Distilled Spirits Tastings

distilled spirits tastingsBefore anyone plops down cash or a credit card to purchase a liquor product, they’d probably like to verify that they like it. Distilled spirits tastings are an effective marketing tool, and the majority of, but not all, states allow it.

According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), 44 states allow distilled spirits tastings in some form (“Alcohol Product Tastings”). Of those 44, 33 offer both on- and off-premise tastings with Ohio restricting tastings to 21% ABV (alcohol by volume) or lower only.

States that offer on-premise tastings only include New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Alabama, Nebraska and Idaho. Package store only (off-premise liquor licensing) tastings are allowed in Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Arkansas, and Washington. If you happen to live in North Carolina, Georgia, Oklahoma, Utah, Montana, or Alaska, you’re out of luck: no distilled spirits tastings allowed.

Liquor Tastings in Massachusetts

It’s been over ten years since Massachusetts state law allowed liquor tastings. It became the 25th state to allow liquor tastings, and legislation was passed during a time when many states were amending laws to promote tasting of liquor products (especially premium and super premium spirits) in package stores, according to DISCUS “Bye Bye Blue Laws: Mass. Okays Liquor Tastings.”

In that same article, then Council President, Dr. Peter Cressy said, “Retailers can now host trendy and enjoyable spirits tastings like wine tastings that have been held across the country for years.”

The organization contends that tastings drive sales growth and profits, especially for high-end spirits. Quoted in the same 2003 DISCUS article, Richard Cardoza (owner of Cardoza’s Wine and Spirits in New Bedford, Fall River, and Dartmouth) said, “In 1990, super premium brands comprised ten percent of sales. Over the past two years, they hit 20 percent. Tasting events are important for retailers because our customers now have the opportunity to try new products before purchasing them.”

According to Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC), “Spirit tastings can only be held at premises licensed under Section 15 (“package stores”) or restaurants, hotels, or function halls licensed under Section 12. Each spirit tasting event must be conducted in full compliance with the conditions set by the state Liquor Control Act.”

Food is an additional requirement for wine, malt beverage and spirit tastings as is quantity: “Restaurants, hotels, and function halls holding wine, malt beverages and spirits tasting must provide food with the alcoholic beverages and they must not solicit orders for any off-premises consumption. The manager of the restaurant, hotel, or function hall is responsible for controlling the dispensing of the alcoholic beverages and the size of each serving is limited to the following amounts:

  • Malt beverages one (2) ounce serving
  • Wine beverages one (1) ounce serving
  • Spirits beverages one (1/4) ounce serving

Package stores may not charge for any wine, malt beverages or spirits tasting and they must also limit the above stated serving sizes. All alcoholic beverages tasted must also be available for sale on such premises.”

States that allow distilled spirits tastings have not reported negative issues like abuse or enforcement problems in conjunction with tasting events.