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Spiritful Journeys: Safely Navigating the Logistics of Alcohol Transport

Published on
April 9, 2024
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A record 123.7 million viewers tuned in for Super Bowl LVIII to watch the Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers. It’s a pretty safe bet that the transport of alcohol was involved in nearly every one of the festivities.

In beer sales alone, more than 50 million cases – $1.6 billion worth of inventory – were sold for Super Bowl parties. It is a massive number, but it doesn’t begin to tell the entire story of the economic impact the alcohol industry has globally.

The American Spirits Exports Report, released on Feb. 28 by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), showed that U.S. exports of spirits climbed 8% in 2023 and set a record of $2.2 billion in sales.

On top of that, in June 2023, Straits Research’s Alcoholic Beverages Market Report showed the global alcohol category value was $1.6 trillion in 2022 and is expected to increase to $2 trillion by 2031.

All of this begs the question: When it comes to getting all of the beer, liquor, and wine imported, exported, and delivered around the world, how do alcohol supply chain companies choose the right designated driver to get freight safely to its home and in one piece?

If you know that is what you want and need, contact the experts at VCPB. Or, read on to learn more about how we can handle your liquor during transport.

The Art of Mastering Alcohol Logistics

Most companies involved in the alcohol supply chain understand the complex nature of transporting their products. Instead of struggling through all of the nuances on their own, they rely on seasoned logistics companies that specialize in the commercial transportation of alcohol.

Why is shipping alcohol so challenging? Because it is alcohol. And that’s why having an experienced 3PL is imperative for safe and timely transport.

Each state has its own regulations for transport and handling, and each country has its own tariffs and laws. Each state, city, and county can have its own laws. Each shipment must comply with every rule and regulation from port to pint glass, whatever route is taken.

Nearly half of the lower 48 states require a permit or license to transport alcohol when traveling into, through, or out of the state, and all will vary. Some states require just a license or permit to transport certain types of alcohol, such as hard liquor, and other states only require a permit or license if delivering alcohol within the state, not just passing through with the load. Some alcohol is classified as hazardous material, meaning more paperwork and safety measures are involved as well as different insurance requirements need to be met.

To combat the unique and added challenges, the alcohol transport industry is embracing technology, customizing real-time tracking programs and artificial intelligence to better manage shipments. The software is leading to more efficient tracking while freight is en route, including analyzing routes in real time to help avoid delays.

Beer, for example, has its own brewery software. It is designed to give clients grain-to-glass visibility through a single, central system, monitor batches, keep live records of ingredient prices, and send out alerts before companies run out of stock.

Some challenges alcohol transport companies contend with:

  • Logistics companies take on the responsibility of not overpaying for services and securing the correct paperwork.
  • Alcohol freight is typically heavy, bulky, and fragile. It can be difficult to move, particularly when transloading. Logistics companies have to plan every move and be able to track and communicate in real time. A secured network of partners is imperative for success.
  • Climate-controlled transportation and timely storage is often required.
  • For numerous reasons, all alcohol must be labeled correctly or risk being stuck en route. Some of the reasons are identification, ingredients list, and alcohol content. Picture a container of beer coming over from Belgium, or vodka from Sweden, or whiskey from the United Kingdom. Most of it will be transloaded, delivered from port to truck to rail for the long haul, then separated into pieces and given to trucks for retail distribution. Real-time tracking has become a necessity for a multitude of reasons, including monitoring temperature control.
  • Concerns over the safety and security of goods during the transloading process.
  • Ensuring compliance with all state, city, and county regulations, as well as any country the shipment passes through and originates from.

U.S. Spirits Export Record Shows Impact of Tariffs

There would be a lot more celebration over the record export year for U.S. spirits, but the growth better serves as an example of the impact tariffs have on liquor worldwide.

From 2018 to 2021, Europe and the United Kingdom imposed a 25% tariff in response to separate steel and aluminum disputes with the United States. Since suspending the tariff, led by American whiskeys, U.S. spirit exports have soared, DISCUS reports. Of the record $2.2 billion in exports last year, American whiskey accounted for a record $1.4 billion.

The trepidation over celebrating too much is because both Europe and the U.K. have set deadlines of March 31, 2025, to settle the steel and aluminum disputes. If it doesn’t happen, the tariff on spirits will be reinstated at 50%, again stunting U.S. exports.

According to DISCUS, there are more than 2,600 distilleries across the United States. In its 2023 report, U.S. whiskey exports increased by 61% compared to 2021, when tariffs were implemented.

From the DISCUS report:

  • In 2023, American whiskey exports to Europe reached $705 million, accounting for 50% of total American whiskey exports ($1.4 billion).
  • U.S. spirits exports to other duty-free markets dwarf those that maintain high tariffs. U.S. spirits exports to free trade agreement countries and those with zero duties reached $1.8 billion last year, accounting for 83% of total U.S. spirits exports.
  • In contrast, U.S. spirits exports to high-tariff countries, such as India (150% tariff), Vietnam (45% tariff), and Brazil (20% tariff on all imported distilled spirits, except bulk whiskey, which is a 12% tariff), reached $69.2 million, accounting for only 3% of total U.S. spirits exports.
  • Distilleries in Tennessee accounted for $983 million of the exports. Kentucky ranked second at $505 million.

Navigating Through Regulatory Waters

Obtaining a transportation license or permit for beer and liquor can differ greatly for each load. It’s imperative to understand each specific state’s regulations and guidance. And that’s just scratching the surface.

There are states with control jurisdictions and others with license jurisdictions. These are in addition to state, federal, and international jurisdictions.

Noncompliance with any of the regulations and laws can lead to substantial financial and legal ramifications. That said, whenever Benesch Attorneys at Law works with a new for-hire trucking company, the first question it asks is: “What are you hauling?”

Benesch explained why in an article published on JD Supra: “Outside of alcohol import/export issues, the regulation of alcohol transportation is governed and therefore segmented largely at the state level. Often overlooked, motor carriers transporting alcohol may need to obtain a specific alcohol transportation license or permit on a state-by-state basis.”

If not a co-pilot, think of logistics companies that are well-versed in beer and liquor transport as providing a giant safety net for shippers in the alcohol supply chain.

Transport Rules Vary

Alcohol transport involves many intricacies. Cargo can travel in bulk for the long haul and then be transloaded for residential delivery. States and cities typically have separate permitting and licensing requirements, which must be adhered to.

Changing Regulations

Because alcohol transport rules and fees are constantly being reviewed and changed, logistics companies work with regulators and motor carriers, as well as counsel that assesses contract structure, to mitigate losses.

Securing Smooth Passage

Before any beer, wine, or liquor touches anyone’s lips or one glass is raised, before the freight starts its journey, logistics companies will make sure the shipment and transporter provide all the proper licensing and permissions paperwork.

When It Comes to Alcohol Transport, Let VCPB be the Designated Driver

Whether your shipment is domestic or international, exporting or importing, VCPB Transportation has the experience and resources to get your beer, spirits, and liquor safely to its destination. From grain to glass, VCPB has expertise in all aspects of alcohol transport.

Why choose VCPB?

  • Experience: VCPB has extensive experience handling logistics for international trade.
  • Network and equipment: VCPB has a network of fully insured carriers and the right equipment to handle beer, spirits, and wine shipments.
  • Tracking and communication: VCPB offers real-time tracking and 24-hour dispatch to keep you informed throughout the alcohol transportation process.
  • Custom solutions: VCPB provides cost-effective and efficient transport solutions tailored to the specific needs of each shipment.

Contact VCPB to learn more about how we can handle your liquor during transport.

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