The holidays are here, and that means time with the family, plenty of homebrew to cope with all that family time, and trying to figure out what to give people without resorting to gift cards (which are actually okay in our book).
Fear not. We’ve put together a holiday survival guide that should help you navigate the minefields of gift giving, family gatherings, homebrew tastings, and more.
Because believe us, we want to get through the holidays unscathed just as badly as you do. So here’s how to do it:
Giving Homebrew As a Gift
You know what the holidays are great for? Sharing your love of homebrewing, and especially for sharing your homebrew! At some point or another, every homebrewer considers giving out six-packs of their homebrew as a gift – and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, we give a big thumbs up to giving out homebrew as a gift.
Before you do, though, keep these rules of thumb in mind:
- Make sure your beer is good. Seriously, have some trusted people do a blind test first if you’re not sure. Bad beer is a bad homebrewing ambassador!
- Spruce up the packaging. That extra effort will make your gift memorable. See below for some ideas.
- Know their tastes. Don’t bother giving your bourbon porter with chili peppers to your lager-loving uncle. Instead, give him a nice Kolsch.
- Share a bottle. Beer is at its best when it’s a communal experience, so split a bomber of a special homebrew with a friend or family member and toast to the holidays.
- Invite them for a brew day. If they like your beer, extend an invitation for them to brew more of them same with you. Tell them they can keep a 12-pack or case for helping out. You’ll help create new brew enthusiasts that way.
Trust us, if you’re a good brewer, people will be thrilled to get some of your brew as a gift. Just be sure to make it look nice…
Sprucing Up Your Packaging
So you’ve decided you’re going to give out some homebrew for the holidays. Great decision. Nothing brings people together quite like beer.
If you’re going to do it, though, do it right. Make your packaging look nice and people will remember your gift long after those bottles are drained. Here’s what you should focus on:
- Labels. It all starts with these. Pick yourself up a pack of customizable beer labels and help your homebrew stand out as something special.
- Caps. Snazzy caps are an overlooked part of the homebrew customizing experience. Add a little color with multi-colored crowns
- Six-Pack Carrier. If you’re giving away a sixer, skip re-using a commercial six-pack carrier and instead go for something custom. The possibilities are endless and the wow factor is VERY high.
- Wax or PVC Shrink Sleeves. Giving out large format bottles instead? Consider giving them the wax treatment. Yes, waxing bottles is actually kind of useless, but they sure do look nice. There are many tutorials available online. You can also try the PVC shrink sleeves used for wine bottles. Yes they do work on beer bottles and do look great.
- Fancy Bottles. If you don’t want the hassle of waxing – and we don’t blame you – try some cool swing top bottles instead. They look great, people love them, and they will make your beer stand out in the fridge.
Let’s face it, though, giving out beer is the easy part. Giving out homebrewing equipment as a gift? That’s another matter.
Giving Homebrew Equipment As a Gift
If you want to get others involved in the hobby or bring a big smile to a fellow brewer’s face, consider giving homebrew equipment as a gift. A lot of people won’t take the plunge on their own, but if pushed into the pool they’ll enjoy a swim. (Note: This is just a turn of phrase; actually pushing someone into a pool during the winter may not be a good idea.)
- Gifting to Newbies: You can throw them right in by giving them a starter homebrew kit. These kits tend to be affordable and offer everything needed to begin brewing right away. It’s a great way to get someone started on the hobby – and hey, if they don’t take to it, that equipment will probably end up in your hands at some point down the line! If you’d like a more affordable option, don’t know for sure they will be interested in homebrewing, or if they already have the starting gear they need, essential books like The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, The Brewmaster’s Bible, and Radical Brewing will enhance their brewing and solidify their love for the hobby. All are newbie-friendly. Besides, no brewer should be without a few brew books!
- Gifting to Experienced Brewers: Giving homebrew equipment is just like anything else. You have to have an idea of what they already own, the kind of brewing they like to do, and what they’d like to own. It’s easy enough to give someone a new carboy or something similarly practical – who among us wouldn’t welcome another to our ever growing stash of them? – but if you want your gift to resonate, make it unique to your giftee.
Here are a few ideas you might consider:
Extract Recipe Kits
Extract brewing requires less equipment than all-grain brewing (such as a mash tun). It's a great way for any prospective brewers to begin their journey to becoming a brewmaster.
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- Engraved Mash Paddle. Go ahead and grab them a mash paddle, then take it somewhere to get engraved. It will be the coolest gift ever.
- Bottle Tree Drainer. Little luxuries like a bottle tree drainer are the kind of thing most homebrewers want, but skip because they have other priorities. Great gift (as long as they don't keg).
- Tap Handles. If they want to switch from bottling to kegging, get them started with a chalkboard tap handle.
- Refurbished Keg. Here’s a gift to both of you: give them a refurbished keg, but you get to pick the style they fill it with!
- A Recipe Kit. When all else fails, get them a beer recipe kit. We can all use more ingredients, and as a bonus, you’ll get to drink some after your friend is done brewing!
So you’ve got the gift-giving part mastered. Great. Now comes the hard part: The family.
Surviving Family Gatherings; AKA How NOT to Endlessly Talk About Homebrewing
Let’s be honest with ourselves: when the homebrew bug bites, there are few things we want to talk about more. That’s great when you’re amongst like-minded people, swapping brew day war stories and sharing little tricks that make our lives easier, but when the family is together and sharing some (often awkward) time together?
As painful as it is to hear this, not even your beer-loving family members want to hear about your brew day misadventures unless they are also brewers.
This doesn’t mean you must remain silent, of course. If the holidays are for anything, they are for keeping up to date with what the family is up to. If homebrewing is as big a part of your life as it is ours, it’s bound to come up. Here are a few tips on how to talk shop without droning on like a total bore:
- Bring Samples. Beer can make for interesting conversation if people are enthusiastic about it, but truthfully, most people just want a drink. So give them that and let them know you made it. That’s a great conversation starter. They’ll ask questions, and you get to answer without being a bore.
- Speak English. (Or whatever your native language is.) All of us here on this site are immersed in the world of homebrew, so it’s easy to forget that homebrew conversation sometimes sounds like it’s a different language. Propagation. Attenuation. Phenolic. Decoction. What? Remember that not everyone is part of the club and your chatter will be less off-putting.
- Find Common Ground. If your itch to talk homebrewing must be scratched, look for common ground with the likes, hobbies, and life events of the folks you’re talking with. Talk labeling with your graphic designer cousin, discuss the minutia of equipment with your engineer uncle or mechanic father-in-law, or talk food pairing with your aunt the amazing cook. This may sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how often people forget; it’s easy to be self-absorbed!
When all the food is eaten and conversation is over, the best part of all will arrive: it will be time to share some of your homebrew with people.
Tasting Homebrew With Beer Newbies
We beer nerds love to introduce beer to people, especially when it’s beer we made with our own blood, sweat and tears (assuming none of the three actually went into your beer, in which case maybe you ought to keep it to yourself). It’s just something we do.
There’s a big elephant in the room a lot of us don’t like to acknowledge, though: many of us are really bad at introducing beer to people. We’re bad at making recommendations, we’re too obnoxious about pushing beer on people, and we can come across as snobs if we’re not careful. No, this doesn’t apply to all of us, or even most of us, but if we’re honest we’ll admit that we’ve all known That Guy. Maybe on a bad night, we’ve even been That Guy.
Here’s how to avoid being That Guy:
- Let them open the door. If people know you’re the Beer nerd of the family, they’ll approach you when they want to try something interesting. When they do, the door is open.
- Get better at recommendations. Most people tend to recommend beers they like. Wrong approach. Better to recommend beers the other person might like, based on your knowledge of their tastes.
- For homebrew, consider holiday food pairings. In many situations, you’ll be sharing your homebrew with people over holiday meals, snacks, etc. Think about common holiday foods and what will pair well with them, then brew those beers. It will be a delicious education.
- Bookmark a starter’s kit. If someone shows a lot of interest in what you’ve done, text them a link to a homebrewer’s starter kit and open the door for them to try it on their own.
- Don’t be judgmental. Easier said than done, perhaps, but few things turn people away from good beer more than judgmental beer drinkers. Don’t be one.
This all sounds pretty easy, right? Absolutely. The holidays are coming, things are about to get hectic, but since you’ve read this you’re pretty well prepared.
Plus, you’ve got your homebrew.
And homebrew will never let you down.