Shipping Beer By: Tom Ayers

It’s that time of year when the homebrew competitions are in full swing.  I participate in local competitions quite often both by entering beers in them and occasionally judging.  The good thing about judging is you can typically carry your entries the day of the competition.  If you are entering local competitions you can also typically drop them off at a local drop point.  However, I also enter competitions across the country, ship samples to friends, and participate in swaps.  This of course requires shipping the beers.

The first thing to note when you are shipping beer is that it is illegal to ship alcohol via the United States Postal Service so don’t do it.  Although I’ve read that they are considering changing this policy as of now it is forbidden.  It is not illegal to ship alcohol via FedEx and UPS but it is frowned upon.  If they are aware that you are shipping alcohol they will refuse the package up front or if discovered in route they may confiscate or return it to you.  Never the less, if you pack it properly it shouldn’t be a problem.  The key is to ensure it won’t break and if they do break/leak it will be contained within the package.

There are lot of ways to ship beer but I’ll walk you through my process which I think is pretty simple and easy.  You will need the following items:

1.  Bubble wrap - available at any home improvement store.  I prefer perforated sheets

2.  Six pack holder

3.  Newspaper

4.  A large sturdy cardboard box

5.  Trash bag

6.  Packing tape.

Before you start packing make sure your competition bottle labels are on the bottle if you are shipping to a competition.  Use a rubber band to do so, not tape.  If you are sending a check for entry fees, place it in a ziplock bag.  

Take a single sheet of bubble wrap off of you roll and lay the bottle on the sheet sideways.  Roll the bottle up in the sheet tightly and use two pieces of tape (one at the top and one at the bottom) to hold the sheet closed.  Make sure the bubble wrap, wraps under the bottle.  This bottle should now be placed into the six pack holder.  If done correctly the carrier will hold six bottles wrapped in bubble wrap.  They will fit very tightly which is exactly what you want.  If the glass doesn’t bang against each other the bottles are highly unlikely to break.  You bubble wrap should cover the bottom of the bottle all the way to the top.  

The next step is to place the carrier inside a trash bag (double bag if you’d like).  Tape the trash bag shut.  the purpose of this is if the bottles do break the plastic bag should contain any liquid.  Line the bottom of the box with a sheet of bubble wrap or crumpled newspaper and place the bag inside.  Shove newspaper down the sides of the box until the beers are secured tightly and will not move within the box.  Add another layer of newspaper on top and tape the box shut.  

To ensure that the beer is packaged properly, shake the box.  If you do not hear any movement then it is packaged properly.  If you hear the carrier moving around reopen the box and get more newspaper around it.

Another great source for shipping materials is when you buy product for places like Love2brew.  These packaging materials can be saved and reused for shipping beer.  I like this because it saves me a few bucks on bubble wrap and keep all of that junk out of the landfills.      

Just a couple of don’ts.  Do not use packing peanuts.  Cellar masters hate this because they make a mess.  If do want to use them put them in a plastic bag and tape it shut or use a ziplock bag.  This will help to contain the peanuts when the box is opened.  Don’t use too much tape, only 1-2 pieces per bottle is necessary.  This will make it difficult to unpack the beers when they arrive at the location.  Be sure to follow the directions for the competition closely.  Typically you will need to blackout your caps or use an unmarked caps.  On my bottles I write on the caps what beer it is, you will need to cover these with a black marker or sticker before shipping.  Also do not use bottles with raised letters (like Sam Adams).  Some competitions will allow these others will not.  I find it best not to use them.  Lastly, clean the labels off properly.  While it shouldn’t affect the judges scoring I believe that presenting the beer in the best light possible will take any potential negative factors out of the equation.  

One final note on competitions; they are great ways to get feedback on your beer.  Even if you are not entering to win.  Just send your beer in and you will get feedback from at least two judges sometimes more.  The larger the competition the more likely you are to get more feedback from high quality judges.  If something is wrong with your beer but you don't know what it is still acceptable to send it in.  Your entry fee entitles you to good solid feedback from the judges and will help you grow as a brewer.  And who knows you may win a medal or two.  So take some of that beer you have and send it into a competition.  Get some great feedback, win some awards, or just have fun.  Let me know how you do!  Until then drink up and brew on.

Oh, and if you need any help interpreting those score sheets send me a note and I’m happy to help.  Of course you could just send me beer too;)