BeerSci: 6 Gift Ideas For Aspiring Homebrewers

BeerSci's complete guide to the brew kits, books, and oak barrels needed to make tasty beer at home

As a homebrewer, I field many questions from curious beer fans on how to start homebrewing, including what kind of equipment and supplies one needs to buy. Because we're at the height of the gift-giving season, I figured I would channel some of that advice into a holiday gift guide covering what to buy current or aspiring homebrewers. I'd be lying if I said that a couple of these items weren't on my personal wish list. (You hear that, Mom? Oak barrels!) Happy shopping, and don't forget the immortal words of homebrew guru Charlie Papazian when the holiday rush gets overwhelming: Relax. Don't Worry. Have a homebrew.

Tune in almost every week for a new installment of BeerSci, the column that pops the cap off the science of brewing.

Homebrew Kit
If I had a buck for every person I know who said "I want to learn how to brew my own beer," I'd probably be able to buy myself a brewery (see slide six). So get a beer enthusiast a homebrew kit. The best approach is to go to your local homebrew shop and buy it there, because the shop owner is probably also a homebrewer and will be able to give you good advice, including which equipment is absolutely necessary, and which style of beer is best for a first attempt. We got our five-gallon-capacity kit from the fine people of Brooklyn Homebrew. Another company, Brooklyn Beer Shop, sells one-gallon kits. $50 to $300, Brooklyn Homebrew and Brooklyn Beer Shopbrooklynhomebrew.com
How To Brew
John Palmer's book How To Brew is essential for really grokking brewing. Palmer doesn't hide the basic scientific principles behind brewing; he explains clearly how, say, certain enzymes break down starches into free sugars in the mash, or how ion and sugar concentrations in the wort will affect the chemical reaction behind "hop utililzation." Sure, you can brew from a kit without learning this stuff, but if you want to develop your own recipes, How To Brew is a must. $11, Amazonhowtobrew.com
Membership To The American Homebrewers Association
Membership to the American Homebrewers Association comes with a year's subscription to Zymurgy, one of the homebrew-enthusiast magazines. Zymurgy features Q&A; columns with brewing experts on the finer points of brewing, brewing equipment and brew troubleshooting. Each issue also has a few recipes, articles on pretty much every aspect of brewing, and how-to guides. Basically, once you've familiarized yourself with the basic brewing process, you'll be able to keep up to date with the latest brew-related news. $38/year, American Homebrewers Associationhomebrewersassociation.org
Barrel-Aging Equipment
Barrel-aging is a big thing in brewing right now, with many microbreweries and homebrewers sequestering batches of beer in wood barrels for weeks or months to see how the beer's flavor profile changes. Many distilleries will sell you a barrel that they're no longer using, if you want that big alcohol nose on your brew. For those who want a cleaner taste, buy virgin casks from Thousand Oaks Barrel Company or from Black Swan Cooperage. Want the barrel-aged taste but don't want the barrels taking up space in the garage? Try buying wood cubes, chips or curls, which will imbue your beer with wood characteristics but are much easier to deal with than whole barrels. To use them, you just add a few pieces to the carboy while the beer is aging. Your local homebrew supply shop should carry these things. Or try the Honeycomb "barrel alternatives" from Black Swan Cooperage . You get a nice toasted bit of wood with lots of surface area. Barrels start at $155. Honeycomb barrel alternatives, about $10 per piece. Oak cubes, spirals or chips cost between $2 and $10.blackswanbarrels.com
Pound Bags of Hops
If your giftee already has a brew setup, buy him or her some raw beer-making materials. Hops are a good place to start, especially for those brewers who are also hopheads. Like most things, buying hops in bulk keeps costs down. It also helps you avoid any late-season sell-outs with popular hop varieties such as Simcoe and Centennial. New hop varietals out this year are Mosaic, Belma, Hallertau Blanc and Herkules, among others. $15 to $30 per pound, depending on hop varietal from Northern Brewer. Belma from Hops Direct for $5.25/lb!LuckyStarr/Wikipedia
A Brewery
Yes, occasionally an entire brewery will go on sale, like this 30-barrel brewery in Arizona. $240,000 oboelectricbrewing.com