Tis the season to buy gifts for your loved ones, but what should you get for that beer geek looking to start the adventure of homebrewing? Here is a quick gift guide with some ideas for a beginner home brewer.
Where do you buy homebrew supplies? Luckily there are many options. In the Capital Region there are three homebrew supply stores alone. Saratoga Zymurgist in Saratoga Springs, Homebrew Emporium in Rensselaer and Hammersmith Homebrew Supplies in Latham. These stores are great starting places with knowledgeable employees that can help you find what your looking for. If you don't want to leave your home, no worries. There are hundreds of homebrew supply websites where you can find anything you could ever need. Some of my favorite are morebeer.com, greatfermentations.com, labelpeelers.com, and homebrewing.org.
So now that you know where to go, what should you buy? For the beginner just starting out you'll need some brewing equipment. I recommend to start with extract brewing. It eliminates the need to mash grains, which is time consuming and requires more skill and equipment. For the extract brewer, I recommend buying them a starter brew kit. Most stores and websites carry starter kits that will have almost everything your homebrewer will need to make their first batch of beer. When shopping for a good starter kit look for the following items: fermenting bucket or carboy (looks like a water jug can be glass or plastic, I recommend plastic because glass is heavy and dangerous if breaks), bottling bucket with a spigot, siphon, tubing, bottle filler, bottles (might need to buy these separately), bottle caps, hydrometer, large stirring spoon, bottle capper, cleaning and sanitizing solutions, thermometer, and air lock. Some kits may also include a boil kettle. If not, you will need to get a pot capable of boiling five gallons of water. Bigger the better because boil overs are messy, so lots of extra head space in your kettle is a good thing. If you don't want your budding homebrewer to dirty up your kitchen, you will also need to get him or her a propane burner so they can take their brewing outside.
Now that you have the basic equipment, you will need the ingredients for their first batch. Most homebrew stores and websites have extract kits available. These kits are recipes designed by seasoned homebrewers and will have all the ingredients he or she will need: malt syrup, specialty grain (depending on the recipe), a muslin bag (used to steep the specialty grains), hops, and usually a package of dry yeast (I prefer liquid yeast, but dry is fine for the first attempt). You might be tempted to get your homebrewer that IPA kit because they love big, hoppy IPAs, but I would recommend a brown ale or oatmeal stout instead. They are more forgiving for the first time brewer because the darker malts can help hide some off flavors that would stand out in an IPA.
Of course the best part of giving the gift of homebrewing this holiday season is the finished product that your new home brewer will hopefully share with you. Happy holidays and happy brewing!
Bill Ramsey is a self-proclaimed beer geek and avid home brewer. He has spent countless hours scouring the Internet for information about beer and brewing and isn't afraid to share that knowledge with friends, family and the occasional stranger. As a survivor of hundreds of beer festivals, he can talk to you for hours about beer if you let him, just ask some of the women he has dated. If you ever run into him in the wild he will probably be enjoying some new style of beer while googling everything he can find out about it and trying to formulate a clone recipe for it in his head.