How to Ship Alcohol, Beer and Wine Legally
Whether selling to stores or delivering directly to homes, shipping alcohol has become an increasingly popular and practical way for brewers and distillers to manage their businesses. However, sending alcohol by mail has special rules.
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Here are the things you should know about shipping various forms of alcohol throughout the United States.
Is Mailing Alcohol Legal?
Sending alcohol by mail is legal in most areas, but not all. This means you need to know your customer’s addresses before you can accept their orders. Legality can vary by city, county, and state. However, there are a few general rules that apply everywhere it’s allowed.
The Three Basic Rules for Shipping Alcohol
The basic rules are:
- You must tell the carrier that the shipment has alcohol, usually by putting a label on the outside
- You must pay an alcohol package fee
- You must get an adult signature for the package
These rules help ensure alcohol isn’t getting into the hands of minors.
Shipping Alcohol In-State
In many ways, shipping alcohol locally is the easiest option because you only need to know the local rules. Local rules typically include city laws, as well as county regulations, but most areas permit these in some form.
Alcohol distributors know these regulations, so selling through them is the fastest and easiest way to comply with local guidelines. If you prefer to ship things yourself or through a regular carrier, you’ll need to check local regulations first, then sell elsewhere.
Shipping Alcohol Out-Of-State
Selling alcohol across state lines is significantly more complex than shipping in-state. You’ll need to meet the regulations in both states, although transit through the state is generally acceptable as long as nobody opens the package en-route.
You can get around some of these limits by working with retailers instead of consumers. Companies can often acquire things customers can’t, so if you want to sell in a different state, going through a retailer already in that state is often easier.
Shipping Alcohol Internationally
Selling alcohol internationally is the most challenging way to ship it. While you can study international law and import/export regulations, this can get too complex and burdensome for smaller companies.
The best and most effective way of shipping alcohol internationally is going through compliance companies that already do this. They’ll get a cut of your sales, but unless you’re a massive brewery, they’ll probably charge less than the time you’d have to spend to do it yourself.
Shipping Through Major Transportation Companies
Here are the guidelines for the major shipping companies.
The USPS does not allow shipping most alcohol, including any liquor having more than 0.5% alcohol by volume. However, there are a few notable exceptions to this.
First, you can ship through USPS if it’s between federal or state agencies with an official purpose for the drink. This notably includes testing it at laboratories or for other reasons.
You can also send most cooking wine through the USPS. If the wine isn’t meant for drinking and you label the box clearly, you’re good to go. Other products that can be exempt are those like mouthwash and cold remedies.
Generally, if the product is not a beverage and is not poisonous or flammable, the USPS will allow it.
Note that this may change soon. The federally-proposed United States Postal Service Shipping Equity Act would allow the USPS to ship alcohol at competitive rates, making it significantly simpler and cheaper to mail alcohol around the country.
UPS accepts some alcoholic shipments, including beer, wine, and spirits. As a general rule, UPS only ships alcohol from sellers who are currently licensed under the appropriate local laws and who sign a contract for shipping alcoholic drinks. As part of the contracting process, UPS ensures licensing and legality for the shipments. They will not ship alcohol without a contract.
UPS also has several general types of shipping for alcohol. These include from licensed shippers to consignees (i.e., distillery to distributor), directly to the consumer, and between distilleries or distribution facilities.
All alcohol shipments through UPS require packaging, typically including foam, corrugated trays, or molded fiber trays. They also require appropriate shipping labels and delivery confirmation with an adult signature for receiving it.
Finally, UPS allows some third-party vendor and shipping support as appropriate. UPS addresses this on a per-customer basis.
FedEx works similarly to UPS for shipping alcohol. They only accept shipments from companies in a contract with them, and the shipper must have all appropriate licenses.
FedEx will transport wine to consumers, but not other types of alcohol. This makes them generally more restrictive than UPS, although they may accept special cases or deliveries.
Outside of their normal shipping requirements, FedEx’s packaging services division can help you determine whether your shipping options qualify for mailing alcohol. This is a free service for FedEx customers, so even if your intended packaging isn’t on the list, they may accept it after analysis.
Proper analysis can help limit breakage, while another shipping solution like bubble wrap can augment your packaging to protect the contents further.
State Direct-To-Consumer Guidelines
Each state has different regulations for shipping to consumers. These guidelines are specifically for selling to individuals for consumption, not for selling to stores within the state. Most guidelines focus on wine, with beer sales being more limited.
The following guidelines are general information, not legal advice. Legislatures and other law-making entities can change local and state laws at any time, and it is your responsibility to ensure you comply with these guidelines. If you expect to have difficulty with that, hiring a qualified attorney can help.
The National Conference of State Legislatures maintains a listing of actual laws here. That link is not specifically a legal reference but does serve as an excellent place to check for rules in specific states. Remember, while the 21st Amendment repealed the federal prohibition on alcohol, local limits can still apply.
Alabama - Prohibited
Alabama mostly refuses direct shipments to customers within the state. There are a limited number of exceptions to this, including requests that go through the Alabama Alcohol Beverage Control Board, but most direct shipments will be denied. The best way to sell alcohol in Alabama is through local stores and distributors.
Alaska - Allowed
Alaska broadly allows shipping alcohol as long as you comply with general shipping and labeling guidelines. Don’t forget about the weather, though. If you’re not shipping in a heated vehicle, your parcel could face extreme cold. Fortunately, alcohol needs an adult signature for delivery, so you shouldn’t need to worry about any packages being left outside.
Arizona - Allowed
Arizona has relatively lax rules for shipping alcohol. Previously, it had limits on the number of bottles you could ship to a specific consumer, but they’ve since relaxed those guidelines. As with other states, you’ll need to be aware of local laws, but Arizona is generally friendly to out-of-state companies.
Arkansas - On-Site
Arkansas can ship alcohol to consumers, but only when people make their purchase on-site at the distributor’s location. This is a relatively uncommon setup, but it means that out-of-state distilleries will need to find an in-state partner for making the sales. Consider providing sample bottles for customers to examine before they make their purchase.
California - Allowed
California is a significant market for alcohol, so the shipping laws are generally relaxed. Deliveries are particularly easy when they’re in-state, so finding a local partner can smooth things out. Even if you don’t, though, you can ship alcohol through the state without too many issues.
One other thing to be aware of is your choice of shipping options. California is a coastal state with many ports, so you might be able to deliver by sea instead of by land. This is slower than shipping overland, but it might be worth it if you want to sell a high volume of alcohol in California.
Colorado - Allowed
Colorado has a large market for alcohol, specifically supporting liquor and beer in addition to wine deliveries. Colorado has a greater focus on some specialty markets than other states, so this is a market worth considering if you have small-batch products or unusual creations. As with other areas, expect to check local laws before you ship.
Connecticut - Allowed
Connecticut generally allows shipping alcohol as long as you’re compliant with all shipping and labeling regulations. However, this state also requires licenses for many shippers, and they’re comparatively expensive. It might be more affordable to find an in-state partner to sell your alcohol rather than going through the long and expensive permitting process.
Delaware - On-Site
Delaware has strict limits on the delivery of alcohol. Much like Arkansas, shipments are only allowed if they’re made on-site by Delaware residents. This means that phone orders, online orders, and subscriptions are all out in this particular state. If you don’t have a storefront in Delaware, the best option is to find a local partner to sell your drinks.
Florida - Allowed
Florida has a huge market for alcohol, possibly fueled by its reputation as a party state where college kids can visit for Spring Break. Regardless of the reasoning, though, Florida is generally permissive as long as you follow general mailing guidelines for alcohol of all kinds.
Florida’s sales are high enough that you can expect a lot of competition. Consider partnering with local stores to sell in-person alongside any remote sales.
Georgia - Allowed
Georgia broadly allows alcohol shipments directly to consumers. It has a relatively large market for alcohol, some of which may be driven by the fact that costs are much lower in Georgia than neighboring Alabama, which has some of the highest taxes in the country. Distributing through Georgia is a generally effective way to sell alcohol in its part of the country.
Hawaii - Allowed
Hawaii is particularly flexible for shipping wine, and it’s recently made further moves to expand direct-to-consumer shipping. Shipping to Hawaii is more expensive than to almost anywhere else in the United States, so the state is making it easier to order alcohol to remain comfortably competitive. There’s also the tourism angle for businesses to consider.
Idaho - Allowed
Idaho is a growing market for alcohol deliveries. Its local laws are relatively lax, but it’s also the fastest-growing state by population. It’s not going to overtake larger states anytime soon, of course. California has about 40 million people to Idaho’s 2 million, and the market differences for alcohol sales are obvious.
However, Idaho’s friendly market and growing population mean it will become increasingly valuable over time. Getting an early foothold offers numerous advantages for businesses.
Illinois - Allowed
Illinois is a large market for alcohol, especially in and around the Chicago area. Home deliveries are worth pursuing here, but Chicago’s large bar and nightlife scene means it’s also worth finding local partners who can sell drinks directly in their shops. The rest of Illinois isn’t quite as notable a market, leaning rural outside of Chicago.
Indiana - Allowed
Indiana is a relatively permissive market for alcohol, although it hasn’t been so for too long. There’s a 216 liter limit on shipments to individual consumers in one calendar year, which is about 288 standard bottles. Regular consumers probably won’t hit this limit, but people who order a lot of alcohol could trigger these regulations and force a stop on sales.
Iowa - Allowed
Like Idaho, Iowa has relatively lax laws on alcohol shipments and is home to a growing population of potential customers. There are a few differences if you’re making native wines, which require a special permit beyond the regular shipping license. Otherwise, the primary thing you need is a state wine direct shipper license.
Non-wine sales are more complicated. Notably, Iowa does not allow incoming beer shipments to consumers, although you may be able to sell on-site instead.
Kansas - Allowed
Kansas is also relatively lax on shipping, especially for wine, although they’ll expect you to get a special order shipping license. They also demand a valid federal wine permit, although that’s not a problem for legitimate companies. The main restriction in Kansas is selling no more than 12 standard cases (144 standard bottles) of wine to one consumer or address per year.
Kentucky - On-Site
Kentucky is another on-site state, although it’s more challenging than some others. They don’t allow out-of-state shipments directly to consumers, although some areas allow on-site sales with delivery to Kentucky residents.
Complicating this is the way that many counties in Kentucky forbid the sale of alcohol outright. This means you can only go through distributors in some parts of the state. All of this puts Kentucky well under the average, so businesses aiming to expand may want to look at other markets first.
Louisiana - Allowed
Louisiana is not a particularly large market, but that’s more a matter of population than regulations. They are especially permissive for selling wine, with a limit of 12 cases per adult per address in one year. This covers both sparkling and still wines. Louisiana does have reporting requirements, though, so expect to do some extra paperwork if you want to sell in this state.
Maine - Allowed
Like Louisiana, Maine is a relatively small market but broadly allows the shipment of alcohol. They expect a wine direct shipper’s license for any company selling that but have some unusual laws for the products. Like some other states, Maine doesn’t allow shipping more than 12 cases to one address each year.
However, Maine also prohibits shipping containers of less than 750 milliliters, which is the standard bottle size in the United States. The minimum size limit can make it more difficult to sell some small-volume specialty products, and that’s something to be aware of when marketing there.
Maryland - Allowed
Maryland has several licensing requirements for selling alcohol within the state, including requiring both a federal alcohol manufacturing license and an appropriate state manufacturer’s or wholesaler’s license. These are relatively expensive, but Maryland also permits higher sales volumes within the state than many other areas allow.
Massachusetts - Allowed
Massachusetts is similar to Illinois in that it has both relatively relaxed laws and a significant market for deliveries. That market is Boston and its surrounding areas, which have a thriving nightlife and plenty of opportunities for both large and small brewers to enter the market. Boston is also quite close to some other cities, further expanding its value.
Michigan - Allowed
Michigan is moderately flexible in its laws, allowing direct shipments to people within the state. Unusually, this state has a maximum on the amount that any out-of-state company can sell directly to consumers, so you’ll need to keep track of that if you’re doing business in this state. Specifically, Michigan limits you to 1500 9-liter cases, or 13,500 liters total, of wine each year.
Minnesota - Allowed
Minnesota technically allows shipments, but with tight limits on how much you can sell to any person. They only allow two cases of wine total, with no more than nine liters in each case. It’s much easier to buy directly in stores in Minnesota, so consider releasing your products that way if you want to tap into their market.
Mississippi - Limited
Mississippi is considerably more limited than most states. While adults 21 and up can buy from wineries and have it shipped into the state, it must go to a package retailer (i.e. a state liquor store) instead of their houses. Package retailers can charge service fees.
Outside of these limits, each purchaser is limited in the total amount of wine they can order shipped to a retailer. This makes it much harder to get high-volume customers within the state without finding a way to sell directly in regular stores without special orders, so Mississippi is a bigger challenge than many other locations.
Missouri - Allowed
Missouri allows direct shipments to customers, but with some limits on volume. Two cases per month aren’t as low as it may sound at first, and it’s more than many other states allow per year, but the fact that the limit is per-month limits any bulk sales. Missouri also has an annual reporting requirement, as well as tax expectations, but remains a viable market for most companies.
Montana - Allowed
Montana generally allows for direct alcohol shipments, as long as you have the appropriate endorsement under their licensing program. Volume differs between types of alcohol, with wine allowed at 18 nine-liter cases annually, and beer at 12 cases (288 bottles) in 12 months.
These are comparatively lax regulations, but Montana’s low population prevents it from being a major market for most sellers.
Nebraska - Allowed
Nebraska is generally permissive but restricts sales to nine liters per person each month. That’s about one case of wine, which is in line with the regulations many other states have. Other than that, Nebraska has standard licensing and reporting expectations. The state has a bigger craft drink scene than some other states, making it a viable option for specialty breweries.
Nevada - Allowed
Nevada is exceptionally permissive, although most companies will need to go through an importer to get it into the state. In some cases, you won’t even need a state permit to ship into the state, though you’ll still need a federal permit for making alcohol. Overall, Nevada is one of the easiest states to sell alcohol in, though most sales concentrate around Las Vegas.
New Hampshire - Allowed
New Hampshire requires a direct shipper permit, following similar guidelines to those in most other states. However, they do have different volume guidelines for types of alcohol.
Wine cannot exceed 60 containers of more than one liter each, nor more than 12 nine-liter cases per consumer each year. Beer sales cannot exceed 27 gallons total, with each container having no more than 1 liter. This is about 102 one-liter bottles of beer per year.
New Jersey - Allowed
New Jersey allows alcohol sales, including for drinks like cider and mead that don’t get mentioned as much - not that NJ has a ton of cideries and meaderies. Out-of-state sellers need different permits than local sellers, and fees go down for smaller companies to help encourage competition. Overall, despite the complexity of their rules, New Jersey is a friendly state for shipping alcohol.
New Mexico - Allowed
New Mexico allows direct alcohol sales, although with a two-case limit on wine. Notably, New Mexico’s laws indicate that such purchases are not considered sales within their state, which can have important tax implications. Otherwise, the shipping guidelines are fairly standard and include basic labeling and packaging expectations.
New York - Allowed
New York both allows out-of-state direct shipping and broadly encourages it, through sheer market size if nothing else. The New York City area is a particularly valuable market, and the generous limit of 36 cases of wine per customer each year is higher than most other states allow.
New York treats these as in-state sales, but despite the taxes and reporting requirements, the sheer volume makes this area worth selling in.
North Carolina - Allowed
North Carolina allows for shipments but has different rules for on-site and off-site sales. They also have some special rules for shipping to military and Indian lands, so sellers will need to keep an eye on those.
North Dakota - Allowed
North Dakota is generally permissive, but with a cap on 27 liters of wine, 288 fluid ounces of beer, and 9 liters of other alcoholic beverages for each customer in any given month. North Dakota prefers shipping to wholesalers, though, so going that route is easier.
Ohio - Allowed
Ohio allows shipments, but with some unusual limits. Notably, they have an annual limit of 24 cases per household, but they also have different licensing requirements based on whether you manufacture more or less than 250,000 gallons of alcohol per year, regardless of where it’s sold. You may have to go through an intermediary if you make too much alcohol.
Oklahoma - Allowed
Oklahoma allows selling a low amount of alcohol annually, including six nine-liter cases of wine. Outside of the low volume limits, Oklahoma is mostly friendly and represents a decent, if small, market.
Oregon - Allowed
Oregon generally allows the delivery of alcohol by mail. It’s also a relatively large market, and while you may need special permits for drinks like cider, those are generally easy to get within the state.
Pennsylvania - Allowed
Pennsylvania’s change to allowing direct shipments is relatively new, but it also means there’s less competition in the eCommerce space right now. It’s also a relatively large market with some heavily urbanized areas, with a friendly limit of 36 cases per customer each year.
Rhode Island - On-Site
Rhode Island is relatively restrictive unless you’re shipping to wholesalers, but they’re laxer for on-site purchases. Like other states with these limits, it’s best to find partners within the state who can sell your products.
South Carolina - Allowed
South Carolina has relatively complex laws based on things like the number of ingredients grown within their state. However, shippers outside the state can generally sell drinks under monthly limits. Going through wholesalers may be more practical in this state.
South Dakota - Allowed
South Dakota is generally permissive, although there are limits on both how much you can sell and how much a person can receive within the state. Otherwise, the state has no notable restrictions.
Tennessee - Allowed
Tennessee has both monthly and yearly limits but is otherwise fairly standard for direct shipments of wine to consumers. Smaller companies may ship additional alcohol to individual buyers, which is a rarity among state laws.
Texas - Allowed
Texas is a major market for alcohol and generally allows shipments, including to places that are otherwise dry zones. One thing to note is that Texas sets its maximum amounts in gallons, rather than liters like most other states. Another thing to note is how many people are concerned about the time that Texas stops selling alcohol.
Utah - Limited
Utah has extremely limited options for direct alcohol delivery, although residents can go through a state-run subscription program and pick up bottles at local stores. Utah has the lowest consumption of alcohol in the US, partially as a result of these rules, making it a tough market to enter and profit from.
Vermont - Allowed
Vermont is generally permissive of deliveries, although it has unusual maximum amounts in 36 gallons for malt beverages, and 29 gallons of vinous drinks. Its expectations are otherwise quite standard among the states.
Virgini a isn’t the biggest market for alcohol, but it is noticeably larger than average. They’re a little more flexible in shipping options, with a “case” consisting of any combination of packages not exceeding nine liters (for wine) or 288 ounces (for beer). This makes them much friendlier to sellers making small amounts of specialty drinks.
Washington - Allowed
Washington is a major manufacturer and consumer of alcohol. There’s no limit on the amount of wine that can be shipped, but the state doesn’t allow beer shipments. Washington also has unusually high taxes on alcohol, which can make pricing bottles more challenging for out-of-state companies.
West Virginia - Allowed
West Virginia allows direct shipments, but generally expects on-site pickup for intoxicating drinks. Non intoxicating brews and craft beers can be shipped straight to personal residences. In this state, non intoxicating legally means beers and ales that are at least 0.5% alcohol by volume, but not more than 9 and 6/10ths alcohol by weight or 12% alcohol by volume.
Wisconsin - Allowed
Wisconsin is generally permissive, with a cap of 108 liters of wine annually as long as sellers have the appropriate permit. Otherwise, its expectations are standard for a state.
Wyoming - Allowed
Wyoming is nearly identical to Wisconsin, with a cap on 108 liters of wine in any 12 months. It also has some laws regarding wholesale pricing for companies that sell too much within the state, but these are generally easy to navigate.
If you're planning on shipping beer, wine or other spirits, it's absolutely critical to know the rules for not only the destination state you're trying to ship to, but the state you're trying to ship out of.
But yes, it can be done, you can ship liquor. And, it can be done well by following the inner packaging requirements set forth from alcohol shippers, adhering to any legalese, like that of the Fedex Alcohol Shipping Agreement, knowing the alcoholic content of the beverages you are trying to transport, whether that's a bottle of wine or a can of beer, and, choosing the correct shipping carrier for your needs.
To really cover your back side, if you're planning on international alcohol transportation, maybe consult an attorney first.
To be clear, we are NOT giving legal advice with this post, as we aren't qualified to do so. Ship alcohol at your own risk. In fact, this post is about further educating yourself on the risks. Laws change. Stay up to date. Consult with the desk clerks of the alcohol shippers you are choosing to work with. They will know better than us.
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