Beer and beer-related stuff make great gifts. But don’t go beer shopping without some idea of what you’re looking for. With hundreds of labels staring back at you, there’s just too much going on to sort through it all. One wrong move – showing up at a Christmas gathering looking all smug because you brought a case of Blue Moon and a bunch of orange slices, for instance – can have lasting ramifications.
If it’s a BYOB party, here’s your chance to show you haven’t been living in a cave for the past four years.
Anything barrel-aged from The Bruery will make you look sophisticated. If you can score some Pliny the Elder, you’re in the know. If you want to make a Bay Area road trip, I’m a big fan of everything The Rare Barrel in Berkeley does, excluding the fact that it has yet to distribute to Sacramento. Prairie Artisan Ales out of Tulsa, Okla., is also making some of the most interesting beer in America. If you can score Prairie’s Cherry Funk (sour ale aged with cherries) or Apple Brandy Barrel Noir (imperial stout aged in apple brandy barrels), you’re invited to my Christmas party!
These days, it’s important to embrace local, especially since there are so many terrific options nearby. Two six-packs in 12-ounce cans come to mind for parties: California Dry Hop Lager from Sudwerk Brewing in Davis and Panic IPA from Sacramento’s Track 7. Both of these hoppy beers are food-friendly and great on their own. Plus, cans are cool, environmentally friendly and easy to carry to parties. One other canned option will show some creativity and effort: Visit Berryessa Brewing in Winters and buy a 32-ounce can of something on draft. Think of it as a mini growler (some are calling it by the unfortunate name, Crowler).
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Beer is also a great idea as a gift. I suggest piecing together a four- or six-pack, depending on price and how much you like the beer geek. If you want to enhance the gift, throw in a good book. I recommend “The Beer Bible” by Jeff Alworth for anyone looking for broad-based knowledge; “The Brewmaster’s Table” by Garrett Oliver for plenty of terrific insights about beer and food; and “The United States of Craft Beer” by Jess Lebow for the beer lover who tends to plan road trips and vacations around beer and brewery visits.
We have such a strong contingent of local breweries now that it’s easy to gift an all-local six-pack. You could even make it a themed six- pack.
Prize winners: Hoptologist double IPA by Knee Deep (The Bistro Double IPA winner, the award that put Knee Deep on the map); Mystery Airship Imperial Chocolate Porter (2015 gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival, but just call it GABF around your beer geek pals); Heavy Cruiser porter (California State Fair gold medal); Capt. California black IPA by Ruhstaller (U.S. Beer Open gold medal); Daylight Amber Ale by Track 7 (Brussels Beer Challenge gold); Grapefruit Hop Sauce IPA by Rubicon Brewing (State Fair gold, this new beer is now available in bottles at the pub); Coloma Brown by American River Brewing (State Fair gold).
West Sac pack: With a cluster of three breweries (and another on the way, we hear), West Sacramento is now a craft beer destination and good enough to bring plenty of cheer on Christmas Day. Mosaic Pale Ale and Milk Stout by Bike Dog Brewing; Orange Blossom Blonde and Dirty Cog Porter by Yolo Brewing; and Order of the Rabbit Dubbel and Bad Habit Belgian Abbey Ale by Jackrabbit Brewing.
Hoppy holidays: The Sacramento region has some superb IPAs and pale ales. If you’re giving these as a gift, keep them chilled. If you hand off room-temperature IPAs to a real beer snob, you’re bound to lose some street cred (hops lose their luster quickly). Panic IPA by Track 7; Integral IPA by Device Brewing; Breaking Bud IPA by Knee Deep; Monkey Knife Fight Pale Ale by Rubicon; Hoppy Face Amber Ale by Hoppy Brewing; and Extra Pale: American IPA by New Glory.
Pro pack: I asked Capitol Beer and Taproom owner Ken Hotchkiss for his suggested six. Celebration Ale by Sierra Nevada; Bourbon County Stout by Goose Island Beer; Pliny the Elder by Russian River; Mogli Bourbon Oak-Aged Chocolate Imperial Porter by Caldera Brewery; Santa’s Little Helper Imperial Stout by Port Brewing; and Prairie Christmas Bomb! by Prairie Artisan Ales. To supplement this six-pack, Hotchkiss recommends including a hand-forged bottle opener ($30) by Iron and Wood Artisans.