Twelve Ways To Give The Gift Of Homebrew

You knew I’d get around to this eventually, right? A set of gift suggestions for the homebrewer – or potential homebrewer – in your life. To make things simple for the non-homebrewer who might be purchasing these gifts, I’ve put together a dozen suggestions organized by your brewers experience and your desired gift price point.

Deluxe Homebrew Starter Kit at Northern Brewer: $170

novice = A novice is someone who is just starting out, having made one or two batches of beer, or is thinking about trying homebrewing.
intermediate = An intermediate brewer is consistently brewing, using extracts or mini-mash recipes.
advanced = Advanced brewers are doing all-grain mashes, developing their own recipes, and perhaps getting into crazy stuff like harvesting and washing their own yeast.

The price points aren’t exact. Some $ suggestions are a buck and some of the $$$ suggestions can run well past $200 if you go for the brewing bling. Yet others, like the professional cleaners, will have a big price range depending on what quantity you buy. But in general:
$ = around $20
$$ = around $50
$$$ = around $100

Experience Price Point Gift Idea
novice $ For a new or potential homebrewer you can’t possibly go wrong with a couple of exploratory books. My favorite beginner book is Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing for its humor and approachability. John Palmer’s How to Brew offers more rigor and a more detailed walkthrough. Mosher has another excellent book, Tasting Beer, that is a great read for either a brewer or someone who just plain likes some brew!
novice $$ Depending on just how “beginner” your “beginner” is they would certainly appreciate a recipe kit – the ingredients for a batch of brew. The most beginner beginners will want to stick to an extract brew kit. More sophisticated novices will be moving in to partial mash territory – and a kit in this territory would be an inspiring gift indeed!
novice $$$ Homebrewing suffers from a high startup cost, but if you’ve got the budget, a starter kit of gear makes an imposing stack of boxes! I won’t list each piece of equipment – just drive down to your local homebrew store. They’ll have some sort of “beginner’s package” going for about $100. If you live where there are no local homebrew stores, I recommend Northern Brewer’s starter kits, coming in at $80 or $160.
intermediate $ Brewing requires excellent temperature control. And control requires good instrumentation. So if don’t already have a good remote-reading probe thermometer, consider putting one on the shopping list. No need for anything fancy here – though an alarm feature will help keep brew sessions on track when too much “research” has been taking place.
intermediate $$ When brewing, cleanliness isn’t next to godliness. It is godliness. I swear by two products: StarSan is a no-rinse sanitizer (it is safe to use even without rinsing, a great feature if your tap water is of dubious quality). PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash) is a professional grade cleaner that is perfect for burned wort kettles, clogged heat exchangers, filthy carboys, or anyplace else that scrubbing is a particular challenge. Cleaning supplies may not sound like the most exciting gift, but to anyone who has spent an hour trying to scrub burned wort of the bottom of a kettle…only to have an overnight soak with PBW finish the job with no effort at all, these things are golden!
intermediate $$$ It is not possible to have a pot too large. Moving on from kit and extract brews to the next level of brewing – all grain – will require a pot of at least seven gallons for boiling wort. And even at the partial-mash level the extra volume allows for more versatility and creativity. I’d recommend going for one of eight gallons or more. We don’t keep ours exclusively for brewing – it has also brined turkeys, reduced stocks and boiled soiled cookie sheets, all in the past month.
advanced $ Brewing lends itself weirdly well to apps: the math of the enterprise (mash temperatures, colorings, alcohol contents) is easy to computerize and a nano-industry of brewing apps have sprung up featuring everything from brew-day timers to inventory management. I’ve got a little iPhone app that I use called BrewPal ($0.99 through the Apple App Store) and more sophisticated app on my iPad called Beer Alchemy Touch ($9.99) – of which there is also a Macintosh version. Of the PC applications I’ve tried, I’d have to give my vote to BeerTools ($29 for Mac, PC, or Linux).
advanced $$ No tool changed my brewing more than my refractometer, a little device that measures the specific gravity (density) of a liquid. By identifying the sugar content of a mash, a refractometer removes the guesswork from identifying when mashing is complete, how sparging is going, and what adjustments can be made to bring these things back in to line. Get one with both specific gravity and Brix scales – the latter is used for winemaking and by most professional brewers.
advanced $$$ A couple of years ago I got a basic force carbonation rig – a cylinder of CO2, a gas regulator, and a 5 gallon keg. I’ve never looked back. The convenience of beer on tap and accurate carbonation, the freedom from bottling everything and then having to wait two weeks – these are music to my impatient soul. The initial outlay can be quite high – but the results are worth it.
everyone $ Technically, we call it “research,” but consuming the products of other fine brewers is a crucial part of homebrewing. Often, it is used to ensure the proper frame of mind before, during, or after a brew session. Sometimes it inspires new directions and explorations for actual brewing activities. Most high end markets have a good beer section and web sites like Beer Advocate can offer more than enough suggestions for some special brews to pick up. Failing that, almost anything that comes in a bomber (22oz bottle) or from Belgium is worth picking up. Go for variety.
everyone $$ Another carboy. A brewer cannot have too many carboys. Just trust me on this – I have four carboys and four kegs and somehow always want more – the extra space for longer aging, more dry-hopping, more batches going at once. Carboys are to brewers as raised beds are to gardeners. Another is always welcome.
everyone $$$ All homebrewers would appreciate a pair of tickets to a local beer festival – Seattle celebrates one every July and many other cities do something similar. These festivals are a wonderful opportunity to stand in the sun and drink a whole lot of really good beer, sampling more varieties than would ever be possible at home. This one may depend on your geography but check out local event calendars and see what might be possible. Get a babysitter, take a friend, buy a funny souvenir stein and a funnel-cake and make a day of it. Your homebrewer will appreciate the memory and the research opportunity.
I’ve consistently linked out to Northern Brewer’s website in my recommendations. But honestly, I’d just as soon you gave the business to your local homebrew store. The links are a great way to give some indication of what I’m talking about and I recommend NB highly as an online retailer if you can’t get your goods in town. No one in this business is out to get rich or take the other guy down, it is a field of passionate hobbyists who want to share their enthusiasm (all too eagerly, sometimes) and are delighted to instruct, explain, and expostulate.

Comments

  1. What a great list! I am really hoping for an oxygenation plate! Or maybe a temperature control thing for the beer fridge so I can brew lagers. But I would be delighted with a few more buckets–our goal is to brew three batches over Christmas break, but we only have a couple of buckets.

    One of the books I think is good for a beginning/intermediate brewer is Brewing Classic Styles. The recipes are awesome!

    I have had my eye on a book of sacred and spiritual brews at the local brew store. I hear tell there are strange things in it like birch wine!

  2. This is a great list – I am surprised you don’t have chillers on here but maybe you find you don’t need one? We used to have all the gear then sold it when we had kids and now I want to get back into it again – so thanks for the list and the link to that GREAT 8 gallon pot. I totally need that for cheesemaking too!

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