How to Navigate the Rules for Shipping Booze This Holiday Season
Sending wine and spirits is subject to regulations. Here’s what you need to know.
The seemingly easiest thing to do when you want or need to buy a gift for someone is to send booze. (With the usual caveats: Make sure the giftee appreciates alcohol and is amenable to receiving and having it in their homes, and remember to drink and gift responsibly.)
Alcohol gifts are generally well appreciated, there are plenty of options for what to buy and, in pandemic-free times, the recipient is probably eager to share. Everyone wins!
Unfortunately, the byzantine boozy laws offered up by each of the 50 states makes it a challenge if you’re, say, sending a bottle of wine or whiskey from New York to Seattle.
“Different types of alcoholic beverages require different licenses and have different rules and regulations,” explains CEO Jugoslav Petkovic from the spirits club Flaviar. “Sending spirits is the most restrictive, so you’re likely going to need professional help to make sure your package is delivered safely and legally.”
To help guide you through a quick and painless booze gifting experience, we spoke with Flaviar’s Petkovic, along with Addie Wallace, the Director of New Business Strategy & Insights for the wine/spirits retailer Wine.com and CEO Chris Vaughn of the local booze delivery service Saucey.
Before you start, go to your booze service’s Shipping page
Hit up your preferred online store’s “Shipping” FAQ, because everyone’s rules vary. Wine.com, for example, can ship vino to 43 states and Washington, D.C., but can only ship spirits in or to CA, NY, FL and NJ. Flaviar, on the other hand, can send out spirits to 27 states and also the EU (but not Canada). Meanwhile, services like Saucey and Drizly (which work with local liquor stores) are both more flexible but subject to their coverage area’s availability.
See if what you want is in stock where you’re sending it
“Our inventory varies across states,” says Wallace. “So the best thing to do when shopping for someone in a different state than you is to make sure you switch the state [on the site] first before you start browsing.”
Figure out if your giftee can receive booze at home
There needs to be someone in the household over 21 to sign for an alcoholic package, so you may need to coordinate. If you’re unsure, Wine.com does allow delivery to locations like Walgreens/Duane Reade or FedEx, so people can pick up packages on their own schedule.
Order well in advance
Yes, booze is usually a good last-minute gift option. Maybe not this year. “Normally, most of our shipments arrive in 1-2 business days,” says Wallace. “But this holiday season shippers are anticipating delays. We’d recommend ordering as far in advance as possible. We don’t have much control after it’s handed over to FedEx.” Meanwhile, Flaviar has set December 4th as a cut-off date for holiday delivery.
Use your phone
There are plenty of apps (Saucey, Drizly, etc) that offer quicker delivery options. “All you need to know is your recipient’s address and phone number. We can send gifts on-demand — typically within an hour — or you can schedule a delivery up to a week in advance,” says Chris Vaughn from Saucey (which also provides gift cards, bags and messages). You can also cut out the middleman and call a nearby liquor/wine store and check on delivery options — the human touch is nice and by ordering “in state” (even if you’re out of state) you’ll only be subject to less stringent local shipping/delivery laws.
And for less about those laws and more about what to give:
Check on actual “gifting” options
A bottle of booze anonymously delivered in a plastic bag lacks flair. See if your service provides gift baskets, personalized cards or special food and wine gifts.
If you’re gifting casual drinkers, don’t overthink it
If you’re buying for someone who’s either very particular and/or fussy, stick with what they know. If the person you’re gifting likes a particular whiskey, buy it — but look for special releases (single barrel, cask finished, distillery/store exclusives, etc.) or booze adjacent products (bitters, glassware, etc.) by the same distiller. “Adding an engraved message, such as an inside joke, a meaningful date or even a geolocation, goes down well and adds a personal touch to your gift,” suggests Petkovic.
For discerning drinkers, consider ordering from a nearby distillery or vineyard
State laws have changed enough during Covid that your local favorite craft distiller may be able to ship directly to your gift recipient’s home. “The most notable change was probably the new law in Kentucky that allows for the direct-to-consumer shipping of wine, beers, and spirits,” says Petkovic. That said, “That won’t help your average gift sender all that much, but it is good news for local producers.”
Also, check on social media for your favorite distillery, as they’ll inevitably keep everyone up to date on where they’re available and how you can order/gift a bottle.
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