Seattle, WA, has scads of great gift ideas, and one of my favorites is the puppy-sized shirt that declares "I Like Pike." I photographed the proprietors' pup, Darby, but she didn't want to sit still for this pix, shown at left. You can see the sizing and details for this affordable attire ($15.95 for x-small or XXL)
Make no bones about it! It's dog gone great!
If you'd rather bring the pub experience home, here's a handy tool to make Black and Tans: the Lagerhead Brütül (brew tool) from Terrapin Brewing Co.
The combo of bottle opener and "black and tan tool" is shaped like their mascot, a loggerhead tortoise, but perfects the art of a slow pour needed to make the perfect pint of mixed lager and stout. At $11.95, it's a fun gift.
"Foam follows function" is the motto, and you can even see a demo on the brewtool.com website.
How else to present the perfect pour?
Try the new line of Beer Classics glassware from Spiegelau of the Black Forest. These gorgeous glasses are crystalline in appearance but made of real glass so there's no risk of lead infusing your lager and they can go in the top rack of the dishwasher for ease.
Shapes shown at left include a curvy weissbier glass, footed pilsner and a traditional lager glass. The glasses are all unadorned with labels, so no brand names obscure the view of your brew.
Yet for some fans, the brand is the message, and for those people, check out the Beerables.com store from the Illinois distributor, Louis Glunz. I'm a "member at large" of the Culinary Council of Louis Glunz, a group of foodservice and industry professionals dedicated to bringing craft beer to the dinner table.
The Glunz family's new Beerables online store showcases branded glassware such as Unibroue's Fin du Monde, imported Spaten glass boots and salt-glazed steins from
A brand-new (and branded) style of beer glass, designed by Jim Koch of Boston Beer Co., promises to enhance the beer drinkers' experience with the addition of a rolled rim and a "turbulator" to release a cascade of carbonation. The Sam Adams Boston Lager Glass sells for $30 for a set of 4.
Also, the New Belgium Brewing Co. now offers its interpretation of the classic Belgian globe glass, with a short stem to keep the beer at its proper serving temperature, at $10 for a set of 2 glasses.
Commemorative brews abound this season, as 1988 was the year that many iconic breweries were founded, including Rogue Ales, of Newport, OR., Goose Island of Chicago, IL; Deschutes Brewery of Bend, OR, and Brooklyn Brewery. This year, the special Brewer's Ale 2008 from Rogue brewmaster John Maier pays tribute to the Brewdog, a black lab and official mascot of Rogue Nation - a strong ale packaged in a lovely ceramic swing-top bottle replete with embossed dog tag.
For fans of cooking with beer, there are several cookbooks, including the Best of American Beer & Food, my collection of recipes from chefs and brewers published by Brewers Publications, suggested price $22.95, and John Schlimm's Ultimate Beer Lover's Cookbook, from Cumberland House Publishing, a compendium with about 400 recipes, suggested price $24.95. And a free cookbook compiled to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, Cheers! is available as a PDF from the National Association of Beer Wholesalers consumer website, tasteofbeer.net.
Tickets to a beer festival, near or far, make wonderful gifts to share. Many beer lovers make the trek to Denver for the grand-daddy of beer fests, the Great American Beer Festival™. But some of my favorite festivals are small, local or regional in scope, and more intimate with time to talk to brewers and plenty of fabulous food to sample. Here's my pick for 2009, in alphabetical order, with a caution that some of these festivals are so popular, tickets are available only by lottery:
Brews on the Bay, at the S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien with the San Francisco Brewers Guild
Great Taste of the Midwest, by the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild
The Kona Brewers Festival
Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival
Mondial de la Biere in Montreal
Philly Beer Week
Portland Holiday Ale Fest
San Francisco Beer Week
TAP NY at the Hunter Mountain Resort
If the budget is tight, make your own fest at home with a holiday beer swap. Modeled after a cookie swap, everyone invited brings a six-pack or a case of a different holiday beer or winter ale. Everyone gets to take home an assortment that transcends the typical brand-driven gift box. Plan the quantity to bring based on the number of guests invited. Just don't plan to sample much - these high-octane winter brews are best savored at home or with the help of a designated driver. Make these safe and happy holidays for all!