To Collect or Not to Collect

I collect beer bottles.  That’s kind of my thing.  But, when you get into the nitty gritty of what that means, what gets collected and what does not?  Do I want to collect only bottles or should I include cans?  Do I only collect beers that I personally drank or should I collect any bottles?  Can a beer be bad enough to skip collecting?  Do home brews have a place in the collection?

In the long run, I can only answer these questions (for myself as much as anyone else) in a way that makes most sense for what I’m trying to accomplish with my collection.  In my collection, I’m telling the story of my life.  That is the driving force behind how I decide what to put in or not put in my collection.  For example, as I have previously mentioned, my collection contains 44 cans from the 1970s that were originally collected by my brother and that I later rescued/stole from the basement.  They are part of the collection because they were (at least indirectly) part of my story. The rest of the beer in my collection are ones that I personally drank because I want to show my story, not simply have a collection of bottles that don’t mean anything to me.

Case in point, I was at a Twin Peaks near the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and scored a nice metal growler.

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The servers offered to all sign the growler (probably looking to score a bigger tip).  My friend Mike tried to talk me out of it, arguing that the growler, in it’s purest form, is what should be in the collection.  At that time, Mike didn’t quite understand the point of the collection.  It isn’t about the value of the bottles.  It’s about telling the story.  This growler is telling the story of when I spent two weeks straight doing research at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport for work and got to go and hang out with the staff one night.

What about bad/mediocre beers?  The Walmarts of brewing (e.g., Budweiser, Miller, Heineken) are great at putting out different bottles and cans of the same old products.

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I could easily overrun the collection with these items.  Rather than avoiding them, I try to add items that are part of the story.  If I get a can or aluminum bottle at an amusement park or concert, it becomes part of the story.  The same thing goes for beer that is downright horrible.

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I got these atrocities at a 7-Eleven outside of the Brevard Zoo.  I’m a sucker for new and unique things, so I gave them a shot.  They tasted like watered down kool aid.  But, they are part of the story.  So, they stay in the collection.

Last, but definitely not least, there are home brews.  I have had people share home brews with me and loved the beer.  Make no mistake, I am astoundingly grateful to those people and would like to keep receiving those beers.  However, the bottles were totally without labels and do not tell much of a story.  Therefore, they have not made it into the collection.  In contrast, my friend Billy makes home brews that are fantastic beer and he goes out of his way to create wonderful labels to go with them.

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Billy, his family, and his beers are all a big part of my story.  Therefore, the beer has a prominent place in the collection.  If I receive more home brews that have descent looking labels, they would also become part of the collection.

I hope this sheds some light on how and why I collect bottles.  Did I miss anything?  If you have any questions on what I do or do not want to collect, ask in the comments section.  I’d be more than happy to answer any questions.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Let’s start to discuss the challenges involved with collecting bottles.  One of the great joys of my job is that I get to do a reasonable amount of travel.  This allows me to gather beer from around the country (and rarely around the globe).  When I do this, I want to maximize the amount of bottles I can collect (because, let’s face it, I have a hording issue that just can’t be stopped).  I typically fly (rather than drive) when I’m on work travel, so I had to figure out ways to get bottles and cans back home considering they will be subjected to travel on a plane.  I’m going to spell out very specifically the process that I use.

Disclaimer:  Every time I travel with full beer bottles or cans I do so at risk of dealing with broken bottles.  I understand and accept this risk.  I am not recommending that other people follow this procedure.  If you try the same methods I use and you wind up with broken bottles, I take no responsibility as you are now accepting the same risk that I have already accepted.

Step 1.  Any beer I drink while on-site can travel in my carry on luggage.  If I am going to be somewhere for, let’s say, 3 nights and I manage to get to a store on my first day.  I can plan to drink 2 beers per night while I am there and get 6 bottles or cans in my carry on luggage.  This let’s me buy more than just what I plan to get packed into my checked bag.

Step 2.  Cans travel far better full than empty.  Cans are smaller than bottles and have been brilliantly engineered to sustain all sorts of pressure and impacts when full.  This means I can fit more cans than bottles in my checked luggage.  However, once the cans are empty, all bets are off.  I’ve tried every method I can think of to wrap and protect empty cans in my carry on bags.  None of them work.  Without pressure inside, it’s like trying to protect a tube of paper.  They are going to get crinkled at best.

Step 3.  I bring the right sized luggage.  Let’s look at my travel bags.

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Empty travel bags

The checked bag is only 24 inches tall.  I once tried a giant sized carry on bag and found that it went over weight really, really fast.  When packed properly, my 24 inch bag will come in just under the 50 lb (23 kg) weight maximum allowed by most airlines.

Step 4.  I pack light on the way there.  I will take a checked bag and a descent sized gym bag and pack them half full with clothes for the trip.

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Bags packed to allow room for beer
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Bag with lots of room

This allows plenty of room for the bottles on the way back.  Having the half full gym bag as a carry on also makes for a more enjoyable flying experience (for example, airlines don’t force people to check bags this small when the overhead bins start to fill up).

Step 4. I pack any empty beer bottles/cans in the carry on bag.

Step 5. I use clothing as packing materials for the checked bag.  On my trip back from The Netherlands, I managed to pack 21 full bottles in my checked bag.  Let’s take a look at how I can get that many in there and still somewhat protect the bottles.  I start with the shoes.  They are great protection and hold a bottle each.

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Bottle packed in shoe

With pants I start with one bottle, wrap the pants around it and still have plenty of pants left to get a second bottle wrapped up.

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Single bottle wrapped in pants
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Second bottle wrapped in pants

With shoes and 3 pair of pants, we’re already at 8 bottles in the bag.

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8 bottles packed

Now I can use shirts to wrap 1 bottle each.

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Bottle wrapped in shirt

This brings us to 10 bottles for the bottom layer of the bag.

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10 bottle packed in bag

To use socks, I put a bottle inside a sock, fold the sock over and then put that inside the second sock of the pair.  So, 1 pair of socks will wrap 1 bottle or can.

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Bottle in first layer of first sock
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Bottle in second layer of first sock
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Bottle in pair of socks

I keep doing this across the top layer of the bag and I am now at 21 beers.

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Bag packed with 21 bottles

Coming back from The Netherlands, this bag weighed 22 kg.  This put me in quite a panic for a minute as everything at Schiphol airport was automated and I was too tired and stressed out to calculate how many pounds that was in my head.  Fortunately, I noticed a plaque that indicated the maximum was 23 kg.  I got to the airport quite early, so I imagine my bag was low down in the stack of luggage that got put on the plane.  As you can see in the picture below, I think the stacks of luggage were pretty high.

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Plane being packed with cargo

I don’t use any more padding than wrapping the bottles and cans in clothing.  I don’t put additional layers of clothing on the top or bottom of the bag.  I simply wrap bottles up in clothes.  I cannot begin to grok how this system works and why I have yet to return to a beer soaked piece of luggage.  I think that, like many occupations, we often give airline baggage handlers a harsher rap than they deserve.

OK.  This was a long post, but I get asked about this a lot.  In addition, it is a critical challenge in collecting bottles.  I’m interested to hear if there are other people out there doing the same thing and what their solutions might be.  Let me know.

Some Stores Have it All

I recently found myself lucky enough to get sent to The Netherlands for work.  I was going to find myself in The Hague for a few days and had to plan to optimize the trip to bring back as much beer as possible.  I will write a follow up article on the challenges of flying with beer in a separate post.  The point of the current article is about getting the beer while traveling.  When I’m going to a new place, the first thing I do is look for beer stores.  Typically conducting a Google search for “beer guide …” will bring up a result for BeerAdvocate.  For some reason, I haven’t been able to conduct a valid search within BeerAdvocate to get to these guides, but the Google search gets me there.  Go figure.  As an example, here is a great beer guide for Phoenix, Arizona.  This wasn’t working for The Hague, so I set about looking up other places and happened to find an article from Yelp: Best Breweries in The Hague.  The article specifically calls out a beer store with a huge selection of Dutch beers (ABC Beers).  Eureka!

On my first night there, I tried to go to ABC Beers.  Unfortunately they were closed and the best I got was a picture of their hours of operation so I could come back another night.

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ABC hours

The next night I trudged through the rain to get back there before they closed.  The place is very unassuming from the outside, but it was absolutely worth the trip.

ABC Outside

Too often, when I find a good place to buy beer it is a larger liquor store with a big staff and a random person that actually knows their beer.  ABC Beers was completely different in all the right ways.  The place is relatively small, but packed wall to wall with beer.

ABC Inside

They have bottles for sale, they brew their own beer (Haagse Harry Pogtah Bieah) and they have beer on tap so you can drink as you browse the store.  The owner, Dean, is behind the counter and they even have their own Norm from Cheers who helps you out with your beer selection even though he doesn’t work there.  This is definitely a place that has it all.  I talked with the owner about bottle collecting and other collectors he knew.  They I purchased 24 individual bottles and trudged them back to the hotel through the rain.  This is where the nature of the adventure shifts from the adventure of the hunt to the challenge of transportation.  This was going to be an enormous challenge to get back home.  I suppose that is as good a setup as I can get for my next topic: Transporting Beer by Plane.

A Very Beery Christmas

The Christmas Gifts are all exchanged. My fantastic wife got me a great framed picture that is now prominently displayed on the only wall in my office that cannot support beer bottles: 

Mr. and Mrs. UsedHair
 

I also received a $40 gift card to ABC that will surely go to new bottles. Finally, I got a secret Santa gift from work of a gift card to Publix. I used it to get a 12 pack of Samuel Adams that has at least 3 beers in it that are unique bottles:

 

Christmas Bottles
  
 
I hope everyone else has a holiday as good as mine. Merry Christmas everyone. 

Let’s Meet The Hollowheads

So, in case anyone hasn’t noticed yet, I’m chock full of obscure references and I’m not afraid to use them (e.g., Meet The Hollowheads: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095608/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_68).

Lets take a glance at the collection itself.  I have a hard time pinpointing in my memory exactly when I started seriously collecting.  However, a trip to Toronto in 2005 and the gathering of bottles from Mill Street Brewery (http://millstreetbrewery.com/) stands out as when I really started getting serious about it.  So, over the last 10 or so years I have collected roughly 1,300 bottles and cans.  I wish I could show a picture of them all.  However, one of the major challenges I will quickly start talking about is where to keep/display that many bottles and cans.  The dream is to have my office look more like this:

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Full view of wall of bottles
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Corner view of wall of bottles

However, the reality is that more often it looks like this:

State of the Office 01

I will discuss displaying issues more thoroughly in a separate post.  This is about the collection itself.  Let’s get some anticipated questions out of the way right off the bat:

Q: Is every bottle/can different?

A: No.  There are 1,257 unique beers in the collection.  If I have a bomber (22 oz beer) and a 12 ounce bottle of the same beer I don’t consider the second bottle to be a unique beer.  If I have a bottle and a can of the same beer, I don’t consider it to be a unique bottle.

Q: Did you drink every beer in the collection?

A: Almost.  There are 44 cans from the 1970s that my brother collected when he was a kid and that I stole in later years.  Other than that I drank (or at least tasted) each of the beers in my collection.

Q: Are you an alcoholic?

A: No.  1,300 bottles/cans over roughly 10 years is about 130 per year, 11 or so per month, or about 2-3 per week.  Definitely not an alcoholic.  I just try really hard to only drink beer when I can collect the bottle.

Q: How do you keep track of all those bottles?

A: I use an Excel sheet. Once I learn more about my blogging tools I hope to have a live link to the actual tracking information so that anyone can view live statistics and dive into the collection at will.  For now, here are the statistics I track:

Beers Added               1311

Repeats                        37

Size Difference          16

Still to drink               19

Cans                              204

Bottles                         1088

Unique Beers             1257

Breweries                   459

Classic Cans               44

A New Hope

For Thanksgiving I was staying with extended family at Emerald Isle, NC. My wife and I go there every year when we can. I am very much in the habit of looking for breweries/brew pubs in preparation for every trip I make. So, I was quite excited to notice this time that there were two brand new breweries in a close driving distance this year. Once we got to Emerald Isle, I started looking more seriously at going to the breweries. The first was Mill Whistle Brewing. I got worried when I couldn’t find a web page or hours of operation. I eventually messaged them on their Facebook account only to find out that they did not yet have their license to sell on site. They did, however, point out that I could get their bottles at my favorite North Carolina beer store: Harrika’s Brew Haus so I found 2 bottles.

Mill Whistle Brewing Bottles

Next up was Tight Lines Brewing.  They had a web page that looked like they had been around a while and a menu that looked awesome so we decided to go there for lunch. I have to admit there was some confusion on the hours they were open. But, the owner was excellent about it and wound up giving me a growler free of charge.

Tight Lines growler

Alas, they too did not yet have their license and I was not able to get any of their beer.

With all these failed attempts, one might think I was frustrated or upset. Actually it’s quite the opposite. I have some new adventures under my belt and I know that next year there will be two breweries that will have their licenses and will be waiting for me. Craft brewing is growing so much right now that I’m constantly able to find new places wherever I go. I’ve even found 2 breweries in Artesia, NM. As long as I can get to new places, there is the hope and promise of new beer. What more could anyone ask for?

Get to the point, begin the beguine

Hi there internet.  I am a labeorphilist or labeorphile (meaning one who collects beer bottles) who typically goes by the internet name of UsedHair.  I’m starting this blog to talk about the hobby of collecting beer bottles.  The adventures that often occur in the process of collecting and the challenges (and sometimes triumphs) associated with the hobby.  Feel free to ask questions and I will try to address them in posts and/or a FAQ if I can ever figure out that end of WordPress.  Enjoy.

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Wall of beer bottles
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Second wall of beer bottles
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