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How to smuggle beer back from foreign lands

Tips for getting your liquid souvenirs home safe.
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CATEGORIES: Travel  

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When I left for Belgium and the Netherlands last Christmas, my suitcase weighed 22 pounds. When I returned, it tipped the baggage check scales at 49. Wrapped inside a week’s dirty clothes were bottles of exotic beers mostly unattainable in America. When I tell friends I travel on airlines with alcohol they are often shocked. “Is that legal?!” they wonder. It certainly is, but pesky legalities shouldn’t be your biggest concern: It’s getting those prized gems home.

You’re going to want to underpack. Do you really need your 10 best brewery t-shirts?  Cut that down to the most arcane five, and perhaps only two bottles of beard creme. You need your bag to be light and spacious. I try to never leave with more than three-quarters of my suitcase filled and its weight under 25 pounds as most commercial airlines have a 50-pound limit before charging additional fees.

Bottles weigh as much as 3.5 pounds for a heavily punted, corked-and-caged 750mL to as little as 2 pounds for your standard 12-ouncer. (I try to avoid traveling with flimsy cans, if possible.) Thus, if you’ve packed shrewdly, you’ll have afforded yourself room for about seven to 10 bottles per bag, so only chase the truly elite stuff.

For that European trip, I strictly focused on Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen lambics and oddball De Molen one-offs. Nothing worse than filling your bag with heavy bottles and laboring 2,000 miles home only to find your corner grocery had that Girardin Gueuze all along.

My wife’s a wuss and never lets me pack any of my beer in her bag, dead certain this will be the trip where it explodes and ruins her lady-wear. But I’m still batting 1.000 and don’t exactly fear my “haute couture” getting ruined should the unthinkable finally occur. Bottles are fairly resilient, and a few cushioning garments are enough to prevent cavalier baggage tossers from screwing up your overseas bounty. Because let’s be honest: Getting great beer back to America was kinda the reason for your trip in the first place.

HOW TO GET BEERS HOME
1.  Wrap bottles in dirty undies.
2. Carry a bag scale to ensure you meet requirements.
3. Wheel your heavy luggage and skip the duffel.
4. Check it under the plane. No carry-ons.
5. Claim it with U.S. Customs. Don’t worry, it’s legal.
6. Drink. You’ve been traveling all day, time to enjoy your booty.

 

Author
Aaron Goldfarb lives in New York City and is the author of “The Guide for a Single Man” and “The Guide for a Single Woman.”

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16 Comments

  • Chris says:

    Only thing I will add is bring a box of Ziplock Quart bags and put each bottle in one first.

    • Jon Tant says:

      I allways carry a roll of cling film/wrap.Wrap your bottle’s both length ways and width ways, then wrap in your clothes for padding, then re-wrap in cling film/wrap.

      So far its worked on every trip i have done.

    • Sean says:

      Just brought some goodies back from Colorado Springs to Boston. Each bottle was in a sock and a ziplock quart back. I lost one Ivan the Terrible out of a case worth of bottles. With the bag, nothing else in the suitcase was ruined.

  • SteveG says:

    A couple of more rules to keep your beer safe:
    1. Don’t let your bottles touch – Glass on glass will break
    2. Tighten down the straps so nothing moves
    3. Pray that the baggage inspectors don’t look through your bag – a friend had that happen on a trip and the inspectors loosened the straps, bottles touched and he had beer soaked luggage circling the luggage carousel.

  • Ed Mullis says:

    I always travel with Zip Lock bags. They are good for putting the bottles in first, in case of leakage. Saved me one time! I also collect the protective covers from larger toner cartridges. They are inflated plastic bladders that hold bottles well. Put my “most precious” cargo in them. I carry old under ware and socks and a few old shirts. Use pants, shoes, better clothes to wrap bottles. Leave old stuff in the trash. Also take sample size toiletries and leave them. Dump all you can replace easily enough and bring an extra bottle of beer!!!

  • Niki Ganong says:

    Dude, you are forgetting the most important step — wrap every bottle in a plastic bag. This is especially necessary on international flights with widely varying pressure. Special sealed bottle bags are available for purchase, but I wrap mine in old newspaper bags (tie the top) before wrapping them in dirty clothes. I’ve been traveling for years I’ve had only one causality (but it was in a bag so nothing else got wet).

  • Scott says:

    Word of caution – I’ve done this many times but ran into trouble with some very niche home brew from Holland. During the transatlantic flight home the caps popped off two of the bottles and the mess was worst than my toddler could’ve done with a bag of chocolate kisses. I blame poor bottling/capping, but to be safe I now ziploc first, then wrap in dirty laundry…

  • Peter Donaghy says:

    I always carry up to 18 twenty two oz. bottles in my two cases from the US to Aust in checked baggage. Wrap them in towels or t-shirts. Declare them with customs and never pay import duty.

  • Mark says:

    Also, if the bottles are crown corked, you can put a few turns of electrical tape around the edges to seal it down, just in case it pops off in your bag.

  • Matt says:

    If you have access to bubble wrap to protect your beers, that is a better option than clothes. Use your clothes instead to act as the exterior lining. The pressure of the flight will not break the beers, it will ultimately be them banging against each other.

    When packing your suitcase, first, make sure you have a solid bottom layer of clothes or better yet, a hotel towel, to lay your beers on.

    Lay them side by side in a very tight pattern so you are optimizing space usage and there is no room for them to move around.

    Make sure there is a a layer of clothing, shoes or other padding lining the entire perimeter of the bag.

    If you complete a first layer of bottles, put another layer of clothing or towels on top of that layer, and create a similar layer of bottles as the first one. Continue until you have filled your bag or run out of bottles.

    Like packing a normal box to be shipped, I like to make sure it is really tight inside so that the bottles do not have the opportunity to move around during flight. So keeping in mind your weight limit, fill the bag up with and make sure you have adequate padding in all void areas.

    Your bag will usually also have nylon straps with plastic clips attached to the inside of the bag. Once you are finished filling your suitcase, you can lay a towel around the entire bundle of bottles and clothing, pushing the ends of the towel down into the case and under the bundle, making a sort of cocoon for the bundle. Use those nylon straps to lock down the bundle and make sure to pull on them tight so the bundle is rendered basically immobile.

    Your final step is to ask for “FRAGILE” stickers from the gate agent. They will give you as many as you like. Place them all over the bag, especially near the handles, where the baggage handlers will be grabbing the bag. No stickers and they will think that bag is like any other and toss it all over. I easily bring 15-20 , 12 oz bottles this way.

  • John says:

    Just a general travel trip. I have traveled to over 20 countries and around the US. If you are only going on a short trip (2 weeks or less), just bring old clothes and a light jacket. Say bon voyage to that shirt with the indie band you liked in college. Bring socks and underwear that are held together by a thread. At the end of the day, just toss them. They stink anyway, and you won’t need to haul a suitcase full of dirty clothes around the world.

    Make sure to have some sturdy jeans and jackets to wrap your bottles in and maybe some wool socks and beanies if you are headed somewhere cold. I got 8 bottles of Absinthe back from France along with a stash of beer.

    Why the light jacket? So that you don’t look like a tool for wearing that distracting shirt with a dancing burrito in all your pictures.

  • […] Curated from How to smuggle beer back from foreign lands | DRAFT Magazine […]

  • Benjamin says:

    I was excited when the magazine cover teased “How To Smuggle Beer Like A Pro,” but was disappointed when I found this is much more of an article for the hobbyist, not how to smuggle beer like a professional beer smuggler. At least the headline online isn’t misleading….

  • Luke says:

    Sorry to say I agree with Benjamin.

    #1 for anyone that travels or ships beer would be bags.
    Also wouldn’t hurt to seal the top of the bottles with some electrical tape.
    If you are going to claim make sure you have receipts to pay the duties if they decide to charge you.

    here is the info from TSA

    Carrying Alcohol in Your Checked Baggage

    Alcoholic Beverages
    Please note, you can’t take alcoholic beverages with more than 70% alcohol content (140 proof), including 95% grain alcohol and 150 proof rum, in your checked luggage.

    You may take up to five liters of alcohol with alcohol content between 24% and 70% per person as checked luggage if it’s packaged in a sealable bottle or flask.

    Alcoholic beverages with less than 24% alcohol content are not subject to hazardous materials regulations.

  • John says:

    If traveling with an extra pair of shoes (such as a business trip with – probably uncomfortable – dress shoes) slip the most precious bottles into shoes for a little added protection. I have large feet, so I have been able to transport bottles of wine and rum in this fashion, never losing a bottle. Place the shoes evenly spaced with plenty of packing between.

  • Miles says:

    Pretty generic info. I travel a lot over the world and always bring beer back. I live in Japan, but when I go back to the states here is what I usually bring back,
    12x750ml bottles
    48 cans
    Bottles – use a cardboard wine case. Cover the base and top with old clothes (plastic bags if you want). Then tape the box tightly and put it in a suitcase.
    Cans – use a cab case cardboard box, bottom and to with clothes, and our ask cans in a plastic bag. Then tape up the box.

    I carry two suitcases, a smaller one and a bigger one. Pack enough old clothes to fit in the small suitcase. Put small suitcase in big suitcase.

    Mark both as fragile, bring receipts, and don’t stress. I have lost one can in there years.

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