Beer is not a topic that I've given a lot of thought to until recently. For 30 years I avoided beer, but ever since I went to the Tour at the Harpoon Brewery I've changed my tune. Now I take most opportunities to try a new beer and to find out more about what I like and what I don't like about one of the world's oldest and most popular alcoholic beverages.
Since beer is inherently a regional product with the local water affecting its ultimate taste, making the decision to try local beer while you travel is easy. The fact that the taste of beer is so linked to the location in which it was produced also makes bringing home beer while traveling attractive. With beer from a far off location stashed away safely in your fridge, you can easily relive the moments that surrounded your first sips of that brew.
I have to say that it is quite a special feeling being able to offer a guest to my home a beer that they have likely never seen before. So you like IPAs eh, well let's see…how about we open this Belgian IPA from Oklahoma that was a collaboration between two breweries and only made for one year? Yeah, it's that cool.
As with everything worth doing, research is key. Trying out different beers prior to making your selections for bringing home is nearly always a good idea as doing so can help you avoid lugging home a beer that you really don't care for. You could keep to a style that you know you like, but the chances are that you may find something amazing in the area that is well out of your comfort zone.
Take me for example. As a rule I don't like lagers, but I find myself in Waterloo, Ontario where most of the local breweries specialize in lagers. Guess what I'll be drinking on this trip? That's right, lagers. I don't know that I'll be converted to a lager lover, but I have a hard time believing that they aren't doing something right with lagers here.
Even if you don't like beer, you can still bring some back for your beer loving friends. Does your brother like beer? Going on vacation in September? Christmas present solved. Just bring some decent beer back from your vacation, and he'll love you forever provided that you store the beer in a suitably cool place before giving it to him (lower than 70F).
If you don't like beer, then how are you supposed to find a good one amongst the sea of choices that are available? Believe it or not, talking is a good standby. Most decent beer stores will generally be staffed by people that enjoy beer. Talk to them and ask them what is good and local.
If you aren't one to strike up random conversations with people, then try visiting www.beeradvocate.com. There you will find a section called beerfly, just type in the name of the city in which you are visiting and you'll get a list of local breweries and places to drink beer. Click on one of the breweries to get a list of all their beers that they have ever made. I look for breweries with averages in the B to A range. If I can track down a few B+ beers in a style that I enjoy on a trip then I call it a win.
When it comes to actually buying beer, I try to stick to larger sized single bottles. Generally you'll find these in 22oz sizes (bombers), but you'll find some breweries that use 750ml wine bottles as well. Either of these are my preferred vessel for transporting beer in my suitcase as they offer a good volume to weight to strength balance.
There are other container options available such as cans and growlers, but I have yet to travel with either of these containers. I'll try transporting cans soon, but I worry that they will not hold up well to the punishment that baggage handlers can dish out. It should be known that I'll be double bagging all cans in freezer bags prior to packing them.
OK, so you've got our beer, now what? Well, you need to pack it up in your suitcase and hope that it makes it home intact. In order to stack the odds in my favor, I've employed several methods of packing including using bubble wrap secured with saran wrap (I wouldn't use the saran wrap again), but there is a much simpler option available. Roll a bottle up in an article of clothing, such as a pair of jeans or a sweater, and secure it with a rubber band.
This sort of packaging is easily undone and redone in event that baggage inspectors need to look at your haul. Use your remaining clothing (if any) to create a base layer and then pack your beer. If you can keep your precious cargo in the center of your luggage then the odds that you'll have a break will be reduced.
If you pack well and your bottles don't have much room to shift around then you most likely won't have a problem. I've transported 17 bottles from as far away as Germany and I have yet to have an issue. I'm not pulling back on my packing mind you, but I haven't had any leakers yet.
Since I've started traveling with beer, I've more consistently hit the maximum limit of 50 lbs on my checked bag. It's never fun to find out that you are just a little bit over the limit at the check in counter, so you should know your limit and know how much weight you have to work with. I need to track down a decent portable scale (any suggestions?), but until then I'm using an alternate method.
When I traveled this morning, my bag weighed 40 pounds. The average bomber weighs 2.5 pounds so I can bring 4 bombers back with me on this trip. Not quite as good as having my own scale, but it will do for now.
That's really all there is to it. The next time that you travel, I encourage you to seek out local beer, bring it back home and share it with your friends.
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