The number one inquiry on compliantbootlegger.com has to do with shipping beer directly to consumer. Many folks email us and use our chat to ask us how they can start a beer of the month club, or how they can sell beer online and ship it directly to someone’s doorstep. Each time I answer the same; It’s complicated. I understand that’s not what you want to hear, but it’s the truth.
There have been many articles published on the subject (we even assisted with the one published in the Beer Connoisseur Magazine Website HERE ) and they all seem to come to the same conclusion, without going too deep into it, I will explain. You must first be a producer (brewery, winery, distillery) and you must be licensed in your home state as well as have some sort of shipping license in the state you plan on shipping to. According to the various states and their alcohol departments/agencies if you ship to their state without the proper licensing then you can be fined and charged with a misdemeanor. Currently there are a few states that allow the direct shipment of beer and we have posted a list on this site, so please check it out (here). Bare with me, because the list was created a few months back. The way the laws change in these states, the list could have shrunk or grown.
Ok, back to the subject at hand. Once I mention this to those interested in starting their beer shipment business, they always ask; “Well what about those beer clubs, or beer of the month clubs? They claim they can ship beer directly to my doorstep.” Once again I come back with the same answer; It’s complicated. I will do my best to keep this as short as possible and after digging deep into the subject I came up with a few different possibilities.
The first possibility is that they are doing it illegally. I am not saying that there are companies that are doing it illegally, but the law is the law. If a state says you cannot ship beer to their state, then you can’t. There are no if, ands, or buts about it. The second possibility I’ve come up with is that some companies are not licensed at all, so they don’t fall under the alcohol laws. What they do is act as a middle man (somewhat like a salesperson or outside marketing company) for breweries. For example, ABC company will set up a website, claim to ship all throughout the US, put pictures of beer on their site with prices and they are in business. When a customer goes to the website for ABC company and makes an order, the order is actually sent to the brewery and the brewery sets up shipping even though the order was executed through the 3rd party site. ABC company is paid a fee by the brewery for initiating the sale and their hands are clean. ABC company did not ever take possession of the beer, nor ship it, nor sell it. The last possibility that I’ve come across is that these companies that are shipping beer, are placing blame on the customer. What I mean by that is that if you read their “terms of service” you will read that they relinquish liability on the shipment of beer to the customer when the customer takes possession of the beer. Possession is taken when the shipping company such as UPS or FedEx picks up the package. Once they pick up the package it’s up to the customer to make sure they are following their states laws regarding bringing beer into their state. Whew! That was a lot.
Here are a few examples from a few different beer shipping websites:
Business # 1
Title to, and ownership of, all beer passes from seller to buyer, and buyer takes all responsibility for shipping the beer to his or her home state. By placing an order, buyer authorizes seller to act on buyer’s behalf in arranging for transportation of the beer at the buyer’s direction.
... title is passed to the buyer at the time of the sale. All shipping costs, including insurance, are to be paid by the Buyer. ABC Company makes no representation to the legal rights of anyone to ship or import beverages containing alcohol. (You like how they did that?) By placing an order, you authorize ABC Company to act on your behalf, to engage a common carrier to deliver your order to you. Several states impose limitations on the quantity of alcoholic beverages, which may be purchased and brought into their state without requiring the purchaser, the seller or the shipper to possess certain licenses or permits. As a condition of sale, ABC Company assumes no obligation and bears no responsibility whatsoever for applying for or obtaining any such permits or licenses.
See how all that works? I hope I cleared some things up for you. For those that want to go ahead and ship beer without alcohol licensing, my only suggestion is to get legal counsel. There are plenty of alcohol attorneys (check out Strike and Techel) that can assist with the proper set up that will have you possibly shipping beer all over the US to those happy customers. For those breweries that want to get licensed and ship to those 8 or so states, let us know and we can assist with the licensing. We also do monthly reporting, COLAS , formulas and...Wait that's off subject. Anyway, until then...Cheers!
*I forgot to mention that retailers can ship beer online to many more states than producers (breweries). So if you want to get licensed as a beer retailer, you have the potential to reach more customers. Kind of. Well I guess it depends. ;-)