More and more Australians are now travelling to the USA and other countries to either trade craft beer, or buy from breweries and bottle shops in that country.
However, when it comes to returning with the amazing beers back into Australia there are often many questions around packing the beer and also customs.
Here’s out comprehensive guide to pulling off a successful international craft beer haul to make your next return from overseas with great beer in tow that much easier.
We have gone and done the hard yards for you and created a simple how to guide: from the laws, the maths, first hand experiences, packaging tips and small but essential details that can be easily overlooked.
Travelling With Beer
First things first, before you even face customs, how do you haul your precious, delicious beer back into Australia safely?
Handy tip: buy a second HARD-SHELL suitcase for your beer. Most airlines that fly you back from the US to Australia allow 60kg baggage on the return flight (2x30kg suitcases), so fly over with one bag (general luggage) and buy a second bag for your beers to fly home with.
Remember: you're best to check that the carrier flying you home, and your seat class, allows the 60kg baggage return flight, don’t assume they all will. Most do, but not all.
General tip: when possible buy cans as they’re lighter and relatively sturdier. Although, transporting bottles is possible also.
Now, how do you pack them safely so you won’t get and leakages, breakages, or explosions? Well, I guess there are four levels from carefree to extreme.
Level one, chill: throw your cans (or bottles) into empty shoes, or wrapped in clothes, or both (a beer in a shoe wrapped in clothes) and carefully arrange them so they’re around the middle of the suitcase, cushioned by all your clothes and other possessions. They should be alright, emphasis on ‘should’.
Image: Steven Quick
Level two, careful: Place each can/bottle in a zip-lock bag (sandwich bag), and with the bottles also electrical tape the bottle caps for extra seal protection. Then place in shoes/wrap in clothes and arrange them in your suitcase as described above.
Level three, wrapped in cotton wool: in addition to the steps above, also wrap each beer in bubble wrap before placing in a zip-lock bag..
Image: Sarah Piper
Level four, more secure than transporting the Mona Lisa: line your beer only hard-shell suitcase with foam padding (or towels), fill it with Styrofoam peanuts, tape any bottle caps with electrical tape, wrap beer in a thick layer of bubble wrap, place beer in a zip-lock bag, and carefully arrange them in lasagne layers with towels between each layer of beers. Should be fine… unless United Airlines get their hands on it.
And there you have it, hopefully this information and handy tips will help you pull of an impressive international craft beer haul, it’s not near as hard as you’d think. Take a look at some peoples hauls below:
Image: Benjamin Lyndon
Taking Beer Through Customs
It’s not as complicated as you’d think. Most people after declaring their beers are simply waved through customs without having to pay excise as it is not really worth the time and effort for busy customs officers.
Remember, always declare your beer if the combined liquid content exceeds the 2.25L duty free allowance, and if you’re made to pay excise it’s not as much as you’d think it is.
Keep in mind you only pay excise on the pure alcohol content in the beer, not how many litres of beer you have. If you have 11L of 6% ABV beer, you’ll pay excise for 66ml of pure alcohol = $32.93.
Important detail: if you bring in 11L you pay excise on the ABV of the whole 11L, not just the 8.75L over the 2.25L non-declarable allowance.
For example, say you bring back an impressive international haul of 45x473ml (16oz) cans all with roughly 6% ABV. That’s 21.28L of beer, 19.03L over the 2.25L duty free allowance. Therefore, you would pay an excise of the total pure alcohol content of the whole 21.28L, which is 1.27L of pure alcohol = $63.37 in excise.
However, as mentioned above, more often than not after declaring their beer most people are ushered through without having to pay an excise on the pure alcohol content. Although, a tip to better increase your chance of not having to pay excise is to make working out the total amount of pure alcohol content as hard as possible for customs officials.
For example, don’t work out the amount of ABV for them prior to arriving as sometimes the only time people have paid excise is when they worked it out with itemised lists themselves and given it to customs, essentially doing all the hard work for them and making it easier to charge you excise.
Just be polite and truthful, but don’t do any of the work yourself, it’s not your job. If customs want to spend the time working out ABV content and excise amounts they will, if not, they’ll just let you through.
NOTE: you have to declare any beer, wine, or spirits exceeding 2.25L of liquid content.
Beer & Travel: Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Will beer explode in checked luggage?
Nope, well at least not from air-pressure issues as cargo holds, like passenger compartments, are pressurised. Sometimes a beer that is still fermenting may explode from pressure build-up within, but that can happen anytime anywhere. Beers busting their cap on a plane is essentially a non-issue and plently of people cargo their beers through check-baggage without any leakage or explosive mishaps.
Q: What is the best way to stop beer bottles leaking/exploding?
Tape the bottle caps tightly and liberally. For further protection you could also wrap a bottle in bubble-wrap and place inside zip-lock bag.
Q: Can you bring beer on a plane carry on?
Nope, but once you’re through airport security you can take a certain amount of duty free purchased alcohol in your carry-on luggage allowance, although if you have a connecting flight you may not be able to take it with you.
Q: Travelling with beer from Europe to Australia
Realistically it’s the same as returning from the US, although maybe try to pack your clothes lightly so you can take them home with you in a carry-on duffle bag, which leaves more room to safely pack your your precious beer as the return luggage amount may be less than a US-AUS flight. Once arriving in Australia you may have to pay excise on the ABV content of the beer, of which the duty-free amounts, limits and rates are detailed thoroughly above.