One of my best memories of traveling will always be sipping my first glass of Bushmills 21-year-old Irish whiskey — I was just a little older than the bottle and I’d just finished touring the distillery. I knew then that I needed something that would remind me of the visit and a t-shirt wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted a consumable souvenir, something with those perfect flavors that I could take home.
I found just the thing, too: Bushmills has a distillery reserve. It’s available only in the shop and is unique from the bottles of Irish whiskey your local liquor store stocks. It was the start of a collection of souvenirs that I’ve gotten some great memories out of even after I got home.
The Flavors of Traveling
Every place you’ll visit has its own taste: a wine tasting in Napa Valley is a very different experience than one in the Bourdeaux region of France. When you add in beer and hard liquor, you may taste things that you’ll be desperate to recreate at home. Distributors have been getting better at bringing international flavors home over the years, but there are many distilleries and vineyards that won’t ever make enough to bother exporting.
A little judicious shopping on your travels is the only way to bring those flavors home with you. It’s good to form a habit as you go along: buy a bottle or two of what you enjoy as you find it. Don’t count on duty-free to stock anything you really want to take home. It’s my experience that the duty-free shops only stock big name brands and rarely anything I can’t get at home.
Packing Your Precious Souvenirs
Making sure your souvenirs get home intact gets a bit more complicated when we’re talking about glass bottles that you have to pack in your checked luggage. If you’re just thinking about bringing home one bottle, wrapping it thoroughly in clothing and packing your suitcase so it won’t move can be enough. I’ve seen the same strategy work with up to eight bottles of specialty rums coming back from the Virgin Islands — but when we’re talking about both quality and quantity, it can be worth considering some more protective strategies.
Depending on your airline’s policies, it’s often possible to check a box into luggage and ask for special care. With enough packing materials, you can safely transport multiple bottles. Boxes can also be shipped: it will take longer to get your souvenirs home, but asking a retailer to ship you a box lets you stock your home bar in a way that you can’t manage if you’re dependent on just what you can carry home. The downside to shipping is that you may run into some rules about what can be sent across state or international lines. Do your research to check if you’ll have any issues and if there are easy alternatives. For instance, because I live in Maryland, a state which heavily regulates how alcohol may be shipped, I send certain packages to my friends in Washington, D.C.
Off the record, if you know a friendly distributor or liquor store owner, you can usually legally ship as much alcohol to them as you’d like, in any given state. Thankfully, most vineyards/distilleries/breweries are well informed of all the options to ensure their tasty temptations make it all the way home.
What Travels Well
Certain beverages are just better travelers than others. Many methods of getting a bottle home involve subjecting it to extreme temperatures, but many hard liquors can take just about anything you can throw at them.
True wine and beer aficionados will have some concerns about just what they’re subjecting their consumable souvenirs to, but there are packing options that can help. I actually have a slip case for protecting wine bottles that helps insulate the bottle as well as pad it. I picked it up at a local liquor store and just drop it in my suitcase as I’m getting ready to hit the road. I would be wary of being able to fully protect the sort of bottle of wine that is truly collectible, but for something that I just encountered along my travels and want to bring home with me, it’s enough. I’ve had a little less luck with beer — there have been a few bottles that just couldn’t take a journey, though others have come through just fine.
As a result, my home bar is very well-stocked. My wine rack contains bottles with no English printed on them at all. My beer fridge has its weak points, but I do bring home plenty on trips where I drive or take the train.