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If you are considering helping a loved one get into homebrewing, don't be tempted by those Mr. Beer kits at the mall. Sure, they are cheap to pick up, and easy to use, but they are pretty restrictive and lack a lot of the features that will likely be sought after the first brew or two. Instead, get them a quality starter kit ($90) that includes everything they will need aside from a large pot, and will continue to be useful to them for a long, long time.
Earlier this year, I agreed to review the Brew Bag. I'm a die hard three tier brewer who hasn't had good luck with BIAB, but the Brew Bag also offers bags for use as filters in a typical cooler setup. I feel in love with this "brew in a bag in a cooler" setup; stuck sparges are all but impossible, efficiency is increased, cleanup is a breeze. I even removed the braid from my cooler, and now only use the Brew Bag to filter; I seriously cannot recommend this product strongly enough. Price depends on bag size, typically runs $30-$45.
Incidentally, use the coupon code Brew United 10% Off to get 10% off of any order at the Brew Bag.
This item made the list last year, and it easily makes a return here. Most homebrewers start with a floating glass thermometer that came with their kit, but these things are notoriously inaccurate, and are slow to read.
The Cadillac of digital probe thermometers is the ThermoWorks Thermapen. I've had mine for almost three years, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. It is insanely accurate, and reads in about three seconds. It is also quite pricey, running just under a hundred dollars.
However, this year, I ended up reviewing two offerings by Lavatools - the Javelin PRO and the normal Javelin. The Javelin PRO can stand toe to toe with the Thermapen, being ever so slightly slower to read and ever so slightly less accurate - at half the price ($49.99). For a budget conscious alternative, consider the normal Javelin, which is likewise only slightly slower (say, a second or so) to read than the Thermapen, and is almost as accurate (well within one degree F) - and the normal Javelin is an absolute steal at a mere $24.99.
There are many times where brewers need to weigh various ingredients. A digital scale, then, is a nigh-necessity... and can be had really affordably.
I personally employ two different scales. The first is this EatSmart precision digital kitchen scale ($20). With a maximum capacity of eleven pounds, this scale is accurate to the gram (or .05 ounce), and is perfect for measuring out hops and priming sugar.
The other scale I use religiously is my American Weigh digital scale ($9). This one is amazingly precise - accurate to .01 gram. While it has a low maximum capacity (100 grams), the precision makes is perfect for measuring my water salt additions.
At some point, a great many brewers elect to get into kegging. One excellent way to personalize the setup is through the use of custom tap handles. These come in many different styles, from those that are simply fancy pieces of wood, to those that include magnetic chalkboard-painted signs to allow the brewer to indicate exactly what is on that tap at a given time, to truly custom pieces of art designed specifically for the brewer. Consider reaching out to Half Yankee Workshop or Hannison Woodworks, both of whom sponsored this year's BrewUnited Challenge, and both of which have made some brewers really happy with custom handles.
Custom tap handles often start at around $40 or so, with the prices going up depending on the features desired and the work involved. Additionally, both of the linked vendors above sell custom magnetic bottle openers - hang these on a wall or refrigerator, and the bottle caps are automatically trapped by rare earth magnets embedded in the wood. At around $50, these also make superb gifts.
As far as I'm concerned, there is no better brewing software on the planet than Beersmith. Want to play "what if" and tweak a recipe? No problem. Want to scale a recipe up or down? No problem. Want to see what impact different mash temperatures, different yeast strains, different hopping schedules will have on your beer? Beersmith has you covered. The $28 list price is easily some of the best money I've ever spent in brewing... and as of the time of this post, the Amazon link I use above has it for a mere $24.
Another perennial favorite is the suggestion of a quality immersion chiller. Unlike plate chillers, counterflow chillers, etc, immersion chillers are super easy to clean and maintain. The best such product on the market, in my opinion, is the Hydra from JaDeD Brewing. Even with a less than optimal hose setup at my house, using warm Alabama ground water, I can typically chill five and a half gallons of boiling wort to pitching temperatures in under six minutes.
However, the Hydra is not cheap - the price tag is $155. For a budget conscious alternative, consider a serviceable standard immersion chiller for around $50, which will still get your beer chilled in fifteen minutes or so. Note that if you are not using a garden hose to run your chiller, you'll probably need to pick up an adapter for your kitchen faucet ($5).
This is another absolute favorite product of mine. The typical homebrewing kit comes with some vinyl tubing, which does the job... but vinyl can be a pain in the neck. It coils up, it fairly rigid, it can kink pretty easily, and truly sanitizing it is a challenge.
Silicone tubing, on the other hand, is ultra flexible, has no memory, doesn't kink, and can be boiled to assure complete sanitation (it's usually rated for up to ~500 degrees F). for most homebrewing applications, you'll want 3/8" ID tubing, though some people may use 1/2" ID. Either way, silicone is more expensive than vinyl - you can expect to pay $2-$3 foot for it - but it lasts so much longer, and is so much easier to use.
There are those who love the idea of an organized written log of their brewing activities. Aside from a spiral notebook, there aren't a ton of good options out there... and a plain old notebook isn't exactly sexy.
I recently had the chance to try out the Brewers' Ledger ($18), and it is pretty darned cool. The books are attractive, and each brew is given four well-organized pages for ingredients, process notes, and more. There are far worse gift ideas out there!
I'm sounding like a broken record, but this is another repeat item on this year's gift guide. The reason for that is simple - it's a rare brewer who can't find a place for another fermentor. An extra carboy, bucket, or better bottle can always find a home, as it allows the brewer to expand their "pipeline".
With that said, I find that two gallon buckets (with drilled lids) ($16) are a superb gift idea. Why two gallons? Because it allows for easy split batching.
Say, the brewer is already making five gallons of their favorite beer recipe. They would love to experiment with another yeast strain, or try a different dry hopping schedule, or maybe experiment with fruit or coffee added to the beer. However, it can be tough to brew up five gallons of something that you may not love.
A two gallon bucket allows the brewer to simply make a slightly larger batch of their normal recipe, then split off a gallon or so into this smaller bucket. There, they can experiment a bit, and end up with two completely different beers - with little to no extra effort.
I've mostly focused on smaller ticket items in this guide, but if you are looking for a more grand gesture - and your brewer is perhaps looking to expand - then a new kettle might be just the "wow factor" gift you are looking for.
Most new brewers start with a 5-6 gallon pot, which is fine for extract brewing or smaller batches, but for all grain, one really needs a ten gallon (or larger) kettle.
The 10 gallon AMCYL Brew Kettle ($200) is an excellent choice. This quality stainless kettle comes with a 3 piece ball valve, a tri clad bottom, and is pre-laser etched with measurement markings (eliminating the need to guess how much wort is in the pot). For $23 more, HomeBrewSupply will include a weldless thermometer. This sucker would seriously make someone's Christmas!
However, there are other great choices out there for a lesser price. I personally love my 44 quart Bayou Classic stainless stockpot, which can currently be had for less than $80 (currently $74 with free shipping at Amazon). For an even more budget conscious alternative, you could go with a Winware Professional 40 quart aluminum stockpot for less than $60 (currently $53 with free shipping at Amazon).
Another super fun item I got to review this year was the BeerBug ($200). This nifty device gives real time gravity and temperature readings of your fermenting beer, which you can view either via web browser or mobile app (available for free on both Android and iOS). Yes, a lot of homebrewers are somewhat (to very) obsessive, and being able to keep an eye on your beer from anyone has is a huge draw. The BeerBug certainly pricey, and not the sort of thing that a lot of people would but for themselves. However, it carries a major "cool factor" that would place it solidly into the "wow" category for a Christmas gift.
So, you are buying for someone who has all sorts of gear, and you don't want to pick up something that they may or may not use. Why not go with a great homebrewing tee shirt?
BrewUnited is currently selling shirts ($16.50), but this sale ends on December 1st, and will be your last chance to pick one up in 2015. Also, you should definitely check out the selection of funny shirts offered by BrewerShirts.com (most shirts are ~$20).
Don't underestimate the value of a gift certificate. Brewing does cost money every time you do it, and having prepaid ingredients is super nice. A gift certificate from your local homebrewing shop - or from a quality online vendor like HomeBrewSupply - makes brewing "free" for the brewer... which is super nice.
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Tags for this post: gift, guide, brewing, brewer, homebrewing, homebrewer, Christmas, present