Chances are you have someone on your holiday gift list that is really into beer. I’ve encountered many bewildered shoppers wondering what to get the beer lovers in their lives, and if they don’t know beer themselves, it can be daunting. Over the years, I’ve received my share of great (and not-so-great) beer-related gifts, so here’s hoping this advice will help.
The first thing that may come to mind when thinking of beer gifts is glassware. If you see a novelty pint glass, you might think that your relative that likes beer might appreciate it. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but the problem is, that’s what everyone thinks. Have you ever had a relative you don’t know very well who likes something like “lighthouses” and then the entire family gives them lighthouse-themed gifts year after year? Pint glasses and steins are the equivalents for the craft beer fan. Beer fans often end up with multiple sets of novelty pint glasses with vintage Guinness ads on them from well-meaning relatives. The regular pint glass, while ubiquitous, has been adopted by bars because of their stackability and relatively low replacement cost, and not their service to the beer itself.
If you’re looking to buy glassware, aim to make it either memorable or specialized. If you bought the glassware while on a trip or the design has a special meaning to it, that beats a generic pint glass. Thinking to other types of glassware, tulip glasses meant to showcase the aromas and yeast characteristics of Belgian-style beers may be useful, or perhaps the specially-shaped IPA glasses will be cherished by the hoppy beer fan.
If your gift recipient is new to craft beer and excited to learn about it, it might be worthwhile to stop at your local bookstore and browse the shelves for some great beer books. I’ve written about a few notable ones, but there are even more that explore the world of beer, traveling and the business of beer in stores like Print: A Bookstore on Portland’s East End. Its section of books on wine, beer and spirits is fuller than ever, and since many of them came out within the last year or two, the odds that your potential recipient might already own the book is low. I’d recommend seeking out books that either teach beer appreciation or history or take on some part of the beer industry. I’d pass on those that have titles like “Beers from Around the World” or the “101 Best Beers” because they go out of date so quickly and often feature beers that are either overly familiar national brands or list beer that is not available for local drinkers to try.
Alternatively, you could consider some brewery-related “swag.” The apparel and accessories available for purchase, especially at brewery tasting rooms, surpasses the typical T-shirt with a brewery logo on the front of it. Breweries have also branched out and most have tried to include women’s cut or unisex options in their lineups. Beyond shirts, at Allagash Brewing Co. you can purchase anything from socks to bow ties. Winter hats are for sale at Rising Tide Brewing Co. and Bissell Brothers, and several breweries even have gifts for pups, including leashes and collars with brewery logos. It helps to know or have a hint of which brewery your recipient admires. A sneaky but helpful tip: Peek in the recycle bin or see if you spot any stickers on their beer fridge or car that you recognize.
Brewery apparel can be a great gift, but there are some caveats when buying brewery-related merchandise. Beware of the end-caps of department stores selling beer-related tchotchkies. The big-beer-branded (Corona, Budweiser, etc.) hoodies, bottle cap openers, and accessories like folding camp chairs, umbrellas or flip-flops, are probably not going to appeal to craft beer fans. The companies that make the big beer brands are competitors to the small, local brands that most craft beer fans adore, so it’s a bit like wearing the uniform of the opposing team.
Another tempting gift that shows up in big-box stores is the “all-in-one” homebrewing kit. However, it is not assured that someone who enjoys beer will also be interested in creating it themselves. Although there is a great deal of overlap between beer drinkers and beer makers, making beer is a time-consuming and involved hobby. It involves quite a bit of equipment, so even if someone is already making beer at home, buying equipment or kits blindly may be ill-advised. If you know he or she is a homebrewer, visit a homebrewing shop and grab a gift certificate that can go toward purchasing more ingredients or equipment. If you think someone on your list may enjoy homebrewing but hasn’t started yet, look to see if there are any introductory classes being hosted by local shops, rather than purchasing a stand-alone kit. The opportunity to be taught by people who already know the craft can help with the decision about whether to continue to pursue it.
If you’re still stumped, don’t be afraid to ask if the person has a favorite brewery or place to buy beer. A gift card for a few growler fills or to purchase the latest hype beer releases may be just as appreciated as trying to figure out exactly what he or she wants at once. Hoppy holiday shopping!