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5 Best Homebrewing Gifts for the Holidays

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- Does someone on your holiday gift list want to brew beer at home, but seems way too into it for one of those plastic-jug-and-packets kits at the local discount shop? Don't worry, their newfound homebrewing habit won't bankrupt you.

Little more than a decade ago, home beer brewing was a niche that required a whole lot of research and an equal amount of money. The American Homebrewers Association had a little less than 8,500 members, down by nearly 10,000 from a decade before -- after the microbrew boom of the 1990s went bust. This year, the association added its 30,000th member, saw homebrew spending increase by almost 20% and saw four out of every brewery supply shops in the U.S. sell more beginners' kits than the year before.

That growth has made it a whole lot easier to get started. While starter brewing sets from Cooper's or Mr. Beer sell for $40 or less, a professional-grade beginners kit that will come in handy even when a brewer gets to be an old pro costs only between $80 and $110.

As wizened homebrewers can tell you, supplies don't have to be expensive, either. The five-gallon pot you use to boil pasta sauce or steam mussels will work just fine. That recycling bin full of holiday beer empties? Rookies may want to keep them around for the first case.

Gary Glass, director of the association, recommends starting with a plastic bucket fermenter, an air lock and stopper, thermometer, racking cane for siphoning, tubing, bottling bucket, bottle filler, bottle capper, sanitizer, bottles and a bottle cleaning brush.

You don't have to knock yourself out sweating the basics, either. The association offers Zymurgy: An Introduction To Homebrewing as a free online guide to help new brewers tackle the process a step at a time. Meanwhile, free online books such as John Palmer's How To Brew offer additional insight for refining those first batches of porter and IPA.

We decided to do a little holiday shopping and came up with five recommendations for the folks on your list either looking to start their homebrew journey or who've just started their first few batches and wonder where to go from here:

Maltose Express starter kit

Just about every brewing supply shop will have a kit like this, but few are put together by the folks whose book you'll need to make your first attempt at a Lagunitas IPA or even a Heineken lager.

We've recommended this particular kit before and Tess and Mark Szamatulski, owners of the Maltose Express brewing supply shop in Monroe, Conn., are a big reason why. They put this $110 kit together themselves and packed it with a primary 7.8-gallon plastic fermenter with a drilled and grommeted lid, a secondary stage five-gallon glass carboy, airlock and stopper, racking cane, five feet of flexible tubing, bottle filler, capper, caps, sanitizer, hydrometer, floating thermometer, bottle brush and two books. The first volume is Byron Burch's how-to guide Brewing Quality Beers (which can be replaced with Charlie Papazian's Joy of Homebrewing) and the second is the Szamatulskis' taste-alike recipe book Clone Brews.

You're on your own for ingredients, through the Szamatulskis offer kits of ingredients for their cloned beer recipes. The kits of malt, hops, grains, yeast or malt extracts for beginners range from $36 for a clone of Lone Star lager to $98 for Dominion Millenium barleywine. The brewing kit and the kits of ingredients are pretty middle-of-the-road price-wise, but are still a tough investment if your brewer doesn't have a lot of time or spice. If that's the case, may we suggest:
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