When traveling cross country or even internationally, drinks lovers are bound to come across unique liquors, wines, and beers that would make worthy additions to their collections. But how does one make sure that these liquid souvenirs travel back home with them in one piece?
When traveling via plane, the size of one’s purchase is a vital consideration; if it surpasses TSA’s 3.4 ounce or less requirements, it has to go into checked luggage, making it vulnerable to getting smashed or sloshed around in transit.
VinePair reached out to those in both the beverage and aviation industries for their advice on how to successfully pack alcohol for traveling. Reflecting on both their past mishaps and proven methods, here they share their tips and tricks for properly packing alcohol in a suitcase.
Don't Miss A DropGet the latest in beer, wine, and cocktail culture sent straight to your inbox.
Don’t carry an already opened bottle
While it might be tempting to bring home the remainder of a bottle you’ve already consumed, the pros warn against doing so. Even when a bottle has been resealed, it’s not a sure thing that it’s secured. “Even though its top has been closed up, once you’ve broken the seal, the bottle’s top has the potential to come open,” says Laura Johnson, founder of the San Diego-based You & Yours Distilling Co.
Watch your case weight
Teresa Psuty, co-owner and brewmaster at Crooked Lane Brewing Company in Auburn, Calif., often brings some of her beers in her bag to give as gifts to family and friends and to bring to industry events. She says her biggest mistake was having gone over weight limits with her luggage — a costly error indeed. She recalls that the mistake had her paying close to $75. “If I plan to travel back with some beer, I put a small hanging scale in my luggage, and target at least a pound or two underweight,” she says.
In addition, Mika Bulmash, founder and CEO of Wine for the World in New York, says to make sure that the suitcase’s contents are full enough so that the bottle doesn’t hit the side of your suitcase; it may break due to the impact.
Bring along the essentials
A few years ago, Mike Potter, founder and CEO of Black Brew Culture in Durham, N.C., learned the hard way to pack his booze properly. After some bottles of rum from his trip to Jamaica were shattered, “I had to get called in by customs to open it and identify it was broken,” says Potter. “Ever since then, I’ve taken some bubble wrap with me for purchases wherever I am at, and I especially make sure each individual can or bottle is single-ply wrapped.”
Psuty suggests packing some gallon-sized plastic bags plus a trash bag to avoid broken bottles. “A good friend of mine who leads beer tours in Europe brings a suitcase within a suitcase, a package of plastic bags, and a bunch of socks. These socks become beer packaging on the return trip,” says Psuty. “Alternatively, wrap all the bottles and cans separately in clothing items like socks and t-shirts, and then pack everything into a garbage bag within your suitcase.”
Johnson uses painter’s tape as packing material for securing bottles; she wraps a generous amount of tape around the bottle from top to bottom. “It has a great tight seal,” she says. “You can take it off [the bottle] without ruining the label.”
Use air mailers
If you’re planning on heading to a winery or a distillery on your trip, Christian Stromberg, owner of Saxtons River Distillery in Brattleboro, Vt., advises bringing along air mailers. Their packaging has double-sided tape and a hinge top that can hold a bottle tightly. “This protects the bottle’s top and bottom, so that the cork cannot get hit,” Stromberg says. “Somehow, some way, your bag will end up at the bottom of your suitcase, and it will protect it from shattering the neck of the bottle.”
Be careful when using clothing
Bulmash recommends putting a bottle in a plastic bag and then using a piece of clothing such as jeans or a sweater to wrap it like a Tootsie Roll. “Start it at one end and continue to roll until it’s a hot dog,” she says. “Put that into your suitcase, surrounded with additional clothes to protect all four sides of it, as well as the top and the bottom. You want to make sure that it’s not touching anything else that’s hard.”
But if clothing is your only on-hand packing option, use caution. Stromberg advises putting a bottle in sleeves or pant legs, where these articles of clothing act like tubes. “And then you’re folding it over and it can’t slide out.” Avoid wrapping that looks like you’re swaddling the bottle because, according to Stromberg, “if it has a way to slip out, [it’ll] slip out. They just do. They’re bouncing, they’re vibrating and then it’s on the outer edge.”
After having a tequila bottle loosely wrapped in clothing break in his suitcase, Stromberg began using an inflatable bottle protector kit to pack bottles. The kit comes with a bag with inflatable columns and a hand pump to puff it up with air. “They’re highly effective,” he says.
Go with some padding
While Potter says that beer cans rarely explode if padded correctly — adding that glass bottles have more potential to get broken — his trick to packing cans is to add some padding in between them. “You don’t want to put too many cans into a suitcase. Put a layer of padding down first and then pack a lane of beer and then put another layer of padding on top,” he says.
Rethink what to drink
Consider what could happen to the quality of your beer if it warms up while traveling. “Hazy IPAs, and hoppy beers in general, are very sensitive to temperature rise, and they will not be as good if they suffer from being warmed up,” Psuty says. “Smoothie sours, full of unfermented sugar, are prone to exploding if exposed to warm temperatures. Stouts, barrel-aged beers and bottle-conditioned sours are great examples of beers that can tolerate some temperature rise without ill effects.”
Watch your duty-free purchases
Airport duty-free can make for a good last-minute liquor buy, but take caution when doing so. According to TSA lead transportation security officer Shivam Chopra, a duty-free alcohol purchase must be bought within 48 hours or less of your departure time in order to go through security screening as a carry-on. This is based on the date and time on the receipt, which must remain adhered to the sealed bag.
If your purchase exceeds that time period, then the bottle must be packed in your checked luggage. “It has to be screened through a certain way so we can see through the bottle,” says Chopra. ”If it is extended beyond that [date], then we’re not going to screen that item, so you’ll have to check that item in or discard it.”
TSA spokesperson Lori Dankers explains that this screening process is meant to keep travelers safe; bottle liquid scanners differentiate between flammable and benign liquids. “Keep in mind the reason we’re doing that is to make sure that it hasn’t been tampered with, and could potentially have explosives, or an explosive component in it,” she says.
Your Bottle Ended Up Breaking. Now What?
Despite our best efforts, sometimes alcohol bottles can still break while on the move. This can result in stains and odors on suitcases. But according to the experts, there are some easy ways to remove them.
“For spot-treating colored stains like red wine on a fabric suitcase, apply a few drops of Dawn Platinum dish soap directly to the stain and use your fingers to rub it in,” says Morgan Brashear, home care senior scientist at Procter & Gamble. “Give it a few minutes to soak in, then add a little water and scrub gently with your fingers or a clean cloth until the stain and suds are gone.”
If the stain is on the luggage itself, you have some options for cleaning it, too. If spills on fabric luggage are more smelly than seen, Brashear recommends trying Febreze Fabric Refresher to eliminate the odors at the source.
Drink spills can also leave behind dried, sticky stains on hard plastic suitcases. For these messes, “Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is a one-step solution for removing the gunk and other dirt and grime,” says Brashear. “If your luggage has a high shine finish, always test in a small, inconspicuous area first, and apply light pressure to keep the finish intact.”
Learn if there’s a distributor
Traveling with booze is always risky. However, if you don’t want to face the possibility of a broken bottle or an exploding can, there might be another way to get your newfound favorite liquid back home.
If you’re at a winery overseas, Bulmash suggests asking the staff if their wines are already imported in the U.S. where you live — as U.S. laws relating to wine often don’t permit international wineries to ship directly to consumers. With spirits, Stromberg says to check directly with the distillery to see if and where it ships.
“Don’t be surprised if the cost is different, because there are taxes and many hands that products [have] to go through in order to get into the hands of the consumer,” Bulmash says. “But it’s a lot easier and more reliable to get products available to you if [they’re] already in your city or state. Plus, you’re supporting your local economy.”