Since I’m just back from Oaxaca I just went through the mezcal packing drill. I also chatted with people who do this monthly and fielded a ton of questions from nervous first timers. The quick answers to most questions: Yes, you can do it, it’s legal, there are just a few things to pay attention to. Read on!
First, read Mezcal PhD:
John McEvoy did some great research on what you need to know about bringing mezcal ( or anything liquid more than 3oz/100ml ) home with you. The summation is that airlines have different limits, the US government doesn’t care a whole lot as long you declare what you’re carrying, especially if it’s not large quantity.
Second, how to pack.
John McEvoy loves wine skins. I think they’re great too because they’re easy to pack, but they will also cost you four to six bucks. I prefer the cheap poster tube method where you buy some big poster tubes, cut them to length for your bottles, pack the ends with socks and underwear, and you’re ready to go.
If you want to be super secure, wrap your bottle in bubble wrap and then shove it into the poster tube.
Other people I know forgo any additional packing material and just wrap their bottles in clothing. One person who has done this tons of times told me that he has never lost a bottle this way and he brings home cases at a time. Literally. Still, poster tubes offer an extra layer of security for me and since they’re so inexpensive and easy to find in Mexico I stick with them. You can get them at Office Depot or many of the paper shops in larger towns like Oaxaca.
If you’re going to buy plastic containers try to get the palenque to seal them for you. Many of them will do this without asking. Just make sure to leave extra room at top because the your bag is going to get tossed around and undergo some pressure changes.
If you bought a five gallon garafone and need to bottle your own mezcal, head to the bottle store. I go to the one on Av. Heroico Colegio Militar which is just north of downtown in Colonia Reforma. They will sell you any bottle size you want along with corks and are a great resource for any other questions. Otherwise ask around, there’s bound to be something like it in places where mezcal is popular. And you can almost definitely get bottles sealed at a palenque.
Third, how to talk to the airlines.
They’re in the business of getting you home while keeping the weight down on their planes so that they don’t burn too much gas, while extracting every marginal dollar from you so it makes perfect sense that your flight home is your biggest potential problem.
All the airlines have different limits on the amount of alcohol you can bring with you and different baggage weight limits. But you should be able to get by no matter what: If they ask you whether you have mezcal, just say no. If they ask you why your bag is so heavy say that you’re carrying crafts and books. But really, it probably won’t come to that.
Do pay attention to your airline’s bag weight limit. If you’re under that limit, rarely will anyone blink an eye. Usually you can just pay a fee to exceed it. Or you can always buy another cheap bag in the market to spread the bottle weight around your luggage. Of course you may well end up paying yet another fee to the airline for that extra bag. Such is life in the wealth extraction industry known as commercial flight.
Fourth, how to talk to customs
As it turns out this is the least of your problems. Just declare that you have mezcal on the customs form and put a fair market value on it. Fair market value is an extremely flexible standard so you could minimize it quite a bit. Plus, customs is busy and usually looking for other things like fruit, seeds, and the like. If they do grab you, just pay the duty. It will be minimal and they’ll have you on your way quickly.