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I purchased a stainless steel growler (a 64 oz container for beer) and will be checking it for an airplane flight. If the TSA decides to inspect my bag, would they open the growler? I am worried that they will open it and leak CO2 out of the beer. Unlike a regular bottle of beer which cannot be easily closed after opening, a growler can be closed easily.

(This question differs from this one in that I want to know if TSA would open a carbonated container of alcohol in a checked bag, rather than wanting to know if it is OK to bring a carbonated container of alcohol)

Update: I've done this several times since posting this question. Almost every time, I find the notice in my luggage stating that TSA has inspected my luggage; however, the beer has never been opened. I tape the lid of the growler down to prevent the cap from coming undone, and this tape never appears distrubed and the homebrew is never flat. I also put tape around the body and write the style of the beer on it.

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    I suspect not. But I can't prove it right now. (Unless you run into one who really wants to have a drink on the job.) – Michael Hampton Jul 30 '16 at 18:15
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    Can you explain to all us non-brewers how damaging it is to the beer if it is opened for a few minutes? What's the replacement cost of the beer? – smci Jul 30 '16 at 21:42
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    For everyone not familiar with growlers and the problem with them being opened, an unopened growler of alcoholic beverage (beer, cider, what have you) stays good and drinkable for weeks or months - so you can save it and enjoy it for a special occasion/gift later. However, once opened the drink only stays fresh for 2-3 days, even if refrigerated, and will usually go flat or stale in well under a week. As it is not hard alcohol, bad bacteria that ruin the beverage also can begin to grow once opened, which can make the contents unusable in under a week. – BrianH Jul 30 '16 at 22:30
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    Well, that's a word that means something different in the UK ...! – Au101 Jul 31 '16 at 11:49
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    @smci When I fill a container with cold beer, the carbonation level in the beer will decrease as pressure equalizes with the airspace in the container. When I open the cap, the carbonation that is in the airspace will immediately leave into the room. When the cap is closed, the CO2 in the beer will again decrease as pressure equalizes with the airspace in the container. So the end result is that the beer will be flatter than it would otherwise be. I'm bringing this to a family event, so I don't care about the cost, but my reputation would be harmed if I brought flat beer :) – Matthew Moisen Jul 31 '16 at 22:15
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If they feel it is indicated, yes. There is no specific formula that TSA uses or advertises to determine when to open suspicious items. While there may be guidelines, by the nature of the job TSA agents have discretion to inspect items they feel may pose a risk.

In all likelihood they will probably not open your growler, but it is impossible for anyone to guarantee that the item would not be opened and inspected.

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    In addition to that, there is this random sampling.. they have to open random bags without any reason. I do not remember where I read that, but it's somehow one way of something like "quality control" or something. – Nean Der Thal Jul 30 '16 at 22:16
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    @HeidelBerGensis: In France, a security agent confirmed that the portal under which passenger passes would "ring" once about every 5 passengers. Also, looking over the shoulder of a "X-ray" agent, I once saw an image of a gun appear in a friend's bag (surprised me!): the machine's way of checking the agent was paying attention, but of course after that they did inspect his bag. So, yes, random tests for both passengers and hand luggage. – Matthieu M. Jul 31 '16 at 11:29
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The TSA blog makes specific mention of rules related to carrying alcahol in both checked and carry-on baggage, for those interested: TSA Travel Tips Tuesday - Traveling With Alcoholic Beverages

Checked Baggage

  • Any amount of alcohol greater than 3.4 ounces must be packed in checked baggage.
  • Alcoholic beverages with more than 70% alcohol content (140 proof), including 95% grain alcohol and 150 proof rum, cannot be packed in checked luggage.
  • Travelers may take up to five liters of alcohol with alcohol content between 24% and 70% per person as checked luggage if it’s packaged in a sealable bottle or flask.
  • Alcoholic beverages with less than 24% alcohol content are not subject to hazardous materials regulations.

As 5 liters is equal to around 169 fluid ounces, you would be allowed to bring 2 growlers into checked baggage, if the beverage is between 24% and 70% alcohol. Most beer and cider is much less than that, so 1-2 growlers would certainly not run afoul of these rules.

However, absolutely no guarantee is given by any agency or airport in the world, as far as I know, that they won't open something they deem questionable.

So, what can you do about it? Well, the easiest method I suggest is to use your own form of "seal", such as tape, and wrap it around the top of the bottle -assuming you don't just happen to have some tamper-evident adhesive seals with you (which I am think is a safe assumption). The goal is just to make it obvious if someone opened it, tearing or loosening the tape.

While this won't prevent anyone from opening it, at least it will be obvious that it can't be opened in secret, and when you get your bag back you will have a pretty good chance of knowing if someone opened the bottle. Which will let you know that you either just wasted the money, or at the very least gives you a chance to drink it immediately before it goes flat and stale.

It will probably help if the bottle is labeled prominently by the brewery, so it's a bit less fishy looking, but I doubt it would matter that much. Either the agents involved have seen it before or don't care, or they'll think your bag is suspicious and ruin your brew.

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    It's homebrew -- there's no brewery label. Also, one might imagine that putting tamper-evident seals on things would draw the attention of anyone inspecting the bag. Why, they might wonder, is it so important for the traveller to know whether or not we know what's in the container? – David Richerby Jul 31 '16 at 15:17
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A lot will depend on where you are flying from and the TSA agent's familiarity with beer / growlers.

If the TSA agent does not know what a growler is, then to them it is a large stainless steel container filled with an unknown liquid, which could be flammable, could be harmless. I would attach a label to it indicating what is in it, preferably a beer label or tag from the brewery, so they at least have an idea what is supposed to be in there.

Other than that there is no way to know for sure if they will open it during inspection or not. TSA doesn't make its guidelines known for a very good reason.

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    It's homebrew -- there is no tag from the brewery. – David Richerby Jul 31 '16 at 15:17
  • @DavidRicherby - I did not see where the OP mentioned it was homebrew. A lot of craft breweries in the USA will sell beer in growlers or fill a growler you bring in, so yes it could be from a brewery. – user13044 Jul 31 '16 at 16:09
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    It's in the title. – David Richerby Jul 31 '16 at 17:41
  • @DavidRicherby - OK my bad (never read the titles anyway once I go to the question). BUT hecould still label it as such. – user13044 Aug 1 '16 at 3:26
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Since it is stainless steel, it will not show as hollow on X-ray. So they are likely to open the bag. Then what they do with the growler depends on whether they know what it is.

  • As someone who just accidentally brought two stainless-steel water bottles through the carryon line, one full and one empty, I can definitively tell you that they can tell the difference between nothing, a liquid, and some denser blob — even through stainless steel. – mattdm Jul 31 '16 at 10:51
  • Well, as someone who recently brought two empty ones through intentionally, I can definitely tell you that whatever they were able to see didn't stop them from requiring a time-consuming unpacking and replacing for a close look at those bottles. – WGroleau Jul 31 '16 at 12:40
  • @WGroleau I always carry a steel water bottle when I fly. It's always in a pocket on the outside of my bag, I always make sure to tell the security people that it's empty, and I've never once had any hassle. The closest I came to hassle was early one morning when there was almost nobody trying to get through security, and they were obviously bored so they spent literally 30 seconds doing a swab test on the bottle. – David Richerby Jul 31 '16 at 15:21
  • @WGroleau did the open the bottle or just shake it? – Matthew Moisen Jul 31 '16 at 22:18
  • @DavidRicherby Did they swab the outside or the inside? I would not like them swabbing my homebrew ;) – Matthew Moisen Jul 31 '16 at 22:19
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64oz of liquid, I would think it likely they would have a look because it's going to simply be a blob on their x-ray--and in my experience bags containing blobs like that get opened.

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    As someone who just accidentally brought two stainless-steel water bottles through the carryon line, one full and one empty, I can definitively tell you that they can tell the difference between nothing, a liquid, and some denser blob. They showed me what it looks like on the xray. So, they'll be able to tell that it's a liquid of some sort — but not, of course, what liquid. – mattdm Jul 31 '16 at 10:51
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According to https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/liquids-rule

You can't carry-on a container holding more than 3.4 liquid ounces of a fluid.

I don't think they would even need to open your growler in order to reach their decision to either confiscate the whole thing or (if they're being nice) empty it for you so you can keep your 64-oz stainless steel re-closeable container, saving you something like, what, fifteen to forty dollars? Not counting the brew itself.

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    In the question the OP specifies this is checked baggage, not a carry on. Your link explicitly says items with more than 3.4 ounces are allowed in checked baggage. – BrianH Jul 30 '16 at 22:32

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