(When life gets in the way of brewing)
I haven’t brewed anything in months. Currently, all my brewing equipment resides in half open boxes, smothered in packing peanuts and wrapping paper. I recently moved from Portland, Maine to Anchorage, Alaska and I transported all my brewing equipment. While I’m not fully set back up yet, I thought it would be helpful to share my experiences with moving brouwerij-chugach and how homebrewers might want to think about moving their equipment (and possibly some beer) long distances.
[FWIW, We used a company that allowed me to pack my own stuff in a container, the best thing being they charged by volume instead of by weight. They then took the container, shook it for the better part of a month, and dropped it off in at our new place. While that was happening, I drove cross country – however the only things I brought with me was my overnight bag and a few beers to share. If you’re moving and paying by the pound… I’d probably pass on shipping any beer and just send your equipment.]
This post is to share what I’ve learned while moving, as well as some advice for anyone who is moving their brewery “long distance.”
Unless you’re entering witness protection, you probably have a little notice as to where you are moving. Are you moving yourself? Are others moving you? These questions will determine how and what potential equipment you’ll be taking with you. If your moving company charges by the pound, you might want to ditch that bag of grain and those glass fermenters. If your moving company charges by volume, you might want to get rid of those 5 gallon better bottles (and ditch the glass anyhow.)
If you are travelling with beer, you should probably check if it’s legal to bring beer where you’re going. It just gives you an idea of what to expect should you be pulled over, your shipment questioned, etc. The last thing you want is to get in trouble for homebrew!
All this being said, why would you want to ship beer? Why not just drink it? The only beer I would even consider shipping would be product that is designed to age. Barleywines, Lambics, and other one-of-a-kind “big” beers. If you’re just moving across town, take whatever you want.
Assuming you might be sending beer in a closed container (see Stainless or Bust, below) you will probably not want to have anything fermenting while in transit. The only exception to this rule is if you are moving everything in one day (across town, for instance.)
Your beer could warm up, it could cool down, fermentation could pick up (think of the swirling technique to help a stuck fermentation and now imagine vigorous shaking…) and who knows what else. Make sure your beer has stabilized before you put it into a shipping container. As neat as it would be to brew, travel, then have a finished product on the other end… it’s probably not a good idea. The last thing you want is a ‘keg bomb’ packed in with your household goods.
Sell the Glass
If you’re still using glass fermenters, now’s a great time to sell them. Glass is fragile and empty glass containers take up lots of room in your shipping container. You could probably sell those carboys and get back at least 50 cents on the dollar, and then just get a (ahem, stainless!) new fermenter when you move. It’s not worth paying to have them shipped, especially with the chance of breakage.
I got rid of all my glass, gave away all my brew buckets, as well as anything else large that I could replace easily.
Keep and Bring the Goodies!
I did keep all my stainless, brew pots, small odds and ends, and things that would be hard to replace. I also bought a few extra things I knew I couldn’t get in Anchorage (or that were a LOT more expensive.) I filled pots with clothes and small boxes. I stuffed a chest freezer with grain (grain is twice as much up here.) I brought five full sized oak barrels (two french, three american) because I knew that while they were expensive to ship, I would never get the chance to bring any up here. Besides, the shipping in my container was cheaper than the shipping would be to send one up here.
Stainless or Bust
Ha, see what I did with that one? If you’re thinking about moving beer, put it into a sealed stainless container! Unless you’re holding it in your lap the entire journey, it’s going to get jostled! A lot!
Now that you have gotten rid of all your buckets and glass carboys, your options are to either ship in kegs or kegs. I would recommend putting all your beer into reliable sanke kegs and cornies for transit. I emphasize the word reliable to make sure you test each container that is shipping your prized product. Leaks would be detrimental to future drinking and might endanger your relationship with your moving company.
Seal to 5psi
Because beer in transit can be exposed to changes in temperature and pressure, I would also lower all pressurized containers to 5-8 psi. This way you won’t have to worry about any containers becoming over pressurized due to any unforeseen circumstances. Also, if for whatever reason any container happened to have a small leak you didn’t know about you wouldn’t lose too much product.
The other thing I recommend is to place each keg in a contractor garbage bag and tie it off. I’m a little paranoid when it comes to packaging, and I wouldn’t want to chance any liquid getting to any of my other household goods. It’s also a good idea to put any and all full kegs at the bottom of whatever you’re moving in. Contents tend to shift during transit and they’ll be probably your heaviest cargo.
Need Loading Help? Serve some to friends
Friends are always willing to help in exchange for some access to your tasty brews. Invite them over, put some beer out with a party tap and show them where your stuff is headed. Hopefully, you’re not moving too much stuff so it should get done quickly and you can get back to sampling. For friends who helped me move, I left them each several gallons to start their own sour solera.
Even if you have friends, I highly recommend using a hand-truck for any heavy equipment. Heck, I used a hand-truck for almost everything I loaded.
Relax. Don’t Worry. Have a Commercial Beer.
Wait, what was that? Yes, relax and have a commercial beer. You’ve worked hard and all your equipment should be put away (after all, you stopped brewing a while ago, right?). Relax. Try some commercial beer. If you’re like me, you don’t drink much of it so now’s a good excuse to try some while your homebrew equipment is in transit/storage. The average trip from the east coast to Alaska is 13-15 business days – and that’s too long to go without a beer!
You’ve done all you can, and it’s out of your hands. You might have a nightmare or two about a shipping container showing up with smashed pots at your new residence – but until then, relax!