How to Pack and Ship Beer

I’ve gotten a lot of questions over the years about how to ship beer. The act of shipping beer is a simple thing. The packing of the bottles and cans is the key. And you want your precious homebrew to make it to the competition safely, or that trade you carefully set up with another beer lover to go flawlessly.

I use to have a hastily put together document that I’d forward to people with some tips and ideas, but that rarely seemed to do the job. Peter, over at Simply Beer, came up with the great blog post How Do You Ship Homebrew?, and I would forward that, but it still resulted in some lingering questions. I have no problem fielding questions (it’s good to hear from people out in cyberspace), but I wanted to come up with a more definitive document.

So, it the naïve hope of making this as easy as possible, I decided to do a quick post with some step by step pictures to try to make shipping beer simple.

The Keys to Packing and Shipping Beer

Do not ship through the United States Postal Service (USPS) – It is illegal to ship beer through the USPS. Always use FedEx or UPS. If something goes wrong with a FedEx or UPS shipment, it is a sad story. If something happens to a USPS shipment, you could be facing a legal situation.

Prevent Breakage, Then Prevent Leakage – The key to successfully shipping beer is to get them to their final destination unbroken. That means packing them well and stuffing the box with lots of padding so the beers won’t shift around in the box. This is your first line of defense. But sometimes things go wrong, despite your best efforts, and a bottle might break. When that happens, you want to keep the spill contained and to stop it from leaking through the box. When a box starts to leak, it gets pulled out of shipping process. Often the box gets thrown away by the shipping company, despite the fact that the rest of the bottles in the box might be fine.

Don’t Offer Up to the Shipping Company That You Are Shipping Beer – I’ve never been asked, and there is no reason to tell them. It leads to irrelevant questions and wastes time. If someone does ask, you can say that you are shipping yeast samples. In a very truthful way, you are.

Make Sure You Have the Materials Before You Begin to Pack – This sounds silly, but make sure you have everything you need before you begin to pack these beers. If you don’t, you might be tempted to pack them in a half-assed fashion just to get them out the door. Don’t do that. Your beer, be it homebrew or commercial beer for a trade, is worth doing it right. So, do it right.

Materials – The materials are pretty straight forward. You need a box, packing tape, bubble wrap and lots of, what I’ll call, “stuffing”. Stuffing is more bubble wrap, or waded up newspaper, or (one of my favorites) plastic grocery bags, or anything else that will compress and keep your wrapped beers from banging against each other and the box. Some people and homebrew competitions specifically tell you that they don’t like packing peanuts. I don’t mind them, but you should follow the rules or desires of the recipient.

Isn’t This Whole Process a Little Over the Top? – Yes, yes it is. But overdoing this is suddenly worth it once a beer breaks in shipping and your whole box gets thrown away without being returned to you. If you are trading beers, it is hard to replace a Dark Lord, or a Darkness, or the very last bottle of the most amazing homebrewed IPA that you ever made.. If you are close to the deadline of a homebrew competition, a broken bottle in shipping might mean you will miss the entire competition.

The Steps

Step 1 – Pack up your bottles. At this stage you only need bubble wrap, tape and 1 gallon Ziploc bags for 12 ounce beers. I wouldn’t use duct tape as it is unnecessary on the inside of the box, and many shippers will not take your package if you use it on the outside of the box. If you are shipping a bigger bottle, say a bomber, you can try to find a bigger bag like a plastic grocery or a small (clean) trash bag that you can tie off and keep any spilled liquids inside.

Step 2 – Put the bottle in the bag and roll it up while getting all of the air out of the bag. Make sure you zip it shut, as well, in case the bottle does break.

Step 3 – Also make sure you have marked your bottles, as well. As you can see in the picture below, I have labeled my homebrewed beer so the recipient will know which one is which. If you are sending it to a competition, make sure you are following their rules and attaching your correct entry forms to the bottle with a rubber band.

Step 4 – Cut yourself a piece of bubble wrap. Make sure it is long enough to wrap around the bottle one and quarter times, and leave enough at the top and bottom that you can pull them together to protect the cap and bottom of the beer. (It is difficult to see this in my picture.)

Step 5 – Roll up the bottle and tape the bubble wrap tightly in place. Make sure you are pulling the excess wrap at the top and bottom together so that the cap and the bottom of the bottle are covered.

Step 6 – Get your box. My rule of thumb is that I try to get a box that hold almost 2 times the amount of unwrapped beer that I am sending. The bubble wrapped bottles are much bigger than you’ll expect them to be, and you want to have space to pack padding between the bottle and the walls of the box.

Step 7 – Line the box with bubble wrap. You just need two strips of bubble wrap going in opposite directions for this. Make sure you leave extra wrap at both ends so you can fold over the wrap before sealing and taping the box closed.

Step 8 – Pack your box with your beers and whatever “stuffing” you have accumulated. Make sure the bottles are not touching each other or the sides of the box. Cram in as much as you can without stretching out the box.

Step 9 – Now you are ready to close the box. Fold over the excess bubble wrap you used to lined the box over the top and close the box. BEFORE you tape it shut, pick up the box and start shaking it. If any of the bottles are shifting around in there, open the box again and rearrange the bottles and add more stuffing. Your enemy here is any movement inside the box. You might hear the beer sloshing around in there, but hopefully only very faintly. Is hard to avoid this, but lots of stuffing material in the box will muffle that sound.

There you go. Do the best you can and then let the shipping company do the rest. You can even ask the shipper to stamp the box “Fragile” (which, I believe, is an Italian word), if that makes you feel better.

If there is anything that you like to do when shipping beer that I didn’t mention, please feel free to comment below. I’m completely open to additional techniques, and I might update the post to include your tricks and methods. There are no incorrect techniques, if it gets your beers to your final destination safe and sound.

**Update** 8/5/13

A new wrinkle in the discussion. The USPS might start shipping alcohol. Something to watch….  http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/breaking/chi-post-office-alcohol-shipments-20130802,0,7827563.story


44 Responses to “How to Pack and Ship Beer”

  • Peter at Simply Beer Says:

    Jamey, thanks for referencing my post. not a lot has changed since I wrote the original post, but you’re right, could have used a bit more details. The one thing I do now which I think has worked well for me is wrapping the bubble wrap with saran wrap. It gets the bubble wrap nice an tight and doesn’t allow the wrap to move or slide.

  • Rob Says:

    I’ve only sent a few shipments, but I pretty much have done all you say, though not entirely with bubble wrap as the lining of the box. Amazon and other shippers use some really cool padding that I’ve reused.

    Perhaps it’s a bit much, but in addition to the ziploc baggies, I put everything in the entire box in a giant heavy duty garbage bag and tie it closed. After all, a broken bottle could cut the first baggie and two bags, one not touching the broken glass is an extra defense.

    I also think that using a stuffing like newspaper or some kind of paper that is at least a little absorbent is a plus. Those grocery bags wont absorb any accidental breaks.

    Like you said, do it the right way and not half-assed b/c not only is the beer valuable but shipping it is expensive. Spend a few extra minutes.

    Thanks for the post.

  • Robert French Says:

    Great post. I save all good packing material from shipments I recieve, they come in very handy. I also put the entire contents in a large garbage bag, but have never thought about wrapping each bottle in a zip-lock. I will use that on my next shipment. For shippments of 6+ bottles I use case boxes from wine, they are free from stores and they add a little more protection with individual dividers.

    As for the “don’t tell the shipper” the first box my wife dropped off to ship, the nice lady behind the counter asked “what’s in the box”. My wife quickly responds marinade. “what kind of marinade” the nice lady asks. The questions go on for awhile. But my wife spins a tale of shipping homemade chipolte marinade to a friend in Mississippi, it seems its hard to get “high grade” chipolte marinade in Mississippi.

  • BarlowBrewing Says:

    Peter, Rob and Robert,

    Great points. I used to do the trash bag lining of the box thing years ago, but I stopped for some reason. Perhaps because I thought the Ziplocs would do the trick alone. But this post is all about slightly over-doing it and getting your beers to their destination. The absorbency of the newspaper is a great call, too. Perhaps I should start using sponges as “stuffing”. :)

  • Matt Wann Says:

    Indeed it is very hard to get “high grade” chipotle in Mississippi. It’s even harder to get Russian River.

    I take the packing a step further and pack the box with beer inside another box full of foam and packing peanuts. I’ve never thought of bagging the beer but I might on the next trade.

  • Robert French Says:

    Matt, I totally forgot about the 2nd box, I did that too.

  • Dan Kachur Says:

    Double boxing is probably best, and the best container is a styro shipper (the kind used that companies use to ship wine). I like to tape the caps as well, as an extra bit of insurance against leakage, but I guess that may not work if its for a competition. Using a FedEx or UPS account saves you a little bit of cash over going to the counter.

  • The Ins and Outs of Shipping Beer Says:

    [...] how to package your beer for shipping) was covered very well  on Jamey Barlow’s blog, so check it out.   Did You Enjoy This Post?Subscribe to get free updates. Note this is not the newsletter, [...]

  • Nick Says:

    nice link…classic!

  • Greg Says:

    Huge thank you for all these tips. Sent a box of beer (30 beers) to a friend this week. The cap on one leaked, but I’d bagged them individually; the rest made it!

  • BarlowBrewing Says:

    Greg – Wow, 30 beers. That’s impressive. I might have sent a box like that once when I was entering the National Homebrew Competition, and I was on edge until I got delivery confirmation.

    If this post has helped one person’s beer get through, it was successful. So, now, it is.

    Cheers.

  • Jeff Hodson Says:

    Thanks for the tips! One nice thing about living in Kansas City (a barbecue town). “What’s in the box?” “Barbecue sauce. Gates, Bryants, Smokin’ Guns…”

    XD

  • BarlowBrewing Says:

    Thanks, Jeff. If smuggling BBQ sauce is a crime, I’m leaving the country.

  • Fascinationist Says:

    Should I be worried about “cabin pressure” if I am sending aluminum canned beer? I am afraid they will pop open (mostly sending these beers as a joke).

  • BarlowBrewing Says:

    I’m not an expert when it comes to the physics of those cans, but I can’t see how it would be an issue. Many, many people have traded cans and I’ve never heard a mention of there being a problem with them.

  • Marko Says:

    Great blog! I’ll be shipping some ‘marinade’ to New Hampshire from the West Coast soon.

    Cans and planes aren’t usually a problem. Almost all jet transport cargo holds are pressurized to the normal cabin pressure, which is about 8,000ft, but heat in the cargo hold is optional, I’m told, used only when shipping live animals.

  • Tom Says:

    Thanks for putting this together. It’s all very helpful! I am not shipping Darklord, but some of the other 3 floyds brews for a trade with a friend.

  • Gabrielle Says:

    I’d like to send someone back home some great beer that is not available there. I am worried that when he gets he beer, it will be completely flat…

  • BarlowBrewing Says:

    Gabrielle – Are you sending your friend a growler? (If so, I’d advise against that.) But otherwise bottle beer will be fine and carbonated for many years to come.

  • Geoff Says:

    Hi. I’m going on a vacation to visit an old friend and thought about shipping some of our favorite beer that they haven’t had in over a year for us to enjoy while I’m there. Probably just a simple 6 pack. That should be pretty easy yeah?

  • BarlowBrewing Says:

    Sounds like a cool idea and pretty easy to pull off. Just follow the post, and I’d try to get the beers there a little bit early. Shipping is a lot of shaking and agitation for the beer, so you’ll want to put them in a refrigerator for 24 hours to be in the best possible condition to drink with friends. Cheers.

  • Dan Says:

    How to protect against the heat? I’d like to order some canned beer from a brewery up in Oregon to be shipped to me in New Orleans. But with 95+ heat, I’m worried that it will be skunked by the time it arrives.

  • BarlowBrewing Says:

    Heat is a concern, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it. For a matter of mere days, and insulated in bubble wrap and other packing stuff, they should be OK. And skunking only comes from exposure to light. Heat might accelerate the “aging” of the beers, but don’t think that is an issue if you plan to drink them soon.

  • Dan Says:

    Thanks.

  • How to Pack & Ship Beer (by Barlow Brewing) | Doppel's Dementia Says:

    [...] started trading beer through the mail and a friend of mine shared this link to a great article on how to ship beer. It’s from the Barlow Brewing blog and is very comprehensive. I will be shipping out my first [...]

  • Kaye Says:

    Awesome post! Do you think t-shirts would work in the place on bubble wrap?

  • Steve Says:

    PacNW has hundreds of great micros but many only sell off the tap and/or fill growlers ( i.e. no bottles or cans). Recently I had a brown glass growler explode in my car last year due to heat and now my ride smells like a micro. want to ship some brew to a friend and was considering heavy duty FDA approved water bags similar to ones found on this link: http://www.water-storage-tank.com/water-bags.html

    Anybody tried filling, packing and shipping with these?

  • matt anderson Says:

    wondering if anyone has considered adding some dry ice? I live in AZ and am worried about the beer boiling on the truck as it travels to FL. can you put to much, what the right amount for a five day trip? or should I just wait until winter to ship?
    Thanks for any insight

  • Allen Says:

    I have used t-shirts, which are great extras, but not nearly as padded as bubble wrap, and weigh the box down quite a bit.

  • BarlowBrewing Says:

    Matt – I’ve never heard of someone using dry ice before. It is an interesting concept, and I’d love to hear if other people have done it before.

    Me, personally, I wouldn’t worry about it and I’d just ship and cross my fingers. No matter how hot it gets, your box is in the shade and inside trucks and warehouses and insulated in the box and packaging. It is unlikely to really hot.

  • BarlowBrewing Says:

    Kaye – I think Allen is right. T-shirts could work, but it is a one way trip and it is cheaper to buy bubble wrap than pay for the extra weight in shipping.

  • BarlowBrewing Says:

    Steve – What was the situation in your car? Was the growler in direct sunlight? Cars get really, really hot, but it is harder to heat up the contents of a packed box.

    I’ve put cases of beer on my front porch to help bottle condition them during the summer months. In the shade and in a box, the bottles still didn’t get all that warm. (But better than room temp.) Shipping should be quite the same extreme condition.

    Interesting thought about the water bags. I haven’t heard of people using them. It could be a good solution, or it could just be another thing that could break, leak and cause your package to not deliver.

  • Jen Says:

    I am in the Army, currently in Nebraska, and would like to send some beers from the local brewery back home to my dad in California. I am getting growlers, so would I be better off carefully packaging like recommended above and shipping them via UPS or FEDEX, OR carefully packaging and checking them onto the plane with me when I go back home??

  • BarlowBrewing Says:

    Jen – That’s a really interesting question. Personally, I’d prefer to take them home with me just because it would be faster (from tap to growler to mouth) and you’d have a better chance of keeping them cool, too.

  • Alex Says:

    I am planning my first beer trade with my brother in the US right now. This article is really going to help us with how to pack our precious cargos. I will make sure to link it in the article I write about beer trading on my site so others can benefit from the wisdom.

  • Traveling with Beer « CRAFTconditioned Says:

    [...] Sometimes, just shipping bottles may prove to be the best option. The money you save on checked luggage can go toward the shipping costs. Of course, this approach comes with its own complications – different states have different rules and USPS won’t ship any alcohol.  Billy Broas covers the topic of ordering online well, and he pointed me to Jamey Barlow’s good tips on shipping it yourself. [...]

  • jay Says:

    this worked great. you are all awesome. thanks a million. i have started looking into the water bag for shipping. seems like it would be a great idea. oh and i just tell them im shipping my world famous ghost pepper sauce.

  • Ron Says:

    I saw the topic of temperature come up, but only noticed hot weather implied. How about the wintery months? Granted, alcohol inhibits freezing, but at what temperature will the average beer freeze and potentialy blow the cap or break the bottle? I imagine a shipped beer is subject to the ambient temp of it’s transportation container.

  • robert@gigfy Says:

    I agree with the avoidance of spillage and using ziploc bags, but after 15 years of shipping glassware and beer trading/selling via ebay, plastic bags are one of the worst packing materials to use as ‘void’. The cause things to slip and move around when packaged. Crumbled up newspaper is best by far. Three broadsheets crumbled up, placed on the bottom to make a nest and the bottle placed on an angle. Then more newspaper at the top & bottom of the bottle. Kerp stuffing the rest of the box with crumpled paper. Close, but don’t tape the box. Pick it up and shake it. If you feel the slightest movement or noise… More paper! I’ve shipped internationally this way. The large 12x12x8 priority boxes from the post office are perfect for shipping bombers and 2 12oz bottles.

  • John Michaels Says:

    What you do as far as shipping beer is up to you.BUT you should be aware of the applicable tariff/terms for shipping alcohol…….”Packages containing alcoholic beverages are accepted for transportation only as a contractual service and only from shippers who are licensed and authorized under applicable laws to ship alcoholic beverages……..UPS reserves the right to dispose of any alcoholic beverages tendered for shipment which shippers are prohibited from shipping. It is the resposibility of the shipper to ensure that a package tendered to UPS does not violate any federal, state or local laws…….”

    In short, shipping beer can provide some “discomfort” if discovered,including missives from ATF requesting your alcoholic beverage licensing and shipping contracts.

    Just an FYI.

  • BarlowBrewing Says:

    Thanks, John. That is good to know. Although I’ve never heard of it going to that level, it is important to know all the possibilities.

  • Paul K Says:

    I have a feeling that this method would work, it just doesn’t seem nearly secure enough for me. My method is to procure upholstery foam and cut it to the dimensions of the box, wrap bottle in bubble wrap, trace out the shape of wrapped bottle and cut out the tracing, then insert into groove you cut and place another layer of foam on top. This method has never even resulted in a bottle slightly shifting/turning and I’ve never had a break even when shipping individual bombers and bottles.

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