As I write this, we’re quickly approaching Christmas and that means that it’s gift buying time for the homebrewer in your life. Which can be quite difficult if you want to surprise them or don’t exactly know what you should be looking for to make them happy (without getting them something they already have).
I was reminded of the difficulty that non-brewer friends and family go through during a recent shift at our store. A couple came in looking for a gift for her father. They had a specific new mash tun in mind from a company that makes electric kettles, but as we discussed their needs, I found that it wasn’t so much that specific kettle that their father wanted. It was that he wanted to move to all-grain brewing and simply needed a mash tun. We walked the store and I explained the process and showed them our kettles and then The Grainfather because of its similarity to the mash tun they initially came asking about. By the end of the discussion, we’d decided on what they needed—A 10-gallon TBI kettle assembly with a false bottom. This was what would help her father get to that next level in his brewing, but it would still allow him to have more of a hands on approach that some of the more automated systems can take away. And his son in law and daughter would be able to give him a great surprise gift.
This conversation is what reminded me that it really comes down to the details to get the right gift for the homebrewer in your life. So, first take a moment to gather the following information:
How do they brew?
Do they brew extract based batches or all-grain?
If they brew extract recipes, do they want to move to all-grain?
What equipment do they use?
What gear have they said they needed?
What complaints have they made about their beer or process?
The more information you have about how they are brewing now, the better you will be able to make the right choices for gifts.
The Extract Brewer That Wants to Go All-Grain
This is probably the most common homebrewer for which people are buying gifts. This brewer very likely has at least one kettle that they use for 5-gal recipes, whether it’s a full volume boil or otherwise. What they need is a way to work from scratch and extract the sugars from the grain using a mash tun. They can then boil the wort in the kettle they have (if it will hold the volume). This means they need one or more of the following:
A sturdy Brew-in-a-Bag (BiaB) bag
This is a mesh bag that can hold the grain in the mash in the kettle they have and then be removed and rinsed at the end of the mash. This is the cheapest and easiest way to help them get into all-grain brewing and only requires a little research on volumes based on their kettle. They are likely already used to steeping grain and it’s much the same, but here you are getting the fermentable from the base grain and not just the flavor and color of specialty grains.
A new kettle with a false bottom and outlets (a mash tun)
This is what the typical homebrewer moves to from single kettle extract batches. Now, they will brew using 2-3 kettles. The false bottom is a screen that allows the grain to stay above the outlet and the wort to pool below the screen. When they rinse the grains and transfer the wort they created (sparging) to the boil kettle, the grain stays behind and you get clean wort. What you want here is a kettle assembly with a temperature gauge, valve outlet, and the false bottom. They may or may not need a third kettle for heating sparge water, which is called a Hot Liquor Tank (HLT). And if they brew outdoors, you might consider adding in another propane burner to help them speed up their brew day. Also, a way to insulate the kettle during the mash is always helpful.
A cooler mash tun with valve outlet and false bottom
This is the second most common way that homebrewers get into all-grain brewing. Basically you have an Igloo cooler that has been fitted with a valve in place of the spigot. You can’t heat the cooler directly without more complicated methods, so your brewer will need a way to heat the water used to mash the grain (the strike water). Coolers also must be warmed with hot water prior to adding the actual strike water or temperature will be lost and they won’t be able to hit their desired mash temp. And that is both the fault and strength of a cooler. You have to make sure it’s warmed up before you start, but once you mash in the cooler insulation does a fantastic job of keeping the temp stable. After the mash, they will again need to have heated sparge water and their boil kettle. This could also mean a second cooler where the boil kettle is used to heat the sparge water during the mash, before storing it in the second cooler.
The All-Grain Brewer Who Has Equipment
This is the brewer that already made the switch and likely has the equipment needed to get the job done. That means that you need to be thinking of what would help make their brew days easier and what might still be missing from their tool kit.
An extra kettle or larger kettle
If they started off with smaller kettles and want to go brew 10-12 gallon batches or what a kettle that can hold more grain, then an extra kettle and false bottom may be the answer. 15 gallon TBI kettles with a false bottom can definitely get the job done.
A pump and hosing
Moving hot liquid from vessel to vessel can be a tough task if you are only using gravity. A pump and silicone tubing with quick disconnects may make for a much smoother and easier brewery.
Additional heat sources
Many of us have at least two propane burner stands and are often in need of a third. Or perhaps their current stand could have a better burner like a banjo burner, so they can cut out more time for heating water. Or if they’ve been brewing in the kitchen, it would allow for them to take it outside and get more out of full volume boils.
Useful on any brewday, the refractometer is a tool that helps you measure the gravity of the wort. It is particularly useful for all-grain brewers so they know their final running, pre-boil, and the possible original gravity during the boil. Otherwise, they would have to chill a sample to use a hydrometer. With a refractometer, you simply need a few drops and a light source
If your favorite brewer complains about the work involved in the process or needs to switch things around to make the process less physically demanding, then a Grainfather all-in-one system is a great idea.
Note: A Grainfather is also a good idea when you have a brewer who needs most of the equipment to brew all-grain batches and hasn’t spent a large amount on separate pieces of a brew system. Multiple kettles, burners, pumps, hosing, fittings, etc can add up to about the same cost as the GF. And the only real limitation of this system is that you can only brew 5-6 gal batches.
For any brewer
Whether they are extract or all-grain brewers, all brewers can use the following items:
A final word on the last item listed: Temperature control is perhaps one of the best things a brewer can do for making better beer. All the equipment is helpful, but whether it’s extract or all-grain brewing, if the temperature is uncontrolled for the fermenting end product, it won’t be as good as it could be. There are a few better options for yeast these days, but for the most part all brewers could use a small chest freezer with a temperature controller as their fermentation space. It is easily the best investment you can make for their beer brewing adventures at home.
Hopefully that helps explain a few things to any non-brewers out there! Good luck and happy holidays!
Semi-Media Director/Special Event Coordinator TBI, Producer, Writer, Host, and Host Wrangler Come and Brew It Radio, Homebrew Consultant, Lover of Experiments