Craft beer drinkers rarely need an excuse to seek out the latest and greatest brews. Knowing exactly what they like, however, can present a challenge, especially if you’re not as versed in beer as your favorite aficionado. Below is some holiday gift assistance for the beer drinker in your life.
Drinking beer is all about learning new things. Who brewed it? Where do the ingredients come from? What is the history of the style?
In my journey as the Globe’s beer writer, one book has been immensely helpful in answering these questions. “The Oxford Companion to Beer,” edited by Brooklyn Brewery brewer Garrett Oliver, is my bible, a reference for any question on what’s in my glass. (960 pages, $42.84 on Amazon).
“The Complete Beer Course” by Joshua M. Bernstein was released this year and is a similarly good reference. The book is a journey through various beer styles, with specific examples of good ones currently available. (320 pages, $14.97 on Amazon)
One other book to consider is “BeerTerrain: Field to Glass from the Berkshires to the Maine Coast” by Jonathan Cook. The author interviews locally conscious New Englanders in the industry, from a pioneering artisan malt house in Hadley to a contract brewer telling farmers that he’ll buy all the organic ingredients they can grow. (156 pages, $15.81 on Amazon)
A brewery “subscription”
Breweries call these by different names, but essentially this is a farm share program for beer. Locally, Everett’s Night Shift Brewing and Chelsea’s Mystic Brewery offer a buy-in to a year’s worth of special releases. Just like with your CSA, you pay up front to receive a product in future installments. Unlike your local CSA, the best beers aren’t fresh but rather painstakingly crafted and aged for months or years.
“The club is becoming a great way of working directly with our biggest fans to craft the most adventurous things we can dream of,” says Bryan Greenhagen, Mystic Brewery founder.
For $295, Mystic Friends of the Barrel Club members get two bottles each of nine beer releases, plus a discount on growler fills at the brewery and invites to special release parties. Night Shift offers a similar program with three tiers. For $150 you get one bottle of each of 7 releases; two bottles for $250, and four bottles for $450. The brewers admit the prices are high but allow them to create better beer for the most ardent customers.
“It’s really a great way to raise capital upfront and pay the investment back to our supporters,” says Michael Oxton, a Night Shift co-founder.
Make your own beer
Got an e-mail this week from a reader looking to get her son started in homebrewing. Two suggestions:
Hopsters in Newton and Barleycorn’s in Natick are brew-on-premises operations allowing you to make a beer on-site and take it home a couple of weeks later without purchasing any equipment. I wrote about the concept last month in the Sunday Globe. For $150 to $200 a session you can choose from a variety of recipes and get assistance in brewing your own beer.
Alternatively, you can get someone started brewing at home. There are plenty of kits out there, but I recommend taking a visit to a homebrewing store and getting some expert advice. There are Homebrew Emporium (beerbrew.com) stores in Cambridge (2304 Massachussets Ave; 617-498-0400) and Weymouth (58 Randolph Street; 781-340-2739). There, you can pick up all the supplies you need and take home equipment you can use again. Do a search for “Sierra Nevada IPA clone” or whatever your favorite brew and take the recipe with you to pick up ingredients for your first batch.