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I've been thinking about shipping my beer to a fellow homebrewer on the opposite coast. I know the post office doesn't exactly condone this, but if you were to mail a bottle or two, how would you do it?

Are any particular boxes better than others, how much padding, who'd be the best company to ship with, any special bottling precautions (taping the cap maybe), etc, etc.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I have had good experience with wrapping each bottle individually with bubble wrap, and putting them in a box that is as small as possible (to provide a tight fit, so they don't shift much inside the box). Then fill in all the empty space with packing peanuts (or crumpled up newspaper, if you don't have any peanuts).

Also, as others have stated, don't send it through the US Postal Service. Use a private carrier, such as FedEx or UPS. Generally, they don't ask what is in the package, but if they do, tell them it is 'yeast samples for analysis'. (After all, that is not untrue.... though it might not be the yeast itself that is going to be 'analyzed', but the medium used to ship the yeast :)

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For some quantitative numbers on how gentle/rough each courier is give this a read: popularmechanics.com/technology/gadgets/tests/… –  STW Dec 15 '10 at 18:44
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I have a buddy that ships beer every once in a while through the mail and he individually wraps the bottles in news paper. I believe he also keeps them boxed (obviously).

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There's a significant difference between "mailing" and "shipping" when it comes to the law (a US perspective is all I can really offer). Because the mail is run by the government, and violating their rules is actually violating the law, I don't use the USPS for sending anything remotely near the "gray area" around the rules.

When it comes to 3rd party shippers like FedEx, UPS and smaller companies, the stakes are much lower. When you ask FedEx to ship something, it's just a business transaction and contract. That's why, for all of the alcohol you can buy online (like buying from wineries), it's shipped by one of these carriers and usually requires an adult to sign for receipt.

That means that most of what you may be violating is company policy instead of law. As such, the penalties, while still potentially irritating (I sure wouldn't want to be prohibited from sending anything via FedEx again), they're not jail time. This is why a lot of homebrewers use FedEx or UPS to ship stuff around for competitions, etc. The general advice I've heard is to kind of play "don't ask, don't tell" with the shipper, saying you're shipping "live yeast cultures" or just plain not saying what you're shipping.

Of course, laws like "transporting alcohol across state lines" are still in play. If it'd be illegal to put the box in your car and drive it to your destination, it's probably illegal to ship it via FedEx too.

As far as physically protecting it, the main risk is to bottles colliding. When I've bought empty bottles, they're usually shipped in a box that has a grid of cardboard separating each bottle, plus each bottle is wrapped in a piece of brown paper about 3 layers thick.

The submission guidelines for competitions also usually include the requirement that the entire contents be inside a garbage bag that gets sealed at the top, so that your recipient is basically opening a box that has a garbage bag full of wrapped bottles inside it.

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The federal law:

All spirituous, vinous, malted, fermented, or other intoxicating liquors of any kind are nonmailable and shall not be deposited in or carried through the mails.

- http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/18/1716.html

Of course, it seems like a lot of people get away with it, and as long as it's a pretty small volume (a few bottle), you'd be fine. Just wrap it in bubble-wrap and box it.

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Hey, I was just being hypothetical, nobody is trying to break the law here. ;) –  PMV Nov 11 '10 at 18:03
    
But of course. :P If, hypothetically, you were going to break the law, it's good practice to know those laws specifically. :) –  Fishtoaster Nov 11 '10 at 18:56
    
This only refers to mailing via USPS. It is only against company policy to ship alcohol via UPS or Fedex. So it isn't breaking a law if they catch you. –  LoganGoesPlaces Nov 14 '10 at 19:47
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