Sunday, 30 October 2016

“Bringing It All Back Home”

“Bringing It All Back Home”, is not just the title of the new Nobel Literature Laureate’s 5th studio album; a release which contains, amongst others, classics such as Mr Tambourine Man, Maggie’s Farm, Subterranean Homesick Blues and It’s All Over Now, Baby-Blue, but also the practice of bringing a few goodies back home with you, when you’ve been away somewhere.

Visiting new places, or reacquainting yourself with a few familiar ones, usually provides the opportunity to sample and enjoy a few local ales or beers. For me, this is an important part of any trip away; whether it is at home or abroad, although I do find now that regional differences here in the UK, so far as local breweries are concerned, are nowhere as distinct as they were when I started drinking over 40 years ago.

Wherever possible I like to bring a few bottles of the local brew back home with me, to either remind me of a good holiday, or as an opportunity to try something new. This is easy, here in the UK, especially when travelling by car; but even if  you are taking advantage of cheap rail deals, providing you have a decent-size rucksack or a suitable wheeled suitcase, then bringing a reasonable quantity of bottles back with you should not present too much of a problem

Boarding the Eurostar to Brussels
Take your car abroad and the same applies; with added advantage of cheaper beer prices prevalent in much of mainland Europe. You can even travel by train (Eurostar), and enjoy the same advantages. However, if air travel is your chosen method of transport, you come up against a number of hurdles. If you choose to travel with hand-baggage only, then I’m afraid you are stuffed due to strict limitations governing carrying liquids in your bag. The smallest size beer bottle normally available is 250 ml, two and a half times larger than the permitted100 ml; and let’s face it, what beer lover would bother with such small volumes anyway?

Despite these limitations, travelling with just cabin baggage has several advantages, particularly if you are travelling with a budget airline. There are no baggage fees to pay, no bags to check in and collect, meaning you go straight to security before boarding the plane, whilst at the other end, you pass straight through customs and immigration and continue on to your destination. This is my preferred method, when travelling alone and taking a short break, even if it means foregoing beer to bring home. However, if I am going away for periods in excess of five days, or my wife is travelling with me, then I will pay the extra and go for the checked-in hold-baggage option.

How not to pack your case
It’s still not all plain-sailing though, as there are two other factors to be aware of. The first is weight, and the second is how to safely pack your precious cargo without any of the bottles breaking in transit, soaking and potentially ruining the contents of your suitcase. Dealing with weight first; all airlines impose weight restrictions on individual items of baggage. Excess weight costs money in terms of extra fuel, but there are also manual handling issues to take into account. Spare a thought for the poor baggage handler who has to climb inside the hold of the aircraft and stow your over-loaded bag, whilst trying to avoid giving himself a hernia in the process.

As a general rule, the cheaper the airline, the less weight you are allowed to bring; unless you are willing to pay the not insignificant excess baggage charge. You need to box clever here, and work out exactly how many bottles your suitcase can accommodate (always assuming there’s sufficient space), without exceeding the limit. When checking in for the outward flight, I always make a mental note of the weight showing on the display, when I place my bag on the belt. I then know within a kilo or so how much weight I’ve got to play with. You then need to know the weight of any bottles you are planning to bring back with you. With the aid of Google you discover that an empty 500ml bottle weighs in at around 300g, whilst a 330ml bottle comes in at around 200g. You then need to add the weight of the contents, which is easy, as 500ml weighs 500g and 330 ml equates to 330g. (Weights are based on the density of water, which is 1.00 g/ml; but as beer is approx 95% water, and alcohol is actually lighter than water, you won’t go far wrong if you use this conversion).

Hard-shell case for better protection
So a 500ml bottle of beer has a gross weight of around 800g (0.800 Kg) and a 330 ml bottle comes out at 530g (0.530 Kg). If your baggage limit is 20 Kg (Easy Jet/Ryanair), and you have 9 kilos to play with, you can bring back 11 x 500 ml bottles or 17 x 330 ml bottles. A word of warning though; don’t take these figures as gospel as beer bottles can and do vary in weight considerably, depending on the thickness of the glass. Modern practice is to make them as light as possible, whilst still providing sufficient protection and resilience for the contents. Older style bottles, such as the heavy swing-top bottles used for the Kloster Mallersdorf beer I am drinking at the moment, are noticeably thicker, and therefore significantly heavier. Always be mindful therefore, of local variations, from country to country and even between regions within a country, and ere on the side of caution.

Having determined the number of bottles you can bring back, you then have the task of packing them carefully, so that they don’t break in transit.  The really important points here are that bottles should be as immobilised as far as possible AND should not touch the sides of the case, or another bottle. Bubble-wrap is ideal for this purpose, but I often simply slide a couple of socks over each bottle and then partially wrap each one with a T-shirt, or similar item of clothing. Basically use whatever it takes to keep each bottle separate from its neighbour and away from the sides of the case.

A selection of goodies from a previous trip to Bavaria
By following these simple rules, and by taking a bit of care with my packing, I’ve successfully brought back dozens of bottles, without any breakages or leakage. Occasionally I’ve been slightly over the weight limit, but a sweet smile and an “Oh, so sorry” apology, normally means I get away with these slight transgressions. Downstairs in the cupboard I’ve got 14 bottles I brought back from August’s trip to the Netherlands along with eight from last month’s visit to Regensburg. So if you are prepared to apply a little extra time and effort, then you too can enjoy a few liquid memories from wherever you have been recently.
There is another way of acquiring exotic beers, and that is to order from one of the growing number of on-line beer agencies. It will cost you a bit more, as there are delivery charges to pay, and these can be quite steep. There is also the risk of breakages; although most agencies, these days, use reputable carriers to mitigate against this. Some beer agencies also welcome callers, and this is what I will be doing, next weekend when I make the journey to Norfolk, to visit my father. Beers of Europe have one of the largest selections of both British and foreign beers in the UK, at their warehouse, just outside Kings Lynn, and it will be well worth making a slight detour in order to pick up a few goodies for Christmas.

Cans can travel by air
One final point; I’ve been told that cans also travel without rupture in aircraft holds. Some of you may know I work for a company which is Japanese owned. We have regular visitors from Japan, and also have researchers seconded to us for lengthier periods of time. I count one of these scientists as a friend as well as a colleague, and it was he who told me about transporting cans of beer across continents.

Cans are very popular in Japan, for ecological reasons, so my colleague has been bringing some with him and taking others back with him on trips between Japan and the UK. I haven’t tried this yet, but my friend hasn’t experienced any problems. I would add here though, that cans are far more susceptible to crushing than glass bottles, so in this instance a hard-shell suitcase is essential.

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