I’m no Grinch but I am extremely sensitive to the vicissitudes of the festive season. I dislike the cold, I hate navigating overcrowded city centres, I can never think what to get Ms Beer & Brew, and I feel slightly underwhelmed when the day itself arrives and I think: ‘is this what the last six weeks have been about – Doctor Who and filling bins with packaging?’
There are upsides of course. I love that my mum will have the treats I’ll never buy for myself (Maltesers and Ferrero Rocher); I like the time off work – though this may be a thing of the past now I’m not in a job I hate; and I really like the days when you have no choice but to do nothing. I’m also reassured at our society’s devotion to The True Meaning of Christmas. Each year we lavish love, respect and reverence to something dear, and beloved by us all. Booze.
Winter beer-drinking is like an old, friendly labrador coming to visit and making everything better: warming, comforting, soothing and wonderful. It is incredibly efficient at creating ‘hygge’ (the term Danish Tourism and Marketing departments have told us we must now use instead of the incredibly passé ‘cosiness’), which also means it makes the perfect festive gift. I can’t think of a single thing that I want in the world that can’t be bought at my favourite beer shop, but you don’t have to be as obsessed as me to savour the gift of beer.
But – please, please avoid those dreadful ‘Beers from Around the World’ gift sets from Debenhams etc. Here are four great alternatives:
Make your own beer selection. With the explosion in the popularity of beer, you could do an amazing one with beers from your own county, in some cases your own city. How about a range of fruit beers? Or a ‘colour chart’ starting with a Belgian Wit, then a German Pils, Vienna Lager, Brown Ale, a De Koninck or similar, then a Belgian Dubbel, before a clattering, climactic Imperial Stout?
If you want something with no decision-making, there are of course prepared gift packs that contain superb beer. Duvel have a tasting pack of the Tripel Hop range they launched in 2007, which has been lauded every year since and makes a superb introduction to strong, complex Belgian beers for the IPA-obsessed among you. For those wanting something closer to home (assuming you live near me), months-old brewery Lost + Found of Brighton have a great-looking pale ale gift pack out – as with so many modern beers, the packaging is slick, modern and impressive. And finally, Beers of Europe do several amazing 12 Beers of Christmas packs that any fan would love.
If your recipient has the patience to accept their gift across a couple of weeks (as opposed to devouring it in a burst of 5am, teeth-clenched, ‘is-it-a-puppy?!’ excitement) why not plan a special meal every two or three days leading up to the 25th, with the perfect beer accompaniment? End on something absolutely amazing with your goose, turkey, beef, nut roast, or chicken tandoori, having built the feeling of luxury and wonder throughout the season. Don’t gobble a host of spectacular beers in a four-hour session – let them stand alone and sing.
And, finally, if your recipient really has been very good this year, why not treat them to a brewery tour, or beer festival in another part of the UK or Europe? That way, you get to go on holiday, and it seems like a gesture from the immense warmth of your endlessly generous heart.
Whatever you plump for, try to get the balance right. Find the full, warming, unctuous stuff that can send the one you love into a bleary-eyed stupor, but make sure there are light, refreshing options that mean they won’t be a red-faced, gout-ridden wreck by January.