Twelve (Plus) Practical Beers to Give for the Holidays

Eno Sarris, December 16, 2015

I love the Cold Brew Post links we tweet out, that sit on the site over on the right corner and also go out on @coldbrewpost on twitter. That doesn't mean I always agree with the content within them. 

Like take this one, from Fortune Magazine. 7 Great Craft Beers to Give as Holiday Gifts. Seven great, totally impractical beers. Imagine sending a non-beer lover out into the wild looking for Sam Adams Utopias and Pliny the Elder. Imagine how many angry bottle shop owners would post more signs like the one in the header (from my favorite, Willow's Market in Menlo Park) if more people read this piece and took it to heart. 

It's not like I don't have any sympathy. There are two tough things about writing this piece.

One is availability, which is tied into regional issues. Maybe some people can find Utopias, I've never seen it anywhere. I can find Pliny, but like 75% of the rest of the US can't. So, really, your list should be regional. 

The second is that not everyone likes the same things. What if you got your stout lover a session and your IPA lover a stout? They'd smile politely, but it wouldn't be their favorite gift of the evening. 

The third is tied to the first. If it's avaiable, it's not special. If it's not available, how is the person googling "how to find beer gifts for the beer lover in your life" going to find them? 

So let's try to use those three realizations to fuel a more practical guide to holiday beergiving. We'll split the country into six regions, which is really not enough, but it'll be four times better than the last attempt. And we'll do a light and a dark beer and a tart beer. Which is also terrible, but we'll have to leave more nuanced guides to our many writers. Followups are always welcome.

And one last tip on how to use this list is at the end. It's important!

The Northeast 

Vermont dominates the leaderboards, but it's also hard to find their beers. Lawson's Sip of Sunshine, should you find it, would be a great nomination for the 'light' beer portion of our schedule. Or Second Fiddle from Fiddlehead, or anything from Hill Farmstead. But we aren't getting you in a car to Vermont unless you live real close. How about Treehouse's Julius? Can you find it? It's amazing. If not, most IPA lovers would love to have some Lunch, from Maine Brewing. Sixpoint's Resin is a decent second place to either, and has good distribution, and is easier to find. 

With the seasonal nature of stouts, especially barrel-aged ones, let's just recommend a brewery for the dark beer. Hoppin' Frog in Ohio (yes, Ohio is in this region for now) has great stouts, and they usually say B.O.R.I.S. on them. A stout from Carton in New Jersey or Pizza Boy in Philadelphia would do you well. A year-round, very available dark beer is the Edmund Fitzgerald porter from Great Lakes, let's go with that unless you can't find it.

The Southeast

You can probably find Jai Alai from Cigar City, especially in Florida. I don't know if we should make this more complicated. Sure, Hop, Drop 'N Roll from NoDa is great if you're in the Carolinas, or a Burnt Hickory IPA if you're in Georgia. If you can get your hands on a Creature Comforts Tropicalia from Athens, do it. But Cigar City's Jai Alai is around, and it's great. Let's not complicate things.

I haven't had Cigar City's Hunahpu, and most likely, you haven't either. You might be able to find Hardywoods' Gingerbread Stout, though, and it's the perfect holiday beer. Westbrook's Mexican Cake would also fit any holiday spirit, if you can't find the Hardywood. But that Hardywood has the flavors to make the Gingerbread Stout too perfect to ignore. 

The Midwest

Toppling Goliath pseudo Sue if you can get it, that was easy. Let's say you're not in Iowa, though. Maybe you can get it in Minnesota, but if you are in Minnesota, there's another outfit that produces great IPAs that are a little more available but also well sought after -- Surly. Furious, Abrasive, Over-Rated, West Coast... they're all good, and they all convey that Surly style in graphic design as well as taste. Let's go with Surly Furious because that's a fun thing to pair with frivolity. 

Since Goose Island bought Bourbon County Stout, you can find it everywhere, at least on its release. If you can still find it now, it can be a good gift, but it lacks the sort of regional quality we're going for here. And stouts can be hard to find -- Kentucky Breakfast Stout and Canadian Breakfast Stout are enjoyable efforts from Founders, but they can sell out quickly. But let's move away from stouts for this region and offer up another Founders beer as the gift of choice -- get any version of Bastard you can get. It's a scotch ale, but that's great for the winter, too, and it's a little off the beaten path. Founders Dirty Bastard also turned the head of our own Colin Laursen, so it's got that going for it, too.

The Other South

What's the best IPA in Texas? One answer comes from Austin, where Austin Beerworks has Heavy Machinery working for them. There are all sorts of different kinds -- half, wet, English, double -- but all of them do well by us. But ask around a little more, and a consensus emerges. It's from Lone Pint, and it's called Yellow Rose. You can only find it in Texas, but you can find it. And if you gave that to someone that knew about beer, they would love you forever, or at least until they fixate on a new beer. Lone Pint Yellow Rose it is.

Our leaderboards call Missouri a southern state, which smells a little weird to this former Southerner, but we might as well point out that if you can find Perrenial Abraxas or Prairie Bomb, those are wonderful gifts. But you can find Bomb around, too, and we're talking St. Louis, not really the South, right? Let's instead give Saint Arnold in Houston some love. You couldn't really go wrong with their beers.  But Houston's Brash has two stouts that have turned heads. Brash Cortado is the milk stout, or Vulgar Display of Power if your recipient doesnt' have a sweet tooth. But Lakewood from Dallas is around, and Lakewood has a milk stout named Temptress that people really like. Lakewood Temptress for Texas.

The Northwest

Their pale ales are seasonal and not always bottled, but our own Casey McLain love Holy Mountain's Astral Prjoection and Bale Breaker's Bottom Cutter for in-state IPAs. Their currently-available IPAs should therefore be great second options should they be in bottles. But this author has a favorite, so he'll recommend that one. The brewer from Deschutes left and created Crux Fermentation Project in Bend, and it's for our benefit. Their Crux Half Hitch is a fruity beer with amazing aroma and mouthfeel. Get it if you can.  

Elysian and Two Beers have some good stouts in Washington, but let's not screw around too much here. Dark Star from Fremont Brewing, and it's variants, are "v good" as they say, and not quite whale status, which is to say, you can find it and give it to someone. 


Both Northern and Southern California dominate the leaderboards, but often it's with beers that can only be found in growlers. Cellarmaker, Fieldwork, Sainte Adairius, Bagby... there's a lot of great beer you can't really travel with very well. But there are some bottled IPAs other than Russian River's Pliny the Elder that deserve to be given. In the south, El Segundo's Mayberry IPA, and Modern Times Blazing World go in the cart, especially now that more places can get Alpine Nelson and enjoy it. In the north, swallow hard at the label and get Knee Deep's Breaking Bud as a regularly-available, good bottled beer that you can't get as easily in other states. For the state? Let's change this up just a bit -- El Segundo Hoptanker. That beer is big and fruity and west coasty. 

For the dark category, you may want to give your recipient a taste of what's to come. Firestone Walker just signed a big deal, and so you'll see beers like Stickee Monkee and Velvet Merkin around more. You also can't go wrong with Speedway Stout, although that's more available these days. Harder to find would be an Almanac Sour Porter, or a High Water Campfire stout, though get them if you can. Actually, let's make that last one -- all smores and smoke and straight out of a campfire -- the recommendation. High Water Campfire Stout, available all over California but nowhere else, for your benefit.

The Sour

Sours are hard to find and are super expensive. If you're in Northern California, you can go to Rare Barrel or Russian River and wow them with a sour. In the Northwest, you might find a Cascade Sang Noir. In the South, you've got Wicked Weed sours or Jester King Atrial Rubicite. The easiest thing, though, is to find a Goose Island Juliette or Halia and just bring that. Even if your beer lover has had them, or can find them, they cost $30 a pop and they'll appreciate the rarer treat. They may have been bought by Big Beer, but these beers are excellent when put up against any sour, and they won't have you scouring beer stores for hours. 

And here's one last part of the guide that is super important. It's how you use the guide. The best way to use this guide is to look for beers that are in your part of the world before you travel, buy those beers, and then travel to where you're meeting this beer lover. 

Because if you bring them beer you can find in their local shop, it's just a nice thing. If you bring them beer that they would find if they lived where you live, it's a special thing.

And it didn't take finding a Utopias. You just had to go to your local store and drop a few bucks.