Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

A Christmas shopping list for beer lovers: Me and You

By William Brand
Wednesday, December 17th, 2008 at 11:54 am in Uncategorized.

Note: This is today’s San Jose Mercury News column.

Great beer, gift packs, books and (yes) beer pong

By William Brand
for the Mercury News

OK, it’s the week before Christmas and there’s a beer lover or two on your list. Maybe it’s you. What to do? I’ve been making a list and checking it twice. . . .

Three suggestions at the top of my list:

  • Duvel Holiday Pack, $16. A spicy, lively, golden beer from Moortgat in Belgium, 8 percent alcohol by volume, it’s a beer that almost everyone will love; I rank it five stars, a world classic. The pack includes four 11.2-ounce bottles of Duvel and a distinctive, tulip-shaped glass.
  • Bourbon County Imperial Stout, four 12-ounce bottles for $19.99. A stunning, almost overwhelming beer from Goose Island, Chicago; 13 percent alcohol (Bud, by comparison, is 5 percent). Aged in bourbon barrels for a year, it has a bourbon nose and a mildly sweet taste. One to sip slowly on a cold winter night. Four stars (don’t miss it).
  • Malheur Brut Reserve, 750-milliliter bottle for $25. A stupendous, complex, copper-colored beer, cave-aged during a second fermentation in the style of Champagne from Malheur Bieren in East Flanders, Belgium. After fermentation in Belgium, it’s put into Champagne bottles and shipped to a Champagne cellar in France, where the bottles are stored and turned one-quarter turn daily. After three months, the neck of the bottle is frozen and the plug of collected yeast sediment is disgorged before the bottle is corked. Another four-star offering.

Great list, huh? The only problem is that the South Bay’s a beer desert. Aside from two chains, Beverages & More and Whole Foods, and some smaller grocers like Beltramo’s, Draeger’s and Zanotto’s, good beer stores are rare. That’s why I’ve compiled a retail beer store List. E-mail me at and ask for the list.


As with wines, each style of beer needs its own type of glass. As far as the look, I like glasses that are branded in the European fashion, but clear, high-quality, unlabeled glasses are also a great way to present beer.

  • New Belgium beer glass. This is a new, 13.5-ounce stemmed glass in a traditional Belgian globe shape from the Fort Collins, Colo., brewer of Fat Tire.
    Mikasa wheat beer glasses

    Mikasa wheat beer glasses

    It’s scored on the bottom like a Champagne glass, creating nucleation — a stream of small bubbles surging upward through the beer. Two for $10, plus about $6.50 for shipping;

  • Mikasa Brewmaster wheat beer glasses. Like the glasses used in Germany for wheat beers, these are tall and narrow with a wide mouth to gather the spicy, clove aroma of the wheat. Four for $23 from


What’s beer without silly games? Don’t answer that, just buy a beer pong kit. One I’ve seen in action is the Bombed Complete Beer Pong Kit, $16. Includes ping-pong balls, beer cups and a rack to keep the cups from falling over. Supply your own swill beer.

Brew your own

  • Williams Brewing in San Leandro offers a starter’s home-brewing kit for $84.90, plus $6.50 for shipping. Williams’ Tim Clifford says it includes everything one needs: fermenters, bottle capper, bottle caps, hydrometer, thermometer, home-brewing book and how-to DVD, plus all the ingredients for one 5-gallon batch.
  • Seven Bridges Cooperative in Santa Cruz is the place to go if you want to go organic. Co-op member-owner Amelia Slayton recommends the Home Brewery With Glass Fermenter & Ingredients, for $109.90. It includes everything, and the beer ingredients are certified organic.


  • “The Beer Book,” edited by Tim Hampson (DK Publishing, $25, 352 pp.). This is a sound-bite journey, nation by nation, through the world of great beer, from Louisiana’s Abita Purple Haze to New Zealand’s Twisted Hop Challenger. It’s a fun read.
  • “Around London in 80 Beers” by Chris Pollard and Siobhan McGinn (Cogan & Mater, $19.99, including shipping, from Even if you never hoist a pint of real ale in a London pub, “Around London” is a terrific read. Pollard and McGinn, who have written books about Belgian beers, returned to their native city to compile this fascinating tour. If the UK’s on your travel list, there’s an Underground map showing the location of each pub.
  • “Wishing You A Merry Christmas Beer” by Don Russell (Universe Publishing, $19.95). Russell, who writes the Joe Sixpack column for the Philadelphia Daily News, compiled this survey, subtitled “The Cheeriest, Tastiest, and Most Unusual Holiday Brews.” I love Russell’s no-nonsense, Philly edge: “Yes, Virginia,” he says. “There is a Santa’s Butt — it’s a porter from South Stoke, England.” Find the Butt on page 45.
  • “Red, White and Brew: A Beer Odyssey Across the U.S.,” by Brian Yaeger (St. Martin’s Griffin, $14.95). If you’re new to the American craft beer revolution or are just curious about the beers and the people behind them, this is the book to read. Yaeger set out on his own to visit the country’s famous and not-so famous breweries. His master’s thesis, for his professional writing degree from the University of Southern California, was on beer.

Last note: I haven’t seen it yet, but the Brewers’ Association, the Boulder, Colo., craft beer trade group (, has just issued a new edition of the late British beer writer Michael Jackson’s groundbreaking “Great Beers of Belgium.”

Contact William Brand at Read more beer reports on his blog,

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  • Tim Clifford

    Thanks for the write-up, Bill. A couple things, though, regarding William’s Brewing. First, our base Brewery, which you mention, does not include ingredients for a 5-gallon batch. Instead, it is the bare-bones equipment one will need to produce 5 gallons. With a specific beer kit, our Breweries fall in the range of $109.90-$114.90. Shipping on the West Coast is a flat rate of $6.50.

    We do carry the lastest edition of Michael Jackson’s “Great Beers of Belgium.” It is a great book for anyone interested in great beer and even better writing.


  • Drew

    That Duvel gift set is a great value!! Love that tulip glass.

  • Dan S.

    Under the Brew Your Own section, don’t forget Beer Beer and More Beer in Concord for those east of the tunnel. They also sell kegs of EJ Phair beer (and maybe others) there and have a small selection of commercial bottled beer including Dogfish Head, Russian River, and others. (Not affiliated, blah, blah …)

  • Beer Mutineer

    Great suggestions, I also love the seasonal pumpkin ales that are released this time of year. Oh, and I have to suggest Microbrewed Adventures by Charlie Papazian as an excellent read.

  • William Brand

    Me too. I have two, both are the I think they’re 500 cl. They make a smaller glass, same shape, but I haven’t found it in the U.S.

  • William Brand

    Yes, Charlie Papazian’s books were like bibles to me.
    About Beer, Beer & More Beer…wrote this column for a south bay audience. I think Beer, Beer is a great homebrew store and you’re right, their bottled beer stock’s excellent too.

  • http:/// Mario (Brewed For Thought)

    William, for North Bay folks, Iron Springs had a holiday pack of 4 bottles, including their stout, amber and 2 vintages of barleywine. Farther North, Rasputin XI is available at North Coast in Fort Bragg

    The Duvel set is great. I’ve also seen an Ommegang set out there. For South Bay folks, Cost Plus has Chimay gift packs as well as Anchor Christmas magnums.