One of the lasting legacies of the COVID-19 pandemic will no doubt be the effect it has had in transforming—and in many cases loosening—the law when it comes to the sale of alcohol in key U.S. cities and states. The need for sales to be conducted outside of face-to-face interactions has meant a bevy of importance e-commerce laws have been passed in various states since the pandemic began, but this new one in Kentucky might ultimately prove to be one of the most important in the long run. Thanks to the passage of Kentucky’s HB 415, retailers and distilleries in the state can now sell whiskey (and other spirits, naturally) online for the first time.
This is an important precedent mostly because of the state we’re talking about here—Kentucky is the nexus of American whiskey, and bourbon in particular, and the sheer number of important distilleries based there means that this new law will provide a new form of access to whiskey for many buyers throughout the country. On one level, the law is meant to allow Kentucky residents to access their local package stores and distilleries in an easier, safer way via online transactions, an obvious necessity in the age of COVID. But consumers in other states will also be able to take advantage, provided their state has similar laws on the books about buying spirits online. That means bourbon fans in other states may have a greater ability to purchase “Kentucky only” releases in the future.
The first purchase of HB 415 was made by Kentucky State Representative Adam Koenig, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. Specifically, it allows Kentucky retailers to ship beer, wine and spirits to customers within Kentucky, and also outside of it provided those states also have laws on the books to allow spirits e-commerce. Likewise, Kentucky consumers will now have access to more spirits from outside of the state, as they’ll be able to order from other states with similar laws. Before the passage of HB 415, there was some very limited direct-to-consumer shipping available, but it required an in-person transaction to initiate it. As of now, that is no longer the case. Naturally, there will still be safeguards in place with online ordering to ensure that spirits aren’t purchased by underage customers, as ID checks will be mandatory both at the point of sale and point of delivery.
“I am honored to be able to place the first order,” Koenig said in a statement. “Hitting ‘complete purchase’ symbolized so much more than buying a great bottle of bourbon. For Kentucky citizens, it means both convenience and expanded options to choose from. It is an extraordinary day for the men and women who work at our distilleries, wineries, and breweries as well as Kentuckians who want a bourbon or glass of wine with dinner. This is bigger than Kentucky. We are now a national model for how to expand opportunities. These changes have been a long time coming but I think it is particularly meaningful that it is implemented now, after so many of these companies have stepped up to manufacture hand sanitizer and other products to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. They answered the call in a powerful way.”
With all that said, whether any given distillery chooses to participate in a direct way, selling their wares online, is a matter that each can decide for themselves. It will presumably be a boon for smaller distilleries in particular, but don’t expect to see the hyped likes of Buffalo Trace suddenly selling bottles of Pappy Van Winkle in an online store. Still, the passage of HB 415 will likely end up being a significant moment in terms of the expansion of access to whiskey for the foreseeable future.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.