We've been buying, packing, and flying with beer for years, so we thought we'd pull together our experience and tips into a single article. Call it a public service, and our co-founder Will is your public servant. I recently followed him around as he packed for an upcoming trip. His tips are below.
First of all: why bring beer home?
Unlike a lot of products these days, beer is regional. Some of this is because of anachronistic laws (see the three tier system). But it's also necessitated by taste and quality: as we've written elsewhere, beer is best fresh, and that means it's best to drink beer as close to it's birthplace as possible.
So you order Surly Furious at every bar in Minneapolis. You order an Other Half at every restaurant you visit in New York City. Same with Ocelot in DC, Wicked Weed in North Carolina, Toppling Goliath in East Iowa, and Russian River in northern California.
Simply put: when traveling, you drink local beer. If you're reading this, you're probably already doing that, so cheers to you.
But sometimes drinking the beer while you're there just isn't enough. Maybe you just couldn't satisfy your thirst and you want to bring some back to your home fridge. Other times a buddy asked you to grab something, or else somebody's birthday is coming up, and what's better than an awesome, fresh “from-away” IPA? (Answer: not a damn thing.)
In all these situations, you've gotta buy beer to bring home. And that means you've gotta pack it, too, which is never an easy task. That's especially true when an airplane ride is in store.
Step 1: Pre Trip Research
Whoa, before you get too far: Can't I just ship myself the beer?
You could, but you shouldn't. It's almost always easier and cheaper to check a bag filled with beer than it is to find a shipping company and mail yourself a package of beer. There are also some pretty gray areas legally speaking, not to mention the risk of your beers shattering/leaking when UPS jettisons your package at your entryway with a t-shirt cannon.
More than anything else, though: do you actually want to spend a single moment of your vacation inside a post office? My dad's a retired postal worker, and even I shudder at that prospect.
Know where you stand: Check your airline's rates
Checked Bag Fees. Be sure to check how much your airline charges to check a bag. The standard rate is pretty reasonable (most domestic airlines range from $25 to $35), but there can definitely be nickel-and-diming outliers (we've all heard horror stories about Spirit Airlines in the US or Ryan Air in Europe).
Also know that this is the price for your first bag. Your second bag is often much more expensive, so if you've got visions of packing up pallets of beer, be prepared to pay for it.
Maximum Weight. Also check the maximum weight your airline allows for a checked bag. For most airlines it's 50 lbs, but some (mostly international) airlines cap limits at 20kg, or about 44 lbs. Going over the maximum weight can drastically increase the checked baggage cost (sometimes by up to $100).
Unless you're a Robber Baron, that fine is steep enough to make you kneel down and open your bags at the kiosk to try and re-distribute the weight. You might have to put on a few extra layers, and you also might have to run to the pre-security bathroom to slam a beer in a stall that reeks of travel. None of that is fun. But Will's got a simple solution to this problem—we'll dive in more below.
Will hadn't upgraded his luggage for awhile, but he recently treated himself to a new bag. At only 7 lbs, it's a full 5 lbs lighter than his old one, meaning he can safely pack 3-4 more beers without going over the typical weight limit. That's 3-4 more beers that wind up in his Brooklyn fridge or at the office. And since at least one of those will be earmarked for me, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Will for upgrading.
(Pro tip: on your outbound journey, put a soft, foldable duffel bag in the bottom of your hard shell carry-on. For your return flight, put your beer in the hardshell and check it. Put your clothing and other items in the soft duffel bag and carry it on. This is a big time space maximizer.)
Step Two: Packing
All your preparation is important, of course, but the real meat and potatoes of this conversation is protecting your beer for its journey in the cargo hold. The last thing you want is to have a bottle break or a can rupture: you'll not only lose the beer, but you'll also be guaranteed a stinky bag, a full load of laundry, and a possible trip to the dry cleaners.
But worrying too much about this is rather alarmist, especially if you're willing to take even the most basic precautions. Use the four steps below to get your packing done right.
1. Wrap each beer in a plastic bag. You never know—things happen. Wrapping the beers individually means that if one of your beers ruptures, the fallout will be mostly limited to that one bag, rather than your entire suitcase and all its contents. Ziploc bags work great, but if you don't want to buy anything, any plastic bag works just fine.
2. Individually pad each beer. After you wrap each beer in a plastic bag, you've gotta do your best to make sure it's not necessary. Will's a pro, so he uses several two-bottle totes from Built New York, but you can also use clothes. Sweaters and pants are best, since they're a little bigger and thicker, but you can also use a series of smaller or thinner clothing. I've found a couple t-shirts per beer work just as well.
Will puts a Christmas Bomb in his two-bottle tote and wraps a Big Bad Baptist inside a long-sleeve shirt.
3. No jostling. Your mission here is two-fold:
First, no two beers should touch. This is especially true with bottles, since glass-on-glass is a recipe for a problem. Hint: if you gently knock two padded beers together and they make a dangerous-sounding noise, they either need more padding, or they shouldn't be near one another.
No two beers should be touching in your suitcase. This increases the rupture risk.
Second, make sure your beers have no opportunity to jostle. Securing them tightly reduces risk.
Tightly pack your suitcase so that your beers don't jostle.
4. Weigh your bag.
A little while back Will bought a tiny portable scale from Amazon for $8. Before he even heads to the airport he weighs his bags from the comfort of his hotel room/AirBnb. If necessary, he can evenly distribute the weight between bags or polish off that limit-breaking beer or two. All while he's watching Out for Justice or another Steven Seagal classic.
Will weighs his bag to make sure he wasn't getting close to 50 pounds. After seeing the "30," he ran out and bought a few more beers.
Which beers should I take home?
These are great beers, no doubt, but there are tons of equally good beers that you've never heard of before. In our view, those are the beers you want to seek out and bring home.
The best way to learn about them? Ask the people who know: your bartender or the person stocking at beer stores. They've not only got a local editorial perspective; they've also got their fingers on the distribution pulse. They'll know what's fresh, they'll know what's rare, and they might even know the brewers themselves.
And before you make the final purchase: make sure you can't get the beer at home. There's absolutely no point wasting space on beers you can just as easily get at the local beer store. Check BeerMenus to make sure it's not available around the corner from your front door.
We can't make any guarantees, of course. But if you follow the steps above, you should be good to go.
Oh and be sure to share this article with your friends. The more beer they bring home, the more beer you can enjoy! Just make sure that when it's your turn, you share the love.
About The Author
Dylan runs Marketing and Messaging at BeerMenus. He was born in Minnesota, got a super helpful degree in English from the University of Notre Dame, then traveled the world (and Wisconsin) in search of good beer, finally winding up in New York, a city with which he's got an ambivalent relationship.