Buying Alcohol in the U.S.

Buying Alcohol in the U.S.

If you are 21 and you know it, the law lets you get tipsy in the U.S.

The U.S. is known for its drinking culture. Here, tipplers can have all, from the dizzying array of beer, wine, and liquor to magical cocktails.

If you’ve arrived in the U.S. recently, take your time getting used to the laws, traditions, and social norms of buying and drinking alcohol. You’ll thank yourself later for avoiding trouble due to your advance knowledge.

Possessing and drinking alcoholic beverages before the age of 21 is illegal. If you are under 21, it is unlawful:

  • For someone to sell you alcohol.
  • To purchase or try to purchase alcohol.
  • For an adult to buy alcohol on your behalf.

Take these laws lightly at your own peril. In some other countries, even if caught by law enforcement, you may get away with a warning. Don’t expect that in the U.S.

Can I distill alcohol at home?

Simple answer: No.

Individuals of legal drinking age can produce beer and wine for personal or family use, but they cannot distill spirits to produce alcohol.

Federal law prohibits individuals from producing distilled spirits at home. Distilling spirits at any place other than at an Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)-approved plant is a serious offense. It comes with a penalty of up to five years in prison and/or $10,000 in fines for each violation listed below:

  • Possession of unregistered distilling equipment
  • Engaging in business as a distiller without filing an application and receiving notice of registration
  • Distilling on prohibited premises. Unlawful production or use of material fit for the production of distilled spirits
  • Unlawful production of distilled spirits

Brewing beer at home

Any adult may produce beer, but they cannot sell it. The beer made should be for personal or family consumption. But the production of beer per household should not exceed 200 gallons per calendar year.

Fermenting Grapes for Wine at Home

Making wine is fine, too, as long as it is for personal use. What applies for beer applies for wine. It also suggests that a single adult household produce only 100 gallons of wine in a calendar year. Anything more would attract tax.

For reference, one gallon is 3.79 liters.

Popular Alcohol Varieties in the U.S.

  • Bourbon: An American whiskey distilled from corn
  • Rye whiskey
  • Whiskey
  • Wine
  • Craft beer: Beer produced in independently owned breweries and known for its unique flavor or unique brewing process
  • Regular beer
  • Rose wine: A variety of grape wine meant for easy drinking on a sunny day. Its name is due to its color.
  • Tequila

Where can I buy alcohol?

In general, one can buy alcoholic drinks like beer and wine from grocery stores. Meanwhile, only licensed liquor stores sell wine and liquor.

Can I buy alcohol online?

Yes, you can.

  • Six states—Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island—and the District of Columbia authorize the direct shipment of all spirits.
  • Eight states—Delaware, Massachusetts, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, and Virginia—allow shipment of beer and wine.
  • Connecticut and New Jersey allow the online purchase of wine, cider, and mead.
  • New Mexico authorizes the shipment of wine and cider.
  • Oregon allows the shipment of beer, wine, and cider.
  • The remaining states allow direct shipments only for wine.

Drunk Driving

Driving under the influence caused 29% of all traffic accidents in the U.S. in 2018. The data for 2019 is not available yet. Drinking and driving is a criminal offense. The authorities can press misdemeanor to felony charges on offenders, and penalties can include driver’s license revocation, huge fines, and jail time. A first-time offense can cost the driver upwards of $10,000 in fines and legal fees.

What is the permissible alcohol limit for driving?

Driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher is illegal.

How do the police check for intoxication?

A police officer can ask you to take a breathalyzer test if they suspect that you are intoxicated. The officer can also ask you to submit to a blood-alcohol test.

What happens during a blood alcohol test?

A healthcare professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm using a small needle. This process usually takes less than five minutes.

What do the blood alcohol test results mean?

The typical laboratory results are below:

  • Sober: 0.0 percent BAC
  • Legally intoxicated: .08 percent BAC
  • Very impaired: .08–0.40 percent BAC
  • At the risk of severe complications: Above .40 percent BAC

Good to Know

Generally, one drink is either 12 ounces (about 355 mL) of beer, 5 ounces (about 148 mL) of wine, or 1.5 ounces (about 44 mL) of hard liquor.

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