Here are some gift ideas from our resident homebrewing columnist. The homebrewer in your life can always use some new or upgraded equipment, and this is the perfect time of year to make it happen. Be generous and you’ll almost certainly sip the rewards.
Jester Goldman 9 months ago
Hobbies give friends and family a starting point for gift ideas, but the head start may not be enough. For instance, my brother builds model cars and I’d be hesitant to even pick out a paintbrush for him. If you have a homebrewer on your gift list, you may have watched them brewing batch after batch, but still not know what they they’d like. We’re here to help you out. Here are some gift ideas at a variety of price points. They may already have a given item, but every homebrewer can use something on this list. Be generous and you’ll almost certainly sip the rewards.
Cleaning and Sanitation Supplies
Sanitation is the key to making good beer. Regardless of what your brewer usually uses, you can’t go wrong picking one of the standard cleansers or sanitizers. Cleansers like PBW are great for cleaning crud from carboys and kegs, while sanitizers like StarSan and Iodophor ensure that bacteria won’t get a foothold to spoil the beer. Small containers are cheap enough (under $10) to be stocking stuffers, but you can also buy larger volumes without going over $30.
Silicone Oven Mitts
When I first started brewing, I liberated a couple of padded oven mitts from the kitchen. It didn’t take long to realize that once they got soaked in water or wort, they weren’t much good at holding the heat at bay. Silicone oven mitts solve that problem and more. They don’t wear out as easily and they give you a firmer grip on things. I use mine to move pots, turn hot valves, and even to adjust a hot burner.
Garden Hose Quick Connects
If your brewer doesn’t already have quick connects for their hoses, this is the perfect gift. I’ve got a pump that I need to move in the course of brewing, plus a wort chiller. Quick connects make it trivial to get my plumbing in order, even under stress. The brass ones are fairly inexpensive, but it’s worthwhile to upgrade to stainless steel to avoid the low levels of lead found in most brass fittings. You’ll need one set of fittings for each connection point. For example, an immersion wort chiller uses three sets: one to connect the hose to the water spigot, another to connect the other end of the hose to the chiller, and a final one to connect an outlet hose.
There’s a good chance that your brewer already has an auto-siphon, but even so, it’s a good present because the plastic eventually ages and cracks, providing a place for bacteria to hide. If they haven’t tried one before, they’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to get a siphon started. They come in a couple of sizes. The larger one will transfer much more quickly, but may not fit some carboys. If you aren’t sure about the size, go for the smaller one (3/8”).
Most homebrewers get their start checking their gravity with a floating hydrometer. It’s a simple tool, but it does require some mathematical correction when the wort or beer is off from the calibration temperature (usually 60 °F/16 °C or 68 °F/20 °C). This is most often an issue when dealing with hot wort at the end of the boil. A refractometer is an easier alternative because most of them can automatically compensate for the temperature. I use mine to check the gravity multiple times in the course of my sparge, which lets me figure out if I have channeling issues.
Good record keeping is a key element to reproducibility. A notebook works fine, but many programs don’t just track recipes, they also provide a set of useful tools to make brewing more predictable. Even if your brewer isn’t a techno-geek, software like ProMash and BeerSmith are fairly easy to use. The programs can give them a leg up on brewing to style, working out brewery efficiency, and even tracking on-hand inventory.
Aside from sanitation, healthy yeast is one of the most important elements of brewing good beer. One way to hedge is to make sure to pitch enough yeast to cut down on the lag time of the reproduction phase of fermentation. Your brewer may use a yeast starter to grow a single packet by more than an order of magnitude, but a stir plate will take this to the next level. A stir plate cuts the ramp up time of a starter and ensures that the yeast gets at all of the sugar quickly.
This is by far the biggest ticket item in the list, but kegs are so much easier to clean and fill than bottles. It’s fairly easy to find package deals that include a keg, a CO2 tank, a regulator, and all the hoses and fittings for under $200. It’s a moderate investment, but the convenience is well worth it. The only downside is that they’ll also need some kind of a beer fridge as a dedicated home for their keg.
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