Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Today's column: Joy and good beer

So you're shopping for a beer lover, and it just doesn't seem right to put a six pack under the tree. As if there was something wrong with that, the following suggestions ought to help fill the holiday with cheer — or, rather, cheers.


Beer tastes best when poured into the proper glass. No true beer fan can ever have too many glasses, or too many types — until room in the cupboard starts to run out (helpful tip — do not ask your spouse if it's OK to toss that gravy boat to make room).

The Web site sells what it calls "the Savvy Six-Pack" for $37.99. It includes six different glasses, each the best choice a different style of brew. There's a tulip for imperial India pale ales and Belgian strong ales, a 23-ounce imperial pint for proper service of British ales, a curvy hefeweizen with room for the generous head of wheat beers, a tall pilsner to show off the color and carbonation of lagers, a dimpled mug for many a German brew, and a stemmed cervoise that's good for many Belgian styles.

If that's too much, or if you've run out of time to wait

on shipping, many local retailers sell sets of simple, straight-sided 16-ounce pint glasses. These work fine for just about anything you're pouring, and have the benefit of keeping one from looking too fancified, if that's a concern. You'll often find them emblazoned with logos or ads for Guinness, makers of the famous Irish stout.

Reading material

Anyone who's been opened to the wider world of beer could probably use some guidance through its more obscure corners.

A few publishers are providing that guidance on a regular basis with magazines. The Web site mentioned above also publishes a monthly Beer Advocate magazine with lots of features and photography in a well-designed format. All About Beer, published every two months, is another good resource. It just produced a special issue, available in at least one local bookstore, that is a handy reference to most of the beer styles brewed today.

The little things

Bottle openers, coasters, bar towels, caps, T-shirts — you name it, there's probably one with a brewery logo on it being sold in a gift shop somewhere ready to be stuffed in a stocking.

Why not?

Of course, the perfect gift for any beer lover is more beer. And if a six pack still seems wrong to you, a short drive can provide something extra-special.

Alabama law prevents any beer in a bottle bigger than 16 ounces from being sold here. That cuts out many of the finer concoctions from Europe's hallowed brewers and America's innovative brewmasters. Some are sold only in half-liter- to liter-size bottles, and served more like wine.

Not that I'm advocating the importation of alcohol, but just across the state line, Georgia has no container-size or alcohol-content restrictions. Any number of retailers could provide a great gift — for that out-of-state recipient, of course — to celebrate with on New Year's Eve.