is an award winning
member of the North
American Guild of Beer
Writers. His column
Adventures in Beerland
is now a regular feature of
|It’s the holiday season and that means gift giving to relatives, friends, and of course your favorite beer writer. Okay, I
get it. Make it your second favorite beer writer. Now just what do all these people want? Let’s say it all together…
BEER. It’s one thing to know what to get but it’s another to shop wisely for it. And so in an effort to move up on that
gifting list here are a few tips from me to you on how to buy beer and what to do with it as you wait for the big day
when you play Santa.
Each of these flawless insights will be revealing and unfortunately humorless. (Will the clown that said that’s just like
all my columns please stop reading now). Where was I? Ah, yes, make no mistake – uncovering insights is serious
business. Each of these gems have been born out of eureka moments, intellectual prowess, a touch of alchemy and
intensive periods of investigative sleuthing. Well, I’d like to think that but the truth is I have been dopey long enough
to have committed the same mistakes so many times that a bit of learning was inevitable no matter how hard I
1. When buying beer repeat constantly to yourself, no date, no buy, no date, no buy. It also works as no buy, no
date and maybe even as no no buy date. The lure of a fancy can from a brewery that is new to the store’s shelf is a
powerful thing. Don’t be taken in by it. Normally I would tell you how I fell for that exact ruse again just last week but
to maintain a minimum level of credibility I won’t. Instead here is an insight from the last time I was shopping for beer.
As I entered the huge liquor store I noticed an employee wheeling out a large cart filled with beer to be placed on the
shelf. This beer had to be fresh. Remembering my extensive top secret CIA surveillance training (not that CIA, the
other one -Culinary Institute of America) I began following him around the store. I cleverly paused to look at bottles of
$400 Macallan 18 YR Sherry Oak Scotch and $300 bottles of Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon. He never noticed
me despite my overdue for a washing BeerNexus t-shirt and well worn Yankee cap not quite fitting in with the other
shoppers in those sections. He kept moving and finally stopped just past the display of items I was a bit more familiar
with - $5.99 quart bottles of Mr. Boston’s Wild Cherry (pretend) Brandy, bottles of $3.99 Arbor Mist (almost) Wine,
and a pyramid of special holiday packs consisting of 99 cans of PBR. It may have been PBR but a 99 can pack is
It didn’t take long for him to place several cases of cans on the shelves. He quickly moved on and I went to the beer.
I didn’t care about brewery or style. I just wanted something fresh. Really fresh and this had to be it. It would mean I
had finally beaten the system. I picked up a can (it was an IPA) and turned it upside down to revel in its freshness
date. It was 9 months old making it the stalest fresh beer I had ever seen. Moral of the story – check dates and
never, never trust the retailer.
2. Get your ABV (alcohol by volume) money’s worth. That does not mean you should buy a beer for its ABV alone.
I’m shocked, shocked that anyone would do that. After all, just because I personally don’t know anyone dumb enough
to pay a stiff fee for non-alcoholic beer, soft cider, or pure prehistoric glacier water from the Sea of No Return doesn’t
mean they don’t exist. The reality is that it’s hard to make a full flavored beer that is memorable under 7 % ABV. All
the devotees of session beer have succumbed to false advertising and fake news. I’m sorry to report that you can
drink all the Michelob Ultra or Miller Amazing Super Lite Yellow Water you like but you still won’t be able to run a
marathon, dance non-stop at posh clubs with near anorexic people, or swim the Black Lagoon without being caught
by the creature. Since that’s the case why not enjoy yourself?
ABV is important since it’s part of the reason for the existence of beer. Beer and its alcohol have a glorious history
reaching back thousands of years, give or take a few hours. Of course we’re talking about responsible, moderate
consumption (the editors would have put that in if I didn’t) of alcohol because in the right amounts it can have a
salutary effect on your physical and mental well being. Frank Sinatra put it another way, “I feel sorry for people that
don't drink because when they wake up in the morning, that is the best they're going to feel all day.”
It’s easy to compute the ABV value per ounce. Take the cost of a bottle and divide it by its size. That’s cost per
ounce. Then take the ABV and either multiple or divide it by that answer. Somehow either process will work.
Actually I’m not sure about any of this but the higher the number the better. Maybe.
3. Buy from a good independent brewery unless they make bad beer or charge more than $20 a four pack. Of
course if you’re trying to impress someone with a holiday gift it’s okay to buy that four (or even a 2 pack) for $30 or
perhaps an ultra premium fool’s gold bottle for $100. Yes, there are more of those than you might think. That’s beer
and fools. If you do anything like that it is important you “forget” to remove the receipt when you give the gift. Credit
needs to be given when due.
Look for the Independent seal on the label. As global beer makers purchase formerly independent craft brewers,
knowing which breweries are independent is confusing. The certified independent craft seal let’s you know you’re
purchasing craft beer from people who are the essence of a movement that gave us the real deal. Going with the
seal gives you the opportunity to finally stick it to The Man — those soulless and tasteless swill-peddlers — just by
drinking good beer. You’ll be putting a double woo-hoo whammy on those riding the Death Star trying to destroy
craft. That is not to be confused with Deth’s Tar beer from Revolution Brewing, one of the great ones. How did
George Lucas miss that tie in? Who wouldn’t want to drink a Deth’s Tar on the Death Star? That’s aside all the good
guys of course.
If you’re not sure about which style of beer to give someone make your purchase based on the brewery. Yes, some
craft breweries are simply better than others. “Craft” doesn’t insure quality. There isn’t a home brewer who hasn’t
thought he could open a craft brewery and many have done just that. Now just think of just how many great
homemade beers you’ve had that were truly outstanding. Just a few. In fact the last time someone gave me a
homebrew they said was outstanding, after one sip, I was out standing in the kitchen pouring it down the drain. So
when in doubt stick with a brewery you’ve had good beer from in the past and stay away from those that are hit/miss
or outright lousy. Of course that begs the question what breweries do I recommend. Usually those that send me free
4. Don’t worry if you bought that gift beer when it was cold , wrapped it with cheesy, though appropriately cheery,
holiday paper, and had to let it sit under your Christmas tree for a while. It will not explode. It will not turn to
undrinkable sludge. It won’t go bad instantly or in the sophisticated parlance of the professional beer judge, it
won’t go "skunky". It is an old pervasive myth that cold beer, when warmed to room temperature will soon begin to
smell like Pepe Le Pew with a touch of hops.
Skunking is a reaction caused by light interacting with a chemical compound found in hops and has nothing to do with
temperature. However do not store the beer next to your crackling holiday fireplace unless it’s the one shown on TV
each Christmas. Heat acts to speed up the process of oxidation which causes some beers to develop a stale,
cardboard-like flavor, accompanied by a note of sherry. If you like sherry and are on a tight budget you might try it
but (this is just a wild guess) you’d probably be better off buying a cheap bottle of the stuff.
5. It’s best to gift a beer the recipient has never tasted or heard of. The more obscure the brewery the better. Not
only does it add adventure and mystery to your gift you won’t be blamed if the beer is alarmingly putrid. After all how
could you know such a rare bottle touted by the store manager in hushed tones was a loser? On the other hand, if
it’s good you will be acclaimed a beer hunting genius. Actually, most beer drinkers tend to like a new beer the first
time they try it or at the very least withhold judgment. It might take quite a while to decide on things like Närke Cask-
Conditioned Stormaktsporter from Iceland, Lord Thorndike Browne from England, Ægir from Sweden, or Ye Olde
Colt 45 English 800 from the USA.
Obscure styles work too. Try a Dampfbier, an old German style brewed with expressive Weizen yeast but with barley
malt instead of wheat. It’s basically a Hefeweizen without the wheat or just a Nichtweizen. Weizen up and give it a try
(sorry for that one, I won’t let that happen again). Another good choice is a Sahti. It’s a Finnish farmhouse ale
brewed with juniper instead of hops. Hey, I never said this stuff was good, just obscure. Then there’s the never
popular but rarely seen Gratzer, a Polish style ale brewed with oak-smoked wheat malt. Anyone lucky enough to get
a case of these Grodziskies for Christmas was surely on Santa’s list though it’s debatable if it was the good or bad
In the unlikely event you can’t find any of those on your supermarket shelves then it’s okay to go with Koyt-kuit-kuyt
beer. It has three aliases probably because it is a three-grain beer that until the late 19th century was the most
commonly consumed beer in the Netherlands. It was usually drunk out of wooden shoes. If you’re giving this to a
special friend be sure to include them. Just get the right size.
So there you have it 5 important considerations when giving beer as a gift. There is however one vital caveat – they
only apply if your friend likes beer. What should you do if he doesn’t?
Find a new friend. I’m available.
click to contact vince