Guest post by Graham Scott Holt
There are many benefits to traveling by air, but one of my favorites is encountering beer that I can’t find where I live. For a long time I dismissed the idea of bringing a few bottles home with me for fears that they would explode in the cargo hold or be destroyed by baggage handlers. However, with a bit of research and some experimentation, I discovered methods for minimizing the risks associated with transporting beer while flying. I’ve enjoyed bringing home beer from my travels ever since.
The following tips and guidelines are provided without guarantee; use them at your own risk. While I have experienced only rare breakages, putting glass vessels in the hands of an airline baggage handling system does involve some amount of risk.
About Carry-ons and Exploding Bottles
As much as you might like to, you can’t pack beer in your carry-on luggage. Currently, all liquids in containers larger than 100ml need to be packed in your checked luggage. With airlines increasingly charging for checked bags, you might as well use all of the capacity for which you have paid.
Regardless of the type of a bottle’s enclosure, I have never experienced any explosions or leaks due air pressure changes. This is because the luggage section of passenger aircrafts are pressurized. The bigger danger is from bottles knocking into one another, which can be reduced through the use of adequate packing material.
Know Your Limits
If you would like to avoid repacking the contents of your bags as you check in at the airport, you’ll need to know how much your luggage weighs. Baggage limits can change frequently, so check with your airline or visit this handy list of baggage weight limits.
I have used the method of picking up my bag to estimate the weight, and I have become fairly accurate at this practice. If you’d rather not leave this task to a rough estimation, then you may want to invest in a small travel scale.
Alternately, when your bags are weighed for your outbound flight, ask the person checking you in for the weight of each bag. The difference between the per bag limit and the given weights will be roughly how much beer, in weight, that you can pack on your return trip.
If you take beer with you as gift on your trip as suggested in The Art of Visiting Breweries, then be sure to take this capacity into account when calculating your return trip payload.
Unfortunately, the total weight of a vessel and the beer within isn’t listed on bottles and cans. I have done some weighing of some of the containers in my cellar, and have created the following chart of the approximate weights of full beer containers to help with your adventures in beer transportation.
Believe it or not, there are custom packages made specifically for transporting glass bottles. These include bags with absorbent lining to contain liquid in the event of breakage, specially designed checked luggage and self inflating bottle pouches. I don’t think that the expense of such specialty items is necessary, but those self inflating pouches do look pretty cool.
I’ve found that wrapping a bottle in bubble wrap or rolling it within clothing (one pair of jeans/slacks or two shirts per bottle) and securing them with rubber bands can provide adequate protection for transportation.
Once all of the “beer bundles” have been made, it is time to pack your suitcase. Lay down a base layer of clothing along the bottom and sides, arrange the beer bundles next and use any remaining clothing as padding. Packing tightly, and positioning beer near the bag’s wheels can help prevent excessive movement within the bag while it is in transit.
If you are concerned about flip top (AKA: Grolsch-style) bottles popping open, then a bit of duct tape or a few rubber bands around the wire enclosure can help put your mind at ease.
Considering Size and Material
Aluminium cans are the best travelers as they are strong, lightweight and shield the beer from light. However, glass bottles are far more common with smaller breweries, so it is necessary to accommodate their added weight and fragility.
I’ve found that 22oz and 750ml bottles provide a good balance between durability, product volume and total weight. 12 ounce bottles may be more common, but they require transporting more glass per ounce of beer than with larger bottles. While the economy of larger bottle sizes is apparent, there is a point where I get nervous trusting a large amount of beer to a single glass vessel. This tipping point is the 64 ounce growler.
Breweries and brewpubs can fill growlers on request with any beer on tap. In doing so, they give beers that are usually only locally available the chance to travel. The only problem is that growlers are too big to travel safely by air. Packing 64 ounces of beer and glass in a single container makes me nervous for my bag and its contents.
While I have successfully transported a growler using a large amount of bubble wrap, I wouldn’t recommend attempting this unless the beer is really special. If attempting to transport a growler, you would be wise to use more padding than you think is needed.
A growing number of breweries, including Night Shift Brewing and the Pensacola Bay Brewery, are offering 32 ounce half growlers. I have transported these successfully, and I hope that more breweries join in offering these reasonably sized filled-on-demand vessels.
Travel is rewarding, but traveling with beer comes with its own special rewards. I hope that you find the above techniques useful and that you are inspired to bring home a special bottle of beer or two the next time you travel.
If you already travel with beer, are there any techniques that you have found to be useful? Let me know in the comments section below.
Graham Scott Holt is a technical training specialist living near Boston. He has traveled the world (for work) and brought back interesting beers. When he’s not working or writing about beer, Graham enjoys gardening, making candy at Holt’s Confectionery and doing a terrible job at learning to play the ukulele.
All photos by Nicole Holt