A few years ago, when Chris Badenoch was exposing a wide Australian audience to the joys of cooking with beer on Masterchef, I came into work one morning to find my female colleagues in a bit of an uproar. It seems Badenoch, on the previous night’s episode, had had the affront to put beer into a dessert (shock, horror!). It was Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, a beer I love and revere as sweet and rich and desserty.
Later that day I found myself in a bottle shop, in front of an array of that same Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. Remembering the conversation I had had, and the fact that I seemed to be on the defensive line for the beer, I bought a bottle, and the next day left it on the desk of one of my colleagues who had been antagonised by the episode. To cut a long story short, she was pleased with my gift, or at the very least intrigued, and took the beer home, shared it with her family, and all agreed that it was mostly a pleasant beer.
I remember being heartily pleased with the whole adventure. Not so much that I had converted a non-believer to the cause of good beer (most of the work was Badenoch’s; and even then I hadn’t exactly made a new convert), but because I had seized the opportunity to present someone with a different point of view, and was able to provide supporting evidence.
Around this time of year, cases such as these begin swimming around in my head, and the more idealistic side of my nature starts to tease me with this notion that, without any prior context, I can convert a new hoard of unbelievers to the fold of good beer drinking. After all, Christmas is that time of year when one imposes one’s judgment and opinions on others, right? Right??
The trouble with giving beer as a gift is that occasions such as I described come along only every once in a while, when the topic of beer is brought up organically, and the context of the gift is sculpted without any need for effort on your own part.
At all other times, as much as I hate to say it, beer still comes across as the drink that blokey men drink in the pub while chatting about football teams and women. Hardly the sort of thing that one might wrap daintily in Rudolph-decorated Christmas paper and adorn with an eloquently-worded “to/from” message.
The trick to giving beer as a present is to find the right balance. I always feel most comfortable giving something unique and iconoclastic; something the recipient would never have seen before. Anything less and I wonder why I bother, purchasing something readily available in anybody’s neighbourhood bottle shop. The trouble is, if you give something that’s a bit too unusual and outside the comfort zone, you risk coming across as a bit of a sanctimonious zealot.
I find the politics come into play most clearly when you’re giving gifts to a group, like a team of workmates, or an extended family group.
This year our homebrew collective decided to brew a batch of beers specifically designed to be given away as Christmas presents, and, to that effect, the beers in question were of styles that we knew people felt comfortable drinking: an English bitter, a hefeweizen, a pale ale, etc. There was no mention of any of the envelope-pushing beers that we brew for our own experimental purposes (peat-smoked Japanese IPA anybody?) .
And when it came to distributing the beer, everybody felt comfortable, because there was nothing too esoteric to assign to a recipient.
Having said that, the thing that piques everybody’s interest is the ‘homebrew’ aspect; people are interested in something that’s hand-crafted with care and diligence. Ultimately it’s the same sort of thing as giving hand-made preserves or cranberry sauce – even to somebody who doesn’t eat preserves or cranberry sauce.
The fact is, it doesn’t have to be homebrew. That’s what’s great about Australia’s growing craft beer scene. There are so many breweries out there, bottling so many hand-crafted, interesting yet accessible beers that have a real artisanal feel to them. Giving a case of lager from your corner bottle shop – that’s still a blokey thing to do. But a bottle or two of small-batch pale ale or wheat beer and it becomes less about the booze and more about the produce. I urge all the beer-lovers out there this year to dare to push that love on somebody else; do a bit of shopping around and you’ll find that perfect beer gift; if the beer’s right it doesn’t need a context.