Duty Free Beer

The taxfreetravel guide to beer ….

Tax Free BeerBeer. Few other four-letter words can bring an instant smile to so many faces around the world. The planet’s third most popular beverage after water and tea is at its most basic level a joyously simple drink made from just three ingredients: water, malted barley and yeast.It is so much more of course. Flavoured with hops, herbs, fruit, honey and a myriad of other things, beer is available around the globe in a dizzying variety of styles and flavours, from hoppy English bitter and ice-cold Czech pilsner lager, to a creamy glass of Irish stout and a cloudy, crisp Belgian wheat beer. Feeling thirsty yet?Now in a beer lover’s dream world duty-free airport shops would be stacked high with different beers from that local region or country. There is plenty of evidence to suggest they would sell well. Beer drinkers are in a different mind-set when travelling. They’re often happy to ditch their usual tipple and try new local brews. It’s seen as another fun part of their holiday experience, drinking in a foreign culture (quite literally)!

Sadly, however, few airport shops live up to this ideal. With a couple of notable exceptions, travellers will be hard pressed to find any beer in duty-free and there are good reasons for that. Beer is bulky, it takes up a lot of space especially as people tend to buy more than just one bottle or can at a time. Space is at premium in small duty-free shops and shelf room isn’t going to go to beer, which is less profitable for retailers to sell than other more expensive products.

Now that’s not to say that airports are a complete loss for beer aficionados. It may be difficult to buy a decent beer in an airport to drink at your destination, but there are plenty of excellent airport bars these days, where you can slake your thirst with some fantastic brews before catching your flight.

US airports have led the way in this field, drawing inspiration from the country’s craft-brewing revolution. So whether it’s a glass of Harpoon in Boston Logan, a Blonde Bock at LAX, or a pint of Sam Adams at Atlanta-Hartsfield, travellers can usually track down a proper glass of beer (or two). For a detailed guide the US airport bar scene: check out this handy online guide: http://www.cheapflights.com/travel-tips/beer-lovers-airport-guide/.There are some decent European airport bars too although often the accent is on wine rather than beer. One great exception is Münich airport’s famed AirBraü tavern, which boasts its own on-site brewery, and a live entertainment programme. Also, at London Heathrow’s Terminal 5 look out for the 5 Tuns pub, where if you are lucky you’ll find superb brews such as Young’s London Gold and a Cornish cracker of a beer, Doombar.Back on the shopping front Belgian Sky Shops also gets top marks for stocking a decent range of rich, intense and spicy Belgian brews, including an outstanding range of Trappist beers such as Westmalle, Orval, the famous Chimay, Rochefort and Achel. There are also plenty of less exclusive, but very high quality, abbey beers to choose from, including the likes of Grimbergen, Leffe, Duvel and the quirky cherry-flavoured Kwak.

Away from the airports one of the most popular places to stock up on beer in Europe at least is onboard one of the continent’ many ferry lines. The heyday of the cross-Channel booze cruise, where Brits would travel over to France to stock up on cheap beer, wine and cigarettes, has long gone. However, the ferry lines still criss-crossing the Channel such as P&O Ferries and DFDS Seaways continue to stock a reasonable range of beers targeted at the mainly British passengers.

Alongside the usual mass-produced brands such as Foster’s, Stella Artois and Kronenbourg on P&O Ferries, by far the largest cross-Channel ferry line, are some more interesting bottled real ales such as Spitfire and Old Speckled Hen and the weird-sounding, but very quaffable Bishop’s Finger. For a look at the ferry line’s full line- up of beers, wines and spirits, see http://www.poferries.com/tourist/content/images/file18077.pdf.

In Scandinavia stocking up on duty-free goodies on the region’s many Baltic ferry lines is still entrenched in the local culture even though duty-free has gone on many routes, reducing the level of savings over domestic supermarkets and off licences. Beer selections onboard naturally tend to reflect local tastes: Carlsberg, Tuborg, Lapin Kulta and Russian beer, Baltika are some of the brands you will see on these huge super ferries, where they are sold in weighty 24- and 36-can packs.

One of the region’s biggest ferry companies, Viking Line, which sails between Sweden and other Baltic nations, has recently introduced a World of Beer wall on some of its ships. Here, passengers get a more eclectic choice of beers to choose from onboard than the typical selection with beers stocked including Spanish lager Cruzcampo, Czech beer Krusovice Imperial and Italy’s top-selling lager Birra Moretti.

No guide to tax-free beer would be complete without mentioning duty-free border shops. At these often far-flung stores many parched customers have cars and even lorries waiting for them in the parking lot, meaning they can stock up on their favourite beer without worrying how they are going to get it home. Consequently, beer is big business in border shops – in fact it’s the leading product category at US/Mexican border stores.

As with ferries, the selection of brews carried in border shops is generally fairly mass-market and reflective of local tastes. Thus, Mexican beer brands such as Tecate and Dos Equis top the sale rankings on the Mexican border, while Molson and Labbatt Blue tickle Canuck taste buds on the US/Canadian divide. Having said that, some of the larger Canadian border shops such as Ontario’s Blue Water Bridge Duty Free do stock a wider range, including some craft brews such as Alexander Keith’s and Sleeman’s.

As interest in regional and micro-brewed beers continues around the world, the range of beers available at duty-free shops can hopefully only get bigger and better. We at taxfreetravel will happily drink to that.


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