Brooks on Beer: Gifts for Beer Lovers

For the San Jose Mercury News
By Jay R. Brooks

With the holidays fast approaching, there probably is at least one beer lover on your gift list. It may be tempting to pick up a ready-made beer gift pack — a “Beers of the World” approach — but it’s been my experience that the more passionate the beer lover, the  harder it is to actually buy beer for him or her. No matter what you choose, they’ve probably had it before.  (Samuel Adams’ 2011 holiday beer sampler may be an exception. The gift set includes their tasty Chocolate Bock, brewed with Ecuadorean cocoa nibs from San Francisco chocolatier TCHO.)

Still, that’s the nature of beer geekdom: We’re always looking for something new to try. So here are a few nondrinkable gift suggestions for the beer lover in your life.

Beer books
We’re in a golden age of beer books, with dozens of new titles published every year. But the most eagerly anticipated beer book of the year is the “Oxford Companion to Beer” (Oxford University Press, $60, 960 pages). It was edited by Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garret Oliver, and written by more than 165 experts in a variety of beer-related fields. It’s a hefty tome that’s easy to get lost in, but it’s also perfect for browsing. Open it to any page, and you’ll find something interesting to read. (I may be slightly biased, because I contributed about two dozen of the more than 1,000 entries.)

For the casual beer fan, try “Brewed Awakening” (Sterling Epicure, $24.95, 304 pages) by New York writer Joshua M. Bernstein. His book is jam-packed with fun facts, suggested brews and a thorough overview of today’s beer scene. It’s such fun to read you won’t realize you’re learning about history too.

Aspiring brewers will enjoy “The Brewers Apprentice” (Quarry Books, $24.99, 192 pages) by Greg Koch and Matt Allyn. It’s really a series of interviews with some of the world’s leading brewers on their craft. Over the course of the book, you, too, learn to brew beer. Interviewees include Bay Area brewer Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River, Sierra Nevada’s Ken Grossman and Eel River’s Ted Vivatson.

If biographies are your thing, you can’t go wrong with “The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.” (Ten Speed Press, $25, 208 pages), which details not only the story of San Diego’s Stone Brewing by its founders, Greg Koch and Steve Wagner, but also includes back stories
and recipes for home brews and even the food served at their World Bistro.

For a more irreverent take, try “Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah” (Malt Shop Publishing, $16.99, 368 pages) by San Francisco native Jeremy Cowan, who tells the tale of Shmaltz Brewing, makers of He’Brew, the Chosen Beer. The subtitle alone will give you some idea of the wild ride you’re in for: “How It Took 13 Years, Extreme Jewish Brewing, and Circus Sideshow Freaks to Make Shmaltz Brewing an International Success.”

History buffs will dive into “America Walks Into a Bar” (Oxford University Press, $24.95, 336 pages) by Christine Sismondo. It’s a journey through the nation’s earliest taverns, the speak-easy era and today’s modern bar scene.

But my favorite book of the year is Joe Sixpack’s “What the Hell Am I Drinking?” (CreateSpace, $11.95, 198 pages). Joe Sixpack is the nom de plume of Philadelphia beer writer Don Russell, and his little book tells the stories and history of 50 different types of beer, along with a checklist of examples of each style. No matter how much you think you know about beer, you’ll learn something new and surprising from Russell’s latest. (Check it out at

Beer gadgets

Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a few stocking stuffers and these bottle openers are for a great cause. Called “Beers Not Bombs,” they’re made from “Peace Bronze,” a bronze alloy made from disarmed nuclear missile silos. There are four models, each $14.95, and a portion of the proceeds goes to Doctors Without Borders and thegrass-roots International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Check out the full line at

The other must-have is the new Lagunitas Butterfly Beer Opener ($15). Head over to and watch the video of how to master it, and you’ll quickly see why you need one of these openers, too, whether for yourself or as a gift — or both.
Malty Christmas and a Hoppy New Year!