The Ins and Outs of Shipping Beer

by Billy Broas

shipping-beerphoto: B Tal

Update: If you’re wondering about beer trades or shipping homebrew, I do both frequently. Watch my video on how to ship beer to see a foolproof way to pack and ship your beer to someone.

After announcing my beer of the month club reviews, a few readers asked me whether the clubs would ship to their state. I admit, I was stumped.

So I brought in an expert.

Rick Boyd is the owner of Brewforia, a craft beer store in Meridian, Idaho. Brewforia also sells beer online, so I asked Rick if he would help me out in understanding the beer shipping laws.

Enter Rick:

Even the most casual observer is aware of the revolution in brewing that is taking place. In the past five years, hundreds of breweries have opened in every region of the country and these new brewers are challenging the status quo by producing beers like the world has never seen. So how does someone who lives in Nashville, TN get their hands on a bottle of T.R.E.A.T. Imperial Chocolate Pumpkin Porter from Midnight Sun Brewing in Alaska? Let me tell you, it’s not easy.

We’re very accustomed in this country to heading down to the local store and buying whatever product we want. Pretty much no matter where you live you can buy the latest electronics or fashions, enjoy the latest movies or music and even some of the most exotic ethnic cuisines, but it’s not that simple with beer. Thanks to the extremely limited brewing capacity of craft brewers and the antiquated laws regulating the sale of alcohol, getting a bottle of some of the rarest and most interesting craft beers is almost impossible. That said, there is one place you can turn – the internet.

With the Granholm vs Heald ruling, the Supreme Court made it possible for people order alcohol, specifically wine online and have it shipped direct to their homes. Since this ruling, a handful of retailers have started offering selections of craft beer for sale online. The internet is really the craft brewers best chance to get their beer into as many different hands possible since it doesn’t require any expansion of brewing capacity or restrictive distribution contracts. Expect to see online beer sales grow rapidly and possibly overtake wine sales by volume in the years to come.

What you need to know when ordering beer online:

  1. What are the laws in your state: Not every state permits shipments of alcohol to residents so if you live in PA, TX, MA, UT, MD, DE, AR, OK, MT, ME, SD, KY, AK, HI, WV or MS then you can’t have alcohol of any kind delivered to you. There are companies out there that do not adhere to or are not aware of laws from state to state and may be shipping to residents of these states which could land them and possibly even the resident in legal trouble. Even states that do permit shipments of alcohol to residents have certain legal restrictions and requirements that must be met. Some states don’t allow anything with an alcohol content greater than a set percentage and many others put a monthly or annual limit on the amount of alcohol a person or household can receive from out of state retailers.
  2. Who can ship: There are only two legal ways to ship alcohol in the United States. A retailer must be licensed to sell alcohol by a state that permits shipments in and out of that state and must have an alcohol shippers contract with either UPS or FedEx. The US Postal Service does not permit shipments of alcohol. It is illegal for a non-licensed individual to ship alcohol.
  3. Signing for the order: When you buy alcohol online the package should ship with a sticker on each box identifying it as containing alcohol and when either UPS or FedEx show up with the packages there will have to be someone over 21 years of age to sign for receipt of the order. If you think about it, this makes sense otherwise minors might end up in possession of product they shouldn’t have. UPS and FedEx charge each retailer several dollars per box to collect this signature and if by the third attempt no one has been available to sign for the package it is sent back to the retailer.
  4. Cost: Beer is heavy so its going to be somewhat expensive to ship it so be prepared to spend at least what it cost for the beer. A little trick is the more you order typically the less the cost. If you order a case (24 bottles) you can get the shipping cost down as a percentage of each bottle.

So with all these hoops to jump through and additional expense why should you be considering buying beer online? Well, frankly it’s about the only way you’re ever going to be able to get that special bottle from that tiny brewery on the other side of the country. So if you take your beer seriously and want to try the best the world has to offer, it’s all just a few mouse clicks away.

If you’re one of those unfortunate souls that lives in a state that doesn’t currently permit alcohol shipments to its residents, then you need to be vocal. Call your state representatives and tell them that they should support consumer choice and allow you to buy the products you want. We here at Brewforia.com are also working on getting these states to open their doors to shipping, but we can’t do it without people in those states demanding it.

Remember to watch my video on packing and shipping beer to see my method for sending beer to friends.

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

Billy Broas December 3, 2010 at 11:32 am

Thanks for the post Rick. I’m all for consumer choice and it is sad to see how long that list of states is. If it is a legal substance, and someone over 21 signs for it, then it should be allowed. They are antiquated laws but hopefully they change. The craft beer revolution may be the thing to do it, but you’re right, we need to be vocal.

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Logan Thompson December 3, 2010 at 11:50 am

Great post Billy. It is a bit disappointing to have a lack of beer shops selling online, but I see why.

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Big Tex December 3, 2010 at 12:13 pm

So… what if we desire to send a bottle or two of homebrew to someone. How does that work?

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Wick December 3, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Great post! We here in MS working on getting the laws changed. But first we need to lift the 5% ABW limit on beers that can be sold here in our state and legalize home brewing. If you are anyone that is reading this would like to help in our fight go to http://www.raiseyourpints.com. Twenty-five bucks to join and you’ll get a t-shirt. With the legislature about to begin at the start of the new year, it’s about time to get our ball rolling. Last year we were on the agenda, but they were stuck on both the senate and house floors.

Thanks again for the the follow up post on shipping of beer!

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Dale Miskimins December 3, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Thanks for the article Billy! Maybe a second article on the TSA airline rules for transporting beer would be helpful to your readers.

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Billy Broas December 3, 2010 at 12:34 pm

@Logan Thanks. Yea I can see how it’s just now worth the hassle for many of them. The red tape is a big deterrent.

@Big Tex Good question Tex. I added a note at the bottom of the post. Thanks for bringing that up!

@Wick I feel bad for MS. The shipping laws are one thing, but the abv and homebrew restrictions are ridiculous. You guys are fighting the good fight though and I’m confident you’ll get things changed. Keep it up!

@Dale Welcome Dale. That is a good idea. Maybe I’ll even get a TSA employee to write it. Actually if they wrote it that would be the most boring thing ever. I’ll write it.

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Nels December 3, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Thanks Billy for this post. Lame PA liquor laws have gotten me again, but now I have a reason to contact my lawmakers again.

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Big Tex December 3, 2010 at 12:43 pm

w00t. Thanks, Billy.

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Chris Starr December 3, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Awesome post AGAIN Billy!

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Rick December 3, 2010 at 1:39 pm

I have a little experience with beer on airplanes. Its really pretty simple. You can’t bring any liquid through the security check point so you’ll have to put it in your checked luggage. You can take as much onto the plane as you want so long as its in your checked luggage or in a box you check. You can actually save a little money if you box it up really well and send via freight on the same airline you’re flying on. It takes a little forethought but its cheaper than putting it on the checked luggage.

I’ve also heard tell of people sending the beer back home to themselves via Greyhound.

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Dukes909 December 3, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Another one here from MS. Thanks for clearing up the issue of which states can receive the beer of the month shipments! I don’t know if we’ll ever get the beer thing changed in MS; I’ve been calling & writing my representatives since 1996 when I started homebrewing and it has not changed in all that time. There are more beers available than there were then (and we finally have an in-state microbrewery that I hope lasts) – maybe we’ll see change, but I’m getting doubtful anymore.

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BrewSpeak Paul December 3, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Great work Billy. These laws truly are quirky, although a total pain for folks that happen to live in the states in question. When I travel to Europe, I frequently bring beer back on the plane, and while my bags have been searched by the TSA (you see a little leaflet in your bag explaining this). I have never had any of my beer confiscated.

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SirRon December 3, 2010 at 4:40 pm

I live in TX… have been a BOtM member for years. I’ve also had wine shipped, but that depends on where I buy it from.

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Rick December 3, 2010 at 5:02 pm

SirRon, you may want to be cautious on what you have shipped to you in Texas. It is not permitted to have any alcohol shipped to you from out of state if you live in Texas. There was a 3 month window when the state law was overturned by the courts but the state legislature worked overtime to rewrite the law and get to the governor for a signature to get the ban reinstated. As soon as that ban was back on the books we got a letter from the TABC instructing us to cease shipments to Texas or face legal action. I don’t know if the state would pursue legal action against the person receiving the shipment but you should know that it is possible.

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Julie December 3, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Great post, Billy! However, I am not exactly sure that these states you list are totally prohibitive. When Bruisin’ Ales applied to be an approved shipper through the NC ABC Board, we went through a state-by-state list with our ABC rep for approvals on where we were allowed to ship by law in accordance with other laws. This list was also thoroughly examined again by FedEx carrier, then back to the NC ABC. Both were signed off on and approved. Just some extra feedback. No one is trying to break the law, but there are definitely more grey areas than black and white when it comes to shipping.

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SirRon December 3, 2010 at 5:09 pm

@Rick
I’ll take my chances that the TABC sucks too much to find out who I am… or even reads this blog :)

I can tell you that I have received shipments from many (5-10 maybe) outlets in the past year, including BOtMs, wineries (club member shipments), and internet outlets.

I haven’t signed for one of these in a long while either, but that is a whole other think I guess.

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Rick December 3, 2010 at 5:19 pm

SirRon, not to put to fine a point on it but operators that are shipping without the signature requirement put this entire industry at risk. The state of Michigan conducted a sting of online beer and wine shippers where they had a 16 year old use a parents credit card to order alcohol online. One of the shippers they chose shipped the product without identifying the box as containing alcohol and without a signature requirement. This sting was used to justify shutting down all shipments in and out of the state and depriving the residents of the ability to buy products they wanted.

You may be thinking, so, I already can’t legally have it shipped to me so big deal. Well all I can say is if you want to be able to get product shipped to you legally at some point in the future you should try and support the responsible companies and not those that operate irresponsibly.

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SirRon December 3, 2010 at 5:42 pm

@Rick
I understand the laws and ramifications and whatnot. I’m a smart dude, and I understand why you may not like my apathy not the subject. I’m not saying, I’m just saying.

I think they *should* get a signature, not that they ever would get one because I’m not home during business hours. If I picked it up from the station, the carrier might notice that it is not an approved shipment. So, I’m not complaining. I also think our alcohol laws are ignorant. I should write my state representatives about it, right? I do every once and a while. But when I say “I don’t care” about whether they leave it at my front door, I mean that too. You know where I’m coming from?

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Rick December 3, 2010 at 5:50 pm

I totally know where you’re coming from and I like you don’t want to be deprived of the products that you want to buy. My point is that these companies that operate in this manner put legitimate businesses like mine at risk. If UPS and FedEx feel that the legal hazards of shipping alcohol are to great they will shut it all down and no one will be able to get the products. This is a real problem.

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Jeff Alworth December 6, 2010 at 3:06 pm

And what if you’re trying to ship a beer to England? Leeds, say. I’d love to put it on a slow boat, but I don’t know how to do it.

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Rick December 6, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Jeff,
I know that both UPS and FedEx offer international alcohol shipping contracts to retailers and producers to permit shipping overseas but the specifics of what countries allow shipments is tough to navigate. I know that some companies ship to the UK but I’ve heard from residents of the UK that tell me that its technically not permitted.

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Billy Broas December 16, 2010 at 11:28 am

Thought I would chime back in here with a recent experience. As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I’ve signed up to a few beer of the month clubs in order to review them for this blog. One of them has consistently left the box on my front doorstep during the day without getting a signature. Now, I just canceled the membership because I am only doing a few months at a time for the reviews, but if I were staying on board then I would contact the company. My main concern is the guys across the street (I live on a busy intersection) with the cardboard signs who see a package sitting there all day. I was just waiting to come home and see one of them drinking a Saison out of the bottle!

I also see Rick’s point though about these companies that try to save a few bucks ruining it for everyone. I want to see these laws changed and Rick’s right that a few more Michigan incidents could send things in the wrong direction. I’m lucky that I can have beer shipped to me at all but if I were in SirRon’s spot then there would be some conflicting emotions. That one is a personal call.

Oh yea, one more thing in response to Julie. Julie, Rick actually listed the states, not me. So maybe it’s not even crystal clear what states you can and cannot ship to? Unclear laws!?! OK not so surprising. Thanks for all the comments everyone.

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Rick Boyd December 16, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Hi Julie,
Like yourself we did a lot of research launched our online store but unlike your experience the state of Idaho has no restrictions on where we can ship to. As far as they are concerned the product we buy and ship out of state is the receiving states problem and is not the concern of the shipping state.

The list of states we listed was provided to us by UPS. These are the only states that they permit shipments of alcohol to.

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SirRon December 21, 2010 at 9:41 am

Maybe things need to get worse before they get better. Politicians (and human beings for that matter) often give up a little to protect “the system.” As long as there are ways for consumers to buy alcoholic beverages, the fight to change HOW we can purchase them is a very difficult one. One that takes an impossible amount of agreement on the local, state, and federal levels. I wouldn’t want some change that would hurt the good guys, like Rick, but maybe scraping the current system completely and firing up the people (consumer) isn’t so much of a bad thing.

I can tell you that I’ve contacted my representatives on the state and federal levels about restrictive beer distribution laws, but it’s pretty easy to write a letter. If I couldn’t get craft beer at all, I’d be a hell of a lot more active.

But, I’m also cool right now with getting “illegal” beer of the month and seemingly unlimited wine retailer shipments to Texas and not signing for them. :)

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Roscoe December 27, 2010 at 7:19 pm

I live in NH and have a friend that also Homebrews in AZ. It would be nice to be able to share my beers with him by shipping, and for him to be able to send me some of his favorites to me to try. I doubt any politician could explain what would be wrong with doing so, but laws are in place to restrict or complicate shipping and also trading of homebrews in exchange as it could be considered payment which is illegal. Maybe the politicians are jealous because no homebrews are being shipped to them? Let’s give a homebrew to a politician to make a point of how harmless it is and how silly the laws are. Might make a better point than a letter…

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Rick Boyd December 27, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Hey Roscoe,
I think sending a homebrew to your elected representative is a great idea just make sure you send it with an adult signature required for delivery otherwise you raise the specter of alcohol falling into the hands of minors and defeat the entire purpose of the exercise.

One thing to keep in mind when you’re working on these things is it that you have to focus all your actions on the state level politicians. Those elected to Congress are in no position to help with alcohol regulation outside of legislation like HR 5034. Alcohol is regulated at the state level so if you send beer start with the state rep and state senator in your district or look to another rep in your state that you think might be receptive to the cause. If you don’t of such a rep call your state brewers guild and pick their brains.

Just today I sent an email to a state Senator here in Idaho requesting that he introduce legislation in the next session that would modify and clarify the language in the law permitting shipments to Idaho residents. Currently that language only applies to wine according to the law but has been interpreted to include beer and spirits. Unless the language is modified at some point in time residents here in my state could find themselves unable to buy the beer and spirits they want.

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Gerard Walen January 4, 2011 at 11:41 am

Remember, though, if you can’t bring to the beer to you, you can always go to the beer and fill up your trunk with your purchases.
Road Trips for Beer!!!
:-)

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BigD January 6, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Im a PA resident and I was wondering what the rules were. I have found a site that does not have PA on its restricted list, and I just placed an order. I was about to place an order from another retailer and they have a check box that says that I am responsible to know my own state/county laws. I also have a third site that is based in NY and they do not have any restrictions against shipping into PA, though they do mention that they will age verify upon delivery… which is contrary, as they will need to label it as alcohol to do so and thus will not be able to get it into PA

At this point I have conflicting information because the one store will ship it to me, while everything I have read states that it is illegal to receive it in PA. What do you think the best solution is here?

Thanks for any info,
BigD

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RIck January 6, 2011 at 6:09 pm

BigD,
PA, UT and MA are the 3 most restrictive states to shipments of alcohol in the country. I don’t doubt for a second that there are companies out there that will ship to residents of these states. As far as I know the penalties related to having alcohol shipped to yourself or others in a restricted state are on the shipper not the receiver meaning any retailer or manufacturer that shipped into these states would be penalized not you. So if you wish to order and have it shipped to you then as far as I know you would not suffer any legal consequence.

That said however I would stress as I have done already in this thread that the actions of one can muck it up for everyone else. If you and others order beer, wine or spirits and have them shipped into your state against state law or restrictions then it could potentially set back the cause of getting those privileges established in the future.

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BigD January 6, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Thanks for the quick response Rick.

I was only apprehensive because the check box for the terms and conditions states:

“If you are the recipient of this order, you certify that it is legal to ship alcohol into your state and county. If you are not the recipient of this order, you certify that it is legal to ship alcohol into the state and county of the intended recipient.”

I do want to see the laws changed, so maybe I will take a pass on this as it seems to be detrimental to both myself and the state of this issue on the whole.

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Beer Baron Livonia May 26, 2011 at 10:29 pm

Awesome article, very helpful. Thank You!!

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Brian Simpson December 7, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Hi all
Here is a question see if anyone can answer.
I live in Calgary Alberta and I am going to Taos New Mexico for two months.
I have a lot of great homebrew I would like to take with me does anyone know if that is allowed.
Thanks
Briian S

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Crista March 21, 2012 at 5:12 pm

thanks for posting about shipping beer state to state… my friend just called me to ask if he can ship a microbrew from our home state of PA to a friend in OR (she moved there 2 years ago and misses our brews…imagine that..lol)… but I really had no clue what the laws were, since I usually just pack a few up into my checked baggage on the plane when I go out to visit… so thank you for making me look smart.. :) and FYI – I learned something new last time I went to Europe… beer in your checked bags is no problem (I recommend cans since they are not as heavy, smaller and less likely to break, and if you do insist on bottles use LOTS of bubble wrap!, seal those babies in a plastic ziploc or wrap a towel around ‘em just in case they do crack or god forbid break all over the damn place) … sorry I digress… anyway buying wine at the duty free shop is more complicated than they make it out to be…. I was allowed to purchase 3 bottles of wine at the Barcelona airport, board the plane with it, travel 8 hours to JFK, go through customs with no problem, walk around the airport etc etc..BUT then when I went to go through security to transfer to my second leg of my trip from JFK to Philly… I suddenly could not take it with me… too many “ounces of liquid”…. I had to forfeit it to the TSAs… although they did offer to let me drink it at the gate… hilarious… I declined….since I really didn’t want to chug 3 bottles of wine and then get thrown off the plane anyway.. so in conclusion…one stop is cool, two domestic flights, not cool. so hopefully my little tale of woe will help someone else avoid spending money on wine for the TSAs Christmas party… ;-)

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Rick April 13, 2012 at 8:37 pm

here is a question for ya – if i get a shipment of beer say from PA to CA and i want to sell it in a bar or at a beer store are there any laws or anything wrong with that or illegal.

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Billy Broas April 13, 2012 at 8:56 pm

I’m no expert but I would say that’s illegal. I remember when this happened: http://blogs.westword.com/cafesociety/2012/01/new_glarus_facebookcontrabandl.php

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Ken June 20, 2012 at 7:06 pm

Hi Billy and Rick,

First off, great post. I was wondering if these are still the current laws or if any of the states have been updated and we can now ship to them? Thanks for your help.

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Brewforia.com June 20, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Hey Ken,
No laws have changed per say but there have been a couple states that changed their policies in terms of enforcement. Just recently IA and MN decided to start restricting shipments to its residents from out of state retailers & brewers. Neither state has a law that says this can’t be done but their Alcohol Beverage Control Authority is sending out threatening letters and emails to anyone shipping in.

Both states are still permitting shipments from retailers in those states to residents of other states which according to the Granholm decision would put them in violation of the Interstate Commerce Clause but we’ll have to get a court to rule on that before we can really change anything in those states along with numerous others.

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MaxC July 11, 2012 at 3:24 pm

How is the new site beerjobber.com legally circumventing these obstacles? Have the laws changed or did they build a better mousetrap?

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Billy Broas July 12, 2012 at 9:54 am

Hey Max, I actually did a post on BeerJobber which describes how they operate: http://billybrew.com/beerjobber

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MaxC July 12, 2012 at 10:23 am

Yup – sorry saw that after I posted! Thx.

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tony July 23, 2012 at 3:04 pm

I used to think that ordering beer online was expensive due to shipping costs….until I realized what I was saving my not paying TAXES! I live in Chicago and typically pay upward of 15% tax on all alcohol purchases. My beer purchases from Cali are not taxed. I typically order 6 to 8 bombers at a time to make it worth my while. While the shipping may cost $20-$25, I’m saving $15 in taxes. Food for thought.

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chuck April 22, 2013 at 9:31 pm

I have many friends in East Texas that do belong to different beer of the month clubs, so I don’t understand how it is illegal here. They all do it legally, and have never even hinted that it was illegal. Just saying

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Keith Chavey April 24, 2013 at 2:47 am

Sorry, dealing with the antiquated liquor laws around the country, I can’t help but blame large deep pocket lobbyist companies like InBev….they have their distribution networks set up, and even control product placement in retail environments…they just got stopped from buying up Coronas brewer..because it would create over fifty percent of the market for the company as a whole…they are scared…and are scrambling…they have the commercial airwaves with advertisement dollars, but as everyone knows, word of mouth is the best media that exists..look at Dogfish Head, or Alchemists “heady topper”…the people producing the best should be supported…

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Brian Duffy January 18, 2014 at 10:23 am

Do you have any idea how much beer you are able to ship at one time from AZ?? My friend and I are going to be swapping with some friends from Long Island and we’re trying to get all of the information

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Heather January 29, 2014 at 8:20 am

I have a good friend who recently moved to California from New Hampshire. He called recently complaining that he couldn’t find his favorite brew in his new locale. I want to buy a couple cases and ship them to him as a surprise. He can prove he is over 21 years old at the time of delivery.

I guess what I am asking is: Can I purchase the drinks (not liquor, he likes twisted teas), box them, bring them to UPS/FedEx, tell them what it is (for signature requirements) and still be able to ship it to California without repercussions? Does the beer have to be in its original case or can I take it apart to better wrap individual bottles to protect against breakage?

thanks!

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John February 24, 2014 at 3:56 pm

I just want to ship my cousin some beers from georgia to napa, ca…. is that allowed in any way shape or form? And I want it to be beers that I have in my possession… Is there any way to ship those as present?

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Steve Wieland March 1, 2014 at 3:29 pm

Billy:

Great post, although I think you may have overstated the Granholm ruling a little. In that case the Supreme Court only said that the states must treat in-state and out-of-state alcohol sellers the same. So, if a state allows in-state breweries to direct-ship beer to in-state buyers, then the state must allow out-of-state breweries to ship beer to in-state buyers as well.

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Rob August 23, 2014 at 1:17 pm

You can now ship beer into Maine. I get beer shipped to me from The Charleston Beer Exchange using FedEx.

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