It may be better to give than to receive, but only if those on the receiving end fulfill their holiday obligation by dropping plenty of hints.
There’s nothing worse than shopping for someone who won’t say what he wants and then smiles unenthusiastically when you give him the perfect tie-dyed tie and matching garnet pin to go with his navy-blue suit.
“I never would have thought to pick this out myself,” he says. As if you can’t tell.
If you’re the type who never hints, then hopes for the best, well, perhaps you’ll enjoy that History of the Holy Roman Empire or the 27-speed Cuisinart or the Best of Tiny Tim CD box set.
On the other hand maybe you’d like to take it easy on your loved ones this year. Offer a few suggestions. Drop a well-placed hint or two. Make out a full-fledged list. To help you get into the spirit of the season, we asked homebrew retailers to name their most popular gift items, along with a few things they’d like someone to give to them.
Each of the items listed is readily available at most homebrew shops. So feel free to leave this magazine lying around, open to this article. A few well-placed circles, checkmarks, or the word “Yes!” or “Cool!” written in red felt-tip pen at strategic points should do the trick. After all, you want to be a good receiver, don’t you?
1 Bench Capper. There are two basic types of bottle cappers: wing cappers and bench cappers. Most starter kits come with a wing capper, the kind you place on top of the bottle, then pull the two handles downward at the same time to crimp the cap into place.
A bench capper has a base where the bottle sits. The capping mechanism is on a pole attached to the base. You simply pull down the single handle to squeeze the bottle cap. Bench cappers are less awkward then wing cappers and can be operated more quickly. Wing cappers require you to use an equal amount of force on each handle, and the capper must be placed squarely on the bottle. With bench cappers you just set the bottle on the base and pull the handle down. Try it, you’ll like it!
Note: Unless you always use the same size bottles, be sure to get a bench capper that can be adjusted to various heights.
2 Bottle Tree. A bottle tree is a tall, plastic stand with pegs sticking out at all angles. Simply hang your bottles upside down on the pegs to dry them. If you’ve ever had to stack your dishes in the sink because your bottles were air-drying in the dishwasher, this is for you. If you’ve ever tried to lay 50 or so bottles on their sides to air- dry on the counter, only to lose a dozen over the edge, you need a bottle tree. Even fully loaded, a bottle tree takes up no more than a foot of counter space.
3 Glassware and Steins. Do you serve your beer in an assortment of glasses you acquired at the last four beer festivals you attended? Does your fifth guest have to choose between a four-ounce taster and your old Cleveland Browns coffee mug?
Don’t limit your holiday list to equipment. You want to serve your beer in style, too. Beer styles developed around the world, and many have their own special glassware, too. The best-selling glasses tend to be pint glasses, followed by pint mugs, and pilsner glasses. How about a collection of hourglass-shaped wheat glasses for that hefe-weizen now fermenting in your carboy? And don’t pass up a nice matched set of traditional beer steins.
4 Stainless Steel Brewpot/Remanufactured Keg. This is a great time to upgrade your kettle. A good brewpot prevents scorching and is large enough to help you avoid boilover. A larger brewpot, say eight gallons, allows you to do a full boil (boil all of your wort rather than
boiling a portion and topping off with water before you pitch the yeast). A good stainless-steel brewpot should last as long as you brew. The
advantage is it won’t chip or scratch in such a way that it accumulates bacteria.
Remanufactured kegs also make great brewing equipment. These are kegs in which the top has been cut off. In many cases valves, false bottoms, and temperature gauges have been added to facilitate mashing. You can also buy stainless steel pots with the same type of equipment so that they can be used as mash tuns.
5 Outdoor cooker. You need something that can fire up your new brewpot, right? Take your brewing outdoors with a propane burner. The advantages are many: no more kitchen mess to clean up. No more disagreements about whether you should get your brewpot off the stove just because supper time was an hour ago. A good propane burner works as well as or, in some cases, better than a standard kitchen stove.
Burners are rated by the amount of heat they generate. The minimum you need is a 35,000 BTU cooker, which runs in the neighborhood of $40. For another $20 to $30 or so you can get a 170,000 to 200,000 BTU burner that will get you to a boil faster and use the propane more efficiently. The extra dollars will be well spent.
6 Mini-Keg. Mini-kegs are small, pressurized containers of two or three gallons. They work just like regular kegs, except the’re only a foot wide by a foot tall or less. You rack your beer into the mini-keg, put it in the refrigerator, then draw off your beer a glass at a time. Mini-kegs generally come with carbon dioxide capsules or pressurized pouches that must be replaced after each use. They don’t require a
regulator or extra carbon dioxide tank.
7 Counterpressure Bottle Filler. Counterpressure fillers blow carbon dioxide into an empty bottle to purge the air out of it. Then a good counterpressure filler pours beer into the bottle at a steady rate, without foaming or splashing. The purpose of a counterpressure filler is twofold. First, it efficiently fills bottles while leaving the settled yeast behind. Second, by removing the air from the bottle before you fill it, the counterpressure filler helps you avoid oxidation of the beer while it’s in the bottle.
Make sure your counterpressure filler is easily adjustable for various bottle sizes and can be easily cleaned.
8 Cool Beer Stuff. For the homebrewer who has everything or just wants to have fun away from the brewpot:
T-Shirts. Lots of homebrew stores sell great beer T-shirts. You can also get a stylish T-shirt or cap touting your favorite brewing magazine (see page 55). If that’s not enough, check out the T-shirt of the Month Club from Brew Tees of Falmouth, Maine. Each member of the club receives a T-shirt with a different microbrewery logo each month. Participating microbreweries range from Kona Brewing Co. in Kona, Hawaii, to Wychwood Brewery in Oxfordshire, England.
Games and Puzzles. Head to Head is a card game of beer trivia. More than 500 questions focus on science, economics, art, gastronomy, and other areas — all related to beer. It’s marketed by Food for Fun, Huntington, N.Y. If you’re into jigsaw puzzles, try 99 bottles of Beer on the Wall, a 550-piece puzzle by Great American Puzzle Factory featuring — you guessed it — 99
different brands of beer.
9 Tap System. There’s nothing quite like draft beer. Somehow it seems fresher, more natural. Plus, it means you don’t have to bottle. A standard homebrew tap system includes a five-gallon soda keg, a carbon dioxide tank, a regulator, quick disconnects, and a tap hose. Instead of bottling you rack your beer into the keg and carbonate using the CO2 canister.
If you’re already kegging, why not dispense your beer in style? Replace that plastic cobra head with an attractive tower and tap handle. A good beer faucet reduces the amount of foam, because no air enters it between pourings. It is removable and easy to clean. The tap handle is the decorative part, and you need a tower to support it.
10 Books. There are lots of great beer and homebrewing books on the market. In addition to classics such as Byron Burch’s Brewing Classic Beers, Dave Miller’s Homebrewing Guide, Dave Line’s Brewing Beers Like Those You Buy, and Charlie Papazian’s The Homebrewer’s Companion and The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing, check out some of these.
The Brewer’s Companion by Randy Mosher (Alephenalia Publications) uses lots of charts and worksheets to help you understand the many facets of beer, from brewing flavors to various recipe calculations. It’s easy to use but might be a bit advanced for beginners.
Brew Ware by Karl Lutzen and Mark Stevens (Storey Publishing) looks at a wide range of brewing equipment. It explains how various equipment works, what to look for when you purchase equipment, and even how to build some homebrewing equipment.
Each book in the Brewers Publications Style Series takes an in-depth look at a specific style. The latest addition is Stout by Michael Lewis.
Also, if you’re into lager New Brewing Lager Beer by Greg Noonan is the authoritative word on the subject.