It’s around this time of year that we start getting lots of visits to the blog from anxious relatives looking for gift ideas for awkward beer-loving spouses, siblings and cousins.
So, with apologies for mentioning the other, other C-word in November, here’s our best attempt at a Christmas wish list for beer geeks.
Books: a safe bet
We’ve reviewed quite a few books in the last year.
- Mark Dredge’s Craft Beer World (RRP £15.99, £12 online) is generally a good read, but especially well-suited to under-30-year-olds. (Your Aunt Janet who’s been a CAMRA member since 1974 might find it interesting, but there’s a chance it well send her into a rage.)
- Nostalgic types will find much to enjoy in Brian Glover’s Lost Beers and Breweries of Britain (RRP £17; £11 online; £7 as an ebook). We preferred it to Chris Arnot’s similarly-titled, more photo-heavy Lost Breweries and Beers (RRP £25, online at £16), though that would also make a good gift.
- Cooked by Michael Pollan (RRP £20, £14 online) is a good bet for the thoughtful foodie type. (It’s not exclusively about beer.)
- Anyone who likes British social history ought to enjoy The Pub and the People, the account of Bolton pubs in the nineteen-thirties from the Mass Observation project, reprinted by Faber at £17, or £13 as an ebook.
- Government Intervention in the Brewing Industry (£19) explains what happened to the Big Six British brewers in the latter half of the twentieth century. It is academic in tone, so perhaps best reserved for the half-moon-glasses wearing scholar in your life.
- The home brewer in your life might enjoy one of the books we suggest here. If they are somewhat studious, they might enjoy Stan Hieronymus’s For the Love of Hops (£16.99 or £7 as an ebook) and/or Mitch Steele’s IPA (£21 or £10 as an ebook) from the same publishers.
- Last year, we recommended Pete Brown’s Shakespeare’s Local — an extremely readable history of Southwark, London, through the prism of one famous pub — which is now out in paperback (RRP £8.99).
- We haven’t read Webb & Beaumont’s Pocket Beer Guide (RRP £12.99; £6 online) but it looks good from what we’ve seen.
- A general point: avoid novelties! No-one needs generic beer glasses with ‘hilarious’ slogans; beer holsters; can-holding baseball caps; or beer-smuggling bras.
- A well-chosen themed bottle opener can have its place — we have a screaming ghost who opens bottles with his ferocious teeth — but the ones we’ve loved have tended to be purely practical. This one resembles a key (£7.50 from Suck UK) and so is always with us on trains and boats and planes; and this miniature Leatherman keychain tool is similarly portable (£26 as part of a gift-pack).
- Vintage beer mats, such as these packs of brand-new Whitbread mats (c.1990?), make good nostalgic stocking-fillers.
- A home brewing starter set can be an expensive gamble, but this from Hop & Grape (£38 + delivery) contains everything you might need to brew one batch of basic beer and is easy to expand later on. Most home brew stores will have a similar offer. (Best given in conjunction with a book — see above.)
- There is pretty much only one DVD worth getting a beer-lover: the British Film Institute’s Roll Out the Barrel — a compilation of vintage industrial films and documentaries about beer and brewing (c.£16 for two discs and a booklet).
Beer — the main event!
- A general rule: try to find brands that can’t be bought easily all-year-round (like having egg and chips for Christmas dinner).
- A warning: avoid nicely packaged budget supermarket gift sets, which often feature smaller bottles of relatively weak, not-especially-good beer in fancy boxes. You’d be better off buying a slab of cans of lager, or one really nice beer, in terms of value for money. (But have a look here for our tips on which supermarket brands are worth buying.)
- This mixed-case of IPAs from Beer Ritz offers a selection of twelve reliably good and/or interesting beers for £38 — perfect for the more adventurous beer drinker. (Again, Aunt Janet might not like it.)
- Beer Merchants’ Belgian gift box contains a wide variety of beers and a glass for £42.50 + delivery.
- Does the person you are buying for have a favourite brewery? Fuller’s, Adnams, Thornbridge, Brewdog and many others have online stores which offer everything from single bottles to mixed cases. Limited edition/’vintage’ beers (Fuller’s Past Masters, Adnams Tally Ho) are often beautifully packaged and offer something a bit ‘special’.
- If you’re buying for someone who doesn’t want to be lugging presents back on a train or plane, mini-kegs offer great value and a bit of fun on Christmas Day. They usually contain 5 litres (just short of 9 pints). Tesco supermarkets often have Bath Ales Gem in mini-kegs for around £17 (it’s a decent enough traditional bitter), while Adnams sell sets of two ‘mini casks’ for around £32.
Other suggestions welcome in the comments below. (But please don’t use this as an opportunity to promote your own book/online shop/beer/novelty beer-smuggling bra.)