Go west, young woman

It’s almost 2 years to the day since I posted about our great mid-west beer run to Madison, Wisconsin in preparation for our wedding. In that post I alluded to a harrowing adventure and promised to post about it after the wedding… and then I totally didn’t! The horror!

To recap that story, Chris and I and our good friends Cass and Liz hatched a plan to obtain kegs of a couple of very special and rather rare beers for our 2011 autumn wedding. New Glarus’s Belgian Red (cherry) and Raspberry Tart are a couple of orgasmic Belgian-style lambics (wild yeast fermented) that you simply cannot buy outside of Wisconsin. The brewery has a mandate for itself to stay local, which is wonderful — if you live in Wisconsin.

New Glarus Strawberry Rhubarb and Serendipity fruit beers on this gorgeous Saturday night.
New Glarus Strawberry Rhubarb and Serendipity fruit beers from our recent Mid-West Beer Run.

We armed ourselves with the rules governing alcohol importing to Ontario and long-hauled it to Madison all bundled together in Chris and mine’s VW Jetta. In a nutshell, the rules state that each adult is allowed to import 45L of alcohol (beer, wine or liquor) for personal consumption into Ontario when returning from a trip, of course including paying all applicable duties at the border. So with four adults, we opted to get 3 30L kegs, plus assorted bottles of craft beer.

A few tips to anyone considering doing this, or just considering importing any assorted quantity of craft beer in bottles:

  • Ensure you have ALL your receipts and be ready to present them at customs;
  • Do the math in advance and figure out your total volume in several measurements, including litres, ounces and what your beer is equal to in your typical 12 imperial fl oz/341 mL bottles;
  • Calculate the average value of your alcohol by ounce and litre (this will help customs officials charge you the appropriate duty);
  • Factor out the deductible amount of alcohol you’re allowed to bring in duty-free (based on how long you’ve been out of the country) and be ready to explain that too, so you aren’t over charged on duty.

In our experience, customs officials are a little baffled at first when we show up ready to import kegs of beer. You can make their job a heck of a lot easier when you come prepared with these figures. Typically they’re experienced at charging duty on a quantity of standard 12 imperial fl oz/341 mL bottles, so it can be confusing and time consuming to work out the alternative measurements at the desk, especially if you have a long line of people waiting behind you. We’ve generally found customs officials to be pretty easy going despite our unusual quantity/packing of alcohol, it just makes the entire process easier on everyone if you come prepared with the numbers.

Back to our story. We were about to leave Wisconsin with our haul when we began to experience some unusual thumping/vibrating with the car. We stopped a few times to inspect but couldn’t see any bulges or problems with our tires. We got onto the Interstate just outside Madison when the vibrating intensified until there was a huge THUMP and we had to make an emergency pull over. We discovered on the side of the highway that our wheel had come off the car. Normally an incredibly dangerous thing often resulting in catastrophic accidents (imagine wheels flying across multiple lanes of traffic, cars flipping over, death and destruction), our wheel stayed with the car, due to the sheer weight of our cargo. The beer literally saved our lives.

An extra day in the US, a ride in the back of a police cruiser (no we weren’t arrested!), emergency repairs at the local VW dealership and a very hefty bill later we were on our way again. And that is the story of the beer we had at our wedding that fall.

Chris & Sarah's Wedding
Toasting and kissing with Belgian Red at our wedding in 2011. Photo: Angie Griffith.

Great Mid-West Beer Run Take 2 — we did it all over again this past Civic holiday weekend! And this time without the car troubles. On this trip, we got our hands on some New Glarus Strawberry Rhubarb and Serendipity (a combination of cherries, apple and cranberries), plus assorted bottles and other rarities. Those kegs are destined to christen our new home once we get ourselves moved in, hopefully come November. We’ve had a chance to taste the bottle versions of these elixirs and they are absolutely gorgeous.

PS: Want to avoid having a “wheel off” incident of your own? Ask your mechanic to ensure you get new lug nuts with every seasonal tire change. And make sure he/she reads this important article in Canadian Technician magazine about taking care when changing tires and wheels (special thanks to my talented mechanic brother for the info). Hats off to Volkswagen Canada for taking responsibility in our case.

PPS: We’ve heard some grumblings from brewers regarding bringing the kegs out of country, which we can totally understand. But I’d just like to set the record straight that we returned them. Yes, it took a little while, but we brought them back, and plan to do so again. We do pay a deposit on them, and while we know that doesn’t represent the full value of the equipment to the brewer, we’d just like to ensure folks that we aren’t ripping them off.


  1. Dan says:

    What an adventure! Bet the beer is worth it too 😉

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