Every Christmas season shoppers the country over are buying presents for relatives in the form of bottles of wine, beer and spirits. They’re thinking of stuffy in-laws who like their single malt and brothers who just want a taste of the local craft distillate. When they get the whole thing wrapped they get a severe shock at the post office when they try to ship it.
The USPS publication 52 on Hazardous, Restricted, and Perishable Mail lists liquor with a ABV of 0.5% or higher as prohibited. That means the US mail is a no-go for anything even remotely drinkable.
The two other major delivery services UPS and FedEx have the following to say.
UPS does not accept shipments of beer or alcohol for delivery to consumers.
Only licensed entities holding a state and federal license or retailers holding a state license may ship alcohol with FedEx. Consumers may not ship alcohol.
Several of these companies will ship to a licensed receiver if you are also licensed. It took some digging to find, but the license they are talking about is a state permit to produce or sell alcohol. In most cases this would be the same one you would have as a brewery, distillery, bar or winery. It is possible that the shipping portion is an add-on to the basic license but this kind of thing varies from state to state so it’s impossible to say what the local regulations are for sure without a lot more digging.
What I can tell you is that the costs of a license vary all over from a $0 permit in Missouri to South Carolina’s $650 fee. Since each state would require a separate license and it appears you would need a license in both the state you are shipping from and the state you are shipping to, the costs add up quite quickly and the application lead times make last minute shopping impossible for such a simple purchase. The need for 50+ license with appropriate rolling fees also means most breweries, wineries and distillers are not going to hold the requisite approvals to ship your purchase out of state.
On the Grey Market side of shipping there are websites like Uship.com where one can proffer shipments to be taken by private services from here to there. Since the jobs are bid on by the various haulers there isn’t a fixed price but the estimate tool on their site does allow you to select alcohol as your product. I punched in two zip codes on either side of town, a trip of about 40 minutes in the right traffic and was presented with a bid of just over $200 for a 5 lb bottle of liquor.
If you have the desire, you can take the bottle to your loved one yourself. According to the TSA you can take ,any quantity of alcohol (in checked bags) at less than 24% ABV as it isn’t regulated. You may also take up to 5 Liters (a little over 6 normal bottles) of alcohol in you checked luggage so long as none of it exceeds 70% ABV. Anything above 140 proof is right out. For some more long winded and detailed info about taking alcohol into and out of the country see this post.
Carry-on still has the dumb limits on bringing liquids on board unless you managed to buy an overpriced bottle at the duty free shop.
One serious exception to the shipping rules are for wineries. Several states, many of them big wine producers have joined a common cause pact. Under this pact people may visit a winery, buy a bottle and have it shipped to their home. The purchase is treated as if it occurred in their home state and the winery takes care of all the necessary paperwork. This is a nice benefit if you’re taking a trip through Napa or seeing the sights of the Oregon Wine country, but not so great for beer drinkers or whiskey lovers.
For years beer brewers have been shipping homebrew suds by calling the product live yeast cultures as a gentle fiction for shipping purposes. If you absolutely must ship your product for the love of god don’t use the USPS. It is actually a crime to do so where for UPS and Fedex it’s simply against company policy. When using an alternate shipper ensure your bottles are packed in boxes without a lot of dead space. Ensure adequate packing material to prevent impact damage. Bubble wrap is preferred but inflatable pillows are also excellent if you can get them. Lastly, don’t ship more than one bottle at a time. If you have appropriate packaging you can risk it but the bottles are more likely to break each other than they are to fall to something outside.