Here's why it's hard for Texans to get alcohol shipped directly to them

Texas liquor laws are infamously complex, and the reason dates back to the end of Prohibition.

Graphic by Ben Hasson

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Today’s Texplainer is inspired by a question from Texas Tribune reader Richard O’Dell.

Hey, Texplainer: Can liquor be mailed into or around Texas? Liquor stores outside of my area say they aren’t able to send their products to me. I would also enjoy joining out-of-state wine clubs, but they can’t send me their merchandise. What is the issue?

Texas liquor laws are infamously complex, and the reason dates back to the end of Prohibition.

That was when states began creating their own regulatory structures to administer the production and sale of alcohol — and when Texas, in an effort to stop manufacturers from cozying up to retailers, opted for a system that separates the process into three tiers:

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  • Manufacturers that make the product — wineries, breweries and distilleries.
  • Wholesalers and distributors that buy from manufacturers and sell it to retailers.
  • Retailers that sell the product to consumers.

Texas law — specifically, the Alcoholic Beverage Code — only allows businesses with an appropriate permit to sell alcohol to consumers. So if you want to buy booze, you need to get it from a retailer (e.g., a grocery store, convenience store, bar or restaurant).

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission oversees all three tiers — and issues separate permits and licenses for each. This is where the confusion starts.

Only TABC-licensed carriers can transport alcohol, and only permitted businesses — including those out of state — can sell alcohol to Texas consumers. Without a permit, liquor can’t be shipped directly to Texas consumers, and there currently is no permit that would allow out-of-state liquor stores to sell products directly to Texas consumers.

Here are some of the licenses and permits that stores, carriers and manufacturers need to move booze into and around the state:

  • To ship alcohol into, out of or within Texas, businesses must have a carrier’s permit.
  • Licensed wineries in Texas may ship their products to people in the state.
  • Stores that want to make deliveries within their city limits need a local cartage permit. TABC spokesman Chris Porter said most stores have this permit because it allows them to transport alcohol within a city, both to customers and between store locations.

Legally, distilled spirits can’t be shipped from a store to a Texas consumer who lives outside of the city where the store is located — instead, they have to be shipped from a package store in the same county as the consumer, said Dick Wills, the CEO of the Gerald Franklin Agency, a liquor licensing business.

If a company has multiple liquor stores in cities around the state, each of those stores could deliver liquor to customers living in the cities where the stores are located.

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“The company could accept orders online, then forward the order to one of their stores in the customer’s city, which would then fulfill the order and deliver the product to the customer,” Porter said.

So what about those out-of-state wine clubs?

“The wine clubs likely don’t have a TABC out-of-state winery direct shipper’s permit, as that would be required to ship wine directly to consumers in Texas,” Porter said. “Most wine clubs would fall into the category of ‘retailer,’ and there’s no law which allows an out-of-state retailer to ship alcoholic beverages directly to Texas consumers.”

For any other out-of-state liquor manufacturer that wants its product in the hands of Texans, a nonresident manufacturer’s license allows them to sell products to Texas distributors that, in turn, sell to Texas customers.

Another thing to note: Alcohol cannot be shipped via the U.S. Postal Service. Only TABC-licensed common carriers, which includes most commercial shipping companies, can ship alcohol.

The bottom line: Legally, distilled spirits can’t be shipped directly to Texas consumers. They have to be shipped from a package store in the county you live in. Any any out-of-state wine club needs an out-of-state winery direct shipper’s permit to ship wine directly to Texas consumers.