How to protect your precious cargo
It’s a feeling we’ve all experienced. You’re out of town and you encounter a new-to-you beer that makes you say “wow.” Whatever delight it gives you is then immediately drowned out by the realization that it isn’t for sale at your local store, and you may never drink it again unless you ship some home.
For me, this sensation was brought about by a recent trip to my old stomping grounds, Chicago. A few weeks ago, I was visiting friends and we met up at the tap room at Half Acre, which has has steadily risen to prominence in the Midwest’s microbrew scene over the past decade. After sampling their new and limited production Plane Wave IPA and Pennon wild ale I was determined to get both back to Brooklyn with me. The only question was how do you ship beer?
The easiest method would have been to ship the beers back in checked luggage. Sadly, I only packed a small carry-on bag for my weekend trip, and this was not an option. While putting alcohol in your checked bags can make you feel like you’re one step away from ducking Elliot Ness and his posse of G-men, it’s totally legal and probably the best way to travel with libations. The TSA even has a page dedicated to traveling with booze on their website. Their guidelines are straightforward: If you know you’re going somewhere that you’ll want to bring beer back from, the best approach is to pack an empty duffel bag and bubble wrap. Then, on the flight back, carefully wrap the drinks in bubble wrap and place it in the duffel before checking it at the airport.
Unfortunately, I lacked the foresight to pack an extra duffel and thus had to look into shipping options. That’s when things got a little murkier—and extralegal!
No matter what you're doing and what service you use to ship, remember: Bubble wrap is your best friend. Tightly wrap each individual bottle and six-pack before you get to your shipping store. As a guideline, you will want approximately two inches of bubble wrap encasing the beer. You’ll also need a sturdy, corrugated, shipping box and a garbage bag.
Do not use one of those lightweight cardboard box people use to move. Corrugated is much more durable and by far the better choice. Also, in the remote but possible case of a bottle breaking, you should make sure that you place a towel or old T-shirt or two in the bottom of the box.
Take your sturdy, corrugated cardboard box and use a garbage bag to line the inside. Tightly pack the bubble-wrapped beers and cans into the box. If there’s empty space or gaps, be sure fill with packing peanuts or old newspapers or cloths. You may even want to add an additional layer of bubble wrap to the top of the box’s contents for an additional layer of protection.
With your tightly bubble-wrapped hooch packed in the box, head to FedEx or UPS and ask for some packing peanuts. Note: It’s illegal to ship alcohol via the US Postal Service. Pack the box to the brim with the peanuts. Don’t skimp. Go nuts, and fill it all the way to the top. Next, choose ground as your shipping method. Ground is the safest way to ship beer or anything else that is carbonated or under pressure because cargo holds in planes aren’t necessarily depressurized and the altitude can cause bottle caps to pop off.
Lastly, if a shipping clerk asks what you are shipping, don’t say beer. It’s a silly but necessary point to address. FedEx and UPS are not really concerned about what you are shipping, but if someone does ask what is being shipped, say that it’s anything but beer. Yeast samples, antique milk bottles, anything really. That being said, it is important to know that there are consequences if you are caught and that shipping alcohol is at your own risk. Typically, you’ll get a written warning on an initial violation. Subsequent violations could lead to fines and or, gulp, jail time, so be mindful and be smart.
Of course, the kicker to this tutorial is that when I was in Chicago and shipping these beers I unknowingly told the clerk that I was shipping beer. With a wink and a nod the clerk explained that beer wasn’t allowed to be shipped by the company. He then proceeded to add extra bubble wrap and packing peanuts, ring me up, and ship the package. Your mileage may vary, but it struck me that this was not a concern of the shipping company. In any case, pack everything securely with ample bubble wrap and a garbage bag before you get to the shipping locale. And if anyone asks, explain that you are shipping yeast samples.