Shipping Beer Legally

I was looking to ship a few beers to a distant friend recently. After some research, I’ve discovered that shipping beer is anything but a cakewalk… I’m going to speak to this in three phases; the legality/”rules” issue(s), the physical packing itself, and other legal creative solutions.

But please understand that this is only a “best-guess” assessment at the moment. Laws change, individual experiences vary considerably, and people have differing opinions concerning what is “ok” vs. what is technically legal vs. “I really don’t care”.

First, we'll look at the legality and rules behind shipping beer. In a word, the simple answer is, “Nope.” To break things down, USPS is a firm no, and private shipping companies have their own rules as well (all of which have a negative prognosis as far as being able to ship our beer, and stay within the regulations).

The Rules and Regulations on Shipping Beer

The USPS: Definitely Not
FedEx: Technically a no no
DHL: Not Without a License
• UPS: I sent an email to UPS that asked the following:

“Hi... I'm a beer home brewer, and I'd like to send a small quantity of home brew (less than a case) to a friend (within the continental U.S.) Will UPS handle this? The beer will be in 740 ml PET plastic bottles... Is there way I can ship these? If so, what are your requirements? And if I can't ship them via UPS, do you know of a shipper who will deal with me? Many thanks in advance... Alan”

And I got the following definitive answer:

“Dear Alan,

Thank you for contacting us regarding shipments of alcohol. Packages containing alcoholic beverages (wine, beer, or spirits) are accepted for transportation only as a contractual service and only from shippers who are licensed and authorized under applicable laws to ship alcoholic beverages. UPS Delivery Confirmation Adult Signature Required service must be used for all packages containing any alcoholic beverages. In addition, a Special Delivery Instructions Label must be affixed to each package containing wine. Alcohol is prohibited from being shipped via the Same-Day Pickup and Future- Day Pickup services.

Shop Bottling Supplis When you do ship out those bottles, you probably won't be getting the empties back, maybe you should stock up today.

In addition, beer and wine shipments cannot be sent through the UPS Customer Centers, The UPS Store, Mail Boxes Etc., Authorized Shipping Outlets (ASO's), Alliance partners (Staples and Office Depot locations) and Authorized Service Providers. Exceptions may be made only for locations of The UPS Store, Mail Boxes Etc. or Authorized Shipping Outlets (ASO's) that currently have regular customers that are licensed by the state to ship wine, such as wineries, wine distributors or wine retailers. These retail shipping locations may act as a shipping agent for an entity licensed to ship wine. Furthermore, these locations must be in one of the 24 origin states approved to ship wine.

Sincerely,
A Friendly Neighborhood UPS Customer Service Representative
UPS Customer Support

So in short… The answer about the legality/regulations of shipping brew unless you have special permit(s) is, “No!”

I’m going to leave it at that, and work on the assumption that you intend to go on a driving vacation, and want to have a few of your own when you get to your destination.

The Physical Packing Itself:

ADS ScalesF
Here are some of the basic tools you'll need. A scale, good packing tape, and the all-important Magic Marker. The best solution is to pre-weigh the package and get a label printed out at home and affixed to your box before dropping off to the carrier, so you can be in and out in no-time.

Details of Packaging Beer for Shipment

So… Now you know of the general rules of shipping beer (Don't us USPS!)… So if the carrier asks about the package, yeast samples, root beer, and snow globes (around the holidays), are all great items that could be in your box.

1. You’re going to want to ship “ground”. Carbonated bottles can react poorly to the changes in pressure and temperature at 30,000 feet.

2. UPS and Fed Ex are really your only two options. If they find that you’re shipping suds, they’ll probably just throw it out and then send you a “naughty note” if anything at all. The USPS on the other hand might just think about federal charges and sick the G-Men on you, or at the very least a post master accompanied by an officer to interrogate you a bit.

3.Get yourself a roll of official “Fragile” stickers. And be sure to apply one to all six sides of the box. It really does make a difference. Along with the fragile stickers, some people mark the box as “Yeast”. I don’t know if that will help avoid the UPS/Fed EX shipping police, or only arouse suspicion.

4. Money becomes an issue… Consider the photo below…

Bottles on top of large boxF-2(And no, I wouldn’t ship the tote! I like my friends, but they can make their own beer!)

If I were to UPS those bottles (equivalent to about a 30 pack), the cost would be $40 to $60. As I was saying… “I like my friends, but…” The shipping cost for 4-6 beers will probably fall in the $15 range depending on size and whether the bottles are glass or plastic.

5. As for the actual packaging process I use… The name of the game is to mummify that bottle in bubble wrap, and then put it in a sturdy bag using something like a Food Saver bag, or a heavy duty gallon zipper lock bag (to help contain any possible spills). Begin by wrapping around and taping and then wrapping end over end. When you’re done, you should have something like this (top half of photo). Now all you have to do is seal the cocoon in that heavy duty bag and you’ll have this blob (bottom half).

Bottle wrapped in bubble wrapF-3

And that’s it. Break out the hefty cardboard, the regulation tape, the peanuts, the fragile stickers and package like it’s fine china, and with luck, your beer will safely traverse the continental U.S.

So you really want to get the suds from here to there without breaking the rules?

You can try asking your local wine merchant for help – some of them have the appropriate permits to ship alcohol… A few bucks might go a long way. To wrap this up, if you decide to ship out your beer, don't use USPS, and always protect the bottles more than you think you'll need.

written by Alan Speakman

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