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Despite the enduring popularity of digital retail, sending alcohol from one place to another is fraught with challenges. The question “can you ship alcohol?” may sound straightforward, but, in the United States, it encompasses Talmudic complexities.
Here is everything you need to know about why the process is so complicated, and when and how you can ship alcohol to lucky recipients anywhere in the country.
Why Is It So Hard to Ship Alcohol?
Like many regulations in the drinks industry, the intricacy of shipping alcohol is linked to Prohibition. When it was repealed in 1933, the constitutional amendment gave each state the power to set its own laws surrounding the distribution, production and sale of all alcoholic beverages.
These state laws vary enormously, explains Seth Weinberg, a partner at New York City law firm Weinberg Zareh Malkin Price and adjunct professor at Columbia Law School, where he teaches classes in food and beverage law. If you’re shipping alcohol across state lines, “you have to deal with both the state that is shipping the alcohol and the state where the recipient is located,” he says.
That’s a lot of regulations to decipher, especially for individuals without legal degrees who simply want to send a friend a bottle of booze for their birthday. “There’s no reasonable expectation a consumer would know any of this,” Weinberg says. “Consumers find out [about these laws] when they try to place an order and they’re either told they can or they can’t.”
How to Ship Alcohol Within the State
If you’re a generous individual with thirsty friends, you can’t simply pop a few bottles in the mail via the U.S. Postal Service or a provider like Fedex or UPS. This is true whether your intended recipients are located a few minutes away, or in a far-flung state on the other side of the country.
Instead, you’ll need to purchase alcohol from a licensed producer, retailer or distributor, and then have it shipped through them. This includes in-state wineries and breweries with direct-to-consumer permits, as well as e-commerce operations like Drizly or Minibar.
All those businesses are liable to uphold the varied alcohol shipping rules of their state. And there’s a lot of rules to learn. In California, for instance, there’s no limit on the amount of wine a consumer can receive. However, in New York, you can ship up to 36 cases of wine directly from a New York State winery to an in-state address each year.
“Wineries are the only type of alcoholic beverages that have direct-to-consumer rights in New York,” says Josh Heller, public relations specialist at the New York State Liquor Authority.