It is going to be a very dry Christmas for many Americans this year. Don’t take my word for it; head on down to your local liquor store and have a peek. All those container ships waiting to unload their goods at major U.S. ports are sitting on much of your holiday cheer. The natives are, shall we say, getting very restless and peace on earth seems in short supply as retailers run dry this holiday.
Tempers and Temperance
Walking into the state-controlled ABC store in Virginia this week was rather shocking. Not only were many of the shelves bare, but those who wanted to stock up for the holiday were not happy campers. The gentle, turban-clad state worker behind the counter had a frozen look of fear on his face as the woman at the checkout began scolding him: “Where’s all the liquor? What the hell is going on?” As her words rang out across the store, customers began chiming in. “This is state-controlled,” hollered one man, “You gonna tell me the state can’t even get booze?” Then the fellow in the bourbon section mumbled something that sounded a lot like, “Let’s go, Brandon.”
It is an eclectic outage: no Dewar’s Scotch, Grey Goose vodka, or Johnny Walker Blue to give Uncle Harry this Christmas. But there were shelves filled with Absolute Vodka and loads of every Tequila imaginable if that’s what floats your boat. Bottom line: there seems to be no rhyme or reason for what is on the shelves and what is missing. And a whole lot is missing.
Eighteen states in the U.S. hold a monopoly on the sale of liquor. This means about one-fourth of the U.S. population lives in a jurisdiction where booze sales occur only in state-run facilities. We have the Volstead Act of 1919 to thank for this stroke of brilliance. Mercifully repealed in 1933, some states decided to continue prohibition within their borders. Eventually, many of these jurisdictions gave up trying to eliminate drinking and imposed government restrictions on the sale of spirits.
As loyal prohibitionist Virginia Gov. John G. Pollard said at the time, “Now that prohibition is doomed, the supreme question of the hour is this. What new weapon shall we adopt to combat this age-old evil?” That weapon turned out to be the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board. “If you can’t beat it, monopolize and tax it” was more or less the thinking in Virginia, which led the charge for other state legislatures to follow suit.
Why does this matter now? Because shipping liquor to people in these states is now a gray area — as in charcoal. If the control board is out of booze, you are out of luck in some states. Others split the baby down the middle by permitting wine but prohibiting spirits. It’s a conglomeration of confusion as put forth in this paragraph from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL):
“Six states—Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and West Virginia—and the District of Columbia authorize the direct shipment of all spirits as specified. Eight states allow the direct shipment of beer and wine as specified: Delaware, Massachusetts, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Virginia. Connecticut and New Jersey allow shipments of wine, cider and mead. New Mexico authorizes the shipment of wine and cider, while Oregon allows the shipment of beer, wine and cider. Arkansas allows the shipment of wine and mead. The remaining states only allow direct wine shipments.”
Nice to know they’ve got mead covered.
These statutory provisions are merely a few of the rules regarding spirit sales across state lines. Suffice it to say, it’s probably easier to get heroin than a bottle of Hennessy in some places. But for now, some of us will simply have to look for the silver lining in the liquor shortage.
This year Cousin Jimmy isn’t likely to throw back one too many and get belligerent during Christmas dinner, and Aunt Sue won’t be able to catch a buzz and say something stupid to your son at the table. Or you can simply saddle up to the frightened man behind the counter at the state store and whisper, “So when is the next shipment supposed to arrive?”
~ Read more from Leesa K. Donner.