All beer tourists face the same dilemma once their hop- and malt-swilling exploits have come to an end: how to bring home the goods? Due to distribution laws, limited production runs, and sky-high demand, some of these bottles are impossible to find at home -- this is stuff you may never come across again.
Luckily, there are ways of bringing such beer home -- but none involve carry-on luggage. So if you’re lucky enough to become the proud owner of a whale or two (a.k.a. hard-to-find beer) while traveling -- don't sweat it. We’ve got your back.
Here are some essential tips for traveling home with beer.
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Figure out what to take with you and what to leave
First rule of thumb: if you can get it back home, leave it behind. Sure, I know it’s exciting to buy Arrogant Bastard Ale at Stone Brewing, but if you can get it at your local bottle shop, don’t go through the hassle of transporting it home. It won’t taste any different than what you can buy there.
Growlers are basically a no-no, too. Unless the beer contained in one is a really, really, really hard to find, one-of-a-kind brew, don't bother. Growlers will only keep beer fresh for a day or two at most, and they are incredibly bulky and difficult to transport.
However, if you know that you must bring home a single growler of a very rare beer, try to invest in a stainless steel version. Generally these are lighter weight (a huge issue when transporting beer), provide a tighter seal, and keep light out for fresher beer. If the brewery has a crowler option (as in, the enormous, sealed can that Oskar Blues helped invent), it'll be a much better option for your beer transportation needs. Cans are your friends. In fact, if you ever have the option between a bottle or can, skip the bottle. Cans are lighter, less fragile, and less susceptible to breakage.
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Secure your booze
Even with the possible added charge that comes along with it, checking your luggage is your only option for flying with beer. A few things to keep in mind before departing for your beer explorations:
First, pack light. Bombers (larger, 22 ounce bottles of beer) take up a lot of space.
Second, if you have a hard shell suitcase, bring it. The more structure, the better; avoid duffle bags. Place all bottles in separate, gallon-sized Ziploc bags, just in case of a leak or break before wrapping.
To wrap the bottles, you can bundle them up tightly in your clothes, securing them with rubber bands; you can bring (or buy) bubble wrap to cradle your brews; or you can even bring inflatable kiddie arm-band swim floaties to keep your bottles secure. (For real.) No matter your method of choice, make sure the bottles aren't up against anything hard, and are completely immobile.
If you've got a few extra bucks to throw around, several companies also make padded bags specifically designed for air travel with bottles, like Bottle Protector, Jet Bag, and BottleGuard All of these were originally made for traveling with wine, but are a perfect fit for beer bombers. Wine Check, in a similar fashion, is made specifically to check a dozen bottles of wine, but again, works for some beer, too.
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Ship the clothes, fly with the beer
Technically you’d be breaking the law to ship beer as a non-licensed individual, and in some states it's illegal for ay person to ship alcohol. Don't bother labeling a box of beer as containing “collectable glass bottles” or “live yeast samples” either, no matter how much truth those labels might carry. (We said don't...)
Instead, to avoid prison, empty your jam-packed suitcase and ship your clothes home in a box, using the extra space to transport your stash of newly acquired beer. Or ask your hotel concierge, as he or she can ship the bounty for you on rare occasions.
No matter which method you choose, when you get home and crack open that delicious beer you bought on your trip, we bet you’re going to be glad you put in the effort.