Whether it’s to a competition, a cocktail week or a guest bartending gig, sooner or later you’re going to have to pack sharp bar tools, breakable glass and leak-prone liquids in your luggage. Assuming we don’t need to explain the concept of bubble wrap and plastic bags, here are some more advanced tips taken from pros on the go.
One clever tip comes from Pamela Wiznitzer of Seamstress in New York, or rather, from her mother, who passed on this wisdom: Pack deflated water wings (the kind kids use when learning to swim) and when you are ready to fly home, place one around the bottle, inflate and you have instant padding to ensure the bottle doesn’t break.
Image: Ran Duan
For those bringing alcohol, syrups and other liquids to events rather than back home, some bartenders, including Amsterdam’s Tess Posthumus, London’s Alex Kratena and San Francisco’s Scott Baird have dispensed with packing bottles altogether and instead transfer the liquids to FoodSaver-style vacuum-sealed bags. Kratena, head bartender at Artesian Bar, says, “Some people argue that vac pacs explode when travelling on planes, so my trick is to not suck all the air out (leave bit of extra space). I put each bag inside a second bag and simply seal it without sucking the air out. This way, even if the first bag opens, liquid still gets captured in second bag.”
Keep in mind that most airlines prohibit travelers from packing high-proof spirits, even in checked bags, there is typically a five-liter limit, and some airlines require all alcohol to be in its original bottle. A page with many of the rules is here.
Vacuum-sealed spirits (and bowties).
For breakable glass and objects he doesn’t want smashing into each other, Kyle Landry of Padrecito in San Francisco uses a camera bag. These bags have movable padded separators in addition to padded sides, bottoms and tops.
Ran Duan of The Baldwin Bar at Sichuan Garden in Woburn, MA uses a similar bag from Twelve24 that he and his partners designed to hold both bottles and tools in separate compartments.
At the Bacardi Legacy Global Cocktail Competition final in Australia earlier this year, Barney Toy packed his delicate cocktail glasses inside Bacardi 8 bottle tins, with foam and bubble wrap further protecting them inside the tin. For the same competition, Canada’s dapper Mike Shum recommended packing liquids in a separate suitcase to avoid ruining your clothes. Toy took a different approach to protecting his clothes: He vacuum-sealed all of his ties together in a bag.
I've told enough bartenders and fellow barflies about this suitcase that I should get a commission, but I don't. We bought the Vingarde Valise for bringing home alcohol bought on vacations and it has worked fabulously. Well worth the initial investment of less than $300. See https://vingardevalise.com. Although it's advertised as for wine, most funny-shaped liquor bottles work just fine.