Drinking on the Last Frontier: Good clean beer gifts ‘Beyond the Pale’

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell

By Bill Howell, for the Redoubt Reporter

Well, it’s now December, and we all know what that means — it’s time to start shopping for Christmas gifts, if you haven’t done so already. Personally, I love getting gifts that are beer-related, so let’s take a look at what’s new out there for the craft beer lover on your shopping list.

These days, craft beer gets incorporated into an ever-growing list of food products. For example, you can find numerous mustards that are made with beer. The Moosetard Company out of Fairbanks offers several excellent mustards that utilize different Silver Gulch Brewing and Bottling Co. beers in their ingredients. There are also excellent mustards out there made from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. beers.

If pickles are more your style, how about Hop Pickles, produced by Brooklyn Brine. These are pickles made with 60-Minute IPA from Dogfish Head Brewing and essential oils from Cascade hops. For the hopheads out there, these are da bomb!

There are other ways to include beer without using it in food. Denali Dreams Soap Company in Anchorage offers two different beer soaps, one incorporating India Pale Ale and the other a lager. I’ve used them both, and they are great. There are also numerous shampoos on the market that include beer, though I’ve found you can get great results just using an old can of Miller Lite … .

If you don’t want to give food or personal hygiene products, you can always fall back on books. Each year we seem to have more and more interesting beer books printed. Here are some excellent options from amongst the many such books published in 2013.

  • For anyone interested in the history of the American Craft Beer Renaissance, “The Audacity of Hops” by Tom Acitelli represents the first real systematic effort to tell the tale. Its light, breezy style belies the significance of its subject matter, since it explains how America went from being almost bereft of beer culture to having the most vibrant one in the world.
  • Also in the history vein, Ken Grossman, the founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing, has written the story of that brewery, titled “Beyond the Pale.” It chronicles his journey from home brewer to the owner of a world-class brewery producing more than 800,000 barrels a year. It’s fascinating stuff, both for the beer lover and anyone interested in how a business becomes a success without losing sight of its original vision.
  • For the beginning craft beer lover, there’s “The Complete Beer Course” by Joshua M. Bernstein. It’s subtitled “Boot Camp for Beer Geeks: From Novice to Expert in Twelve Tasting Classes.” That’s a pretty strong boast, but the book does go a far way toward delivering by providing a structured introduction to the flavors and history of various beer styles, complete with suggested illustrative beers to taste.
  • Numerous new books have been released on the subject of beer and food, but for my money two really stand out. The first is “Cheese and Beer” by Janet Fletcher. I wrote about this work a few months ago, in a column on pairing beer and cheese, but it is such an outstanding work it deserves to be mentioned again. The second is written by Jacquelyn Dodd and titled simply, “The Craft Beer Cookbook.” It contains more than 100 artisanal recipes that incorporate craft beers to enhance and improve their taste. Either or both of these works would make a great gift for someone interested in expanding their knowledge of food and beer parings.
  • Finally, two other potential gifts from the shameless personal-plug department: First, I just published Vol. 2 of “Beer on the Last Frontier: The Craft Breweries of Alaska.” This volume covers all the breweries and brewpubs in Anchorage, Fairbanks, the Matanuska-Susitna area and on the Parks Highway. It costs $11.99 and you can find it at local breweries, the Kenai Peninsula College Bookstore and Amazon.com. If you’d like a signed copy, I’ll be at Kenai River Brewing Co. from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13.

Second, I will be teaching my annual class, “The Art and History of Brewing,” during the spring semester at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus. The class will be held from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. every Tuesday, starting Jan. 21 and ending on April 29. We taste beers in class, tour all the local breweries and generally have a fine time learning to increase our appreciation of good beer. It is a one-credit course, which includes the cost of the beers to be tasted. If you have any questions, call 262-0330 for more information.

If none of the above suggestions seem like appropriate gifts for the craft beer lover in your life, you have my sympathy. Whoever they are, they are obviously tough to shop for. So I guess you will just have to give them beer.

Until next month, cheers and happy holidays!

Bill Howell is a home brewer, teaches a beer appreciation class at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus and was named the 2010 Beerdrinker of the Year by Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver. He and his wife, Elaine, have released two books, “Beer on the Last Frontier: The Craft Breweries of Alaska — Volume I: Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak Island Breweries,” and Vol. 2, “The Craft Breweries of Alaska” via Amazon and local booksellers.

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