UNITED States of America?

February 20, 2013 § 9 Comments

As a (very) small business in the alcohol industry, when dealing with all of the various states that make up our fine nation, the one thing I can say without question is that each state is “United” on the fact that they get to make lots of money off of alcohol companies.  And the higher the ABV, the deeper their pockets!

To give you a quick summary, in order to produce or import alcohol in the USA, you need to have some permits.  Ok, a LOT of permits.  A variety of which must be issued by various branches of the Federal Government and each of the 50 states (or at least the ones in which you’d like to do business!).  AND NO TWO STATES ARE THE SAME.

This is the source of many frustrating days and nights for little ole’ me.  But I believe with each new state permit, I am becoming  more proficient in the poetic language one must develop to correctly and accurately understand whichever mountain of red tape it is that inevitably lies ahead.

…that is, until I get to this next one…


Recently, I was deciphering ~20 pages of various applications (all with their own set of fees!!!) to just be able to sell my 1 brand to 1 distributor in 1 particular state.  This is what we all call the “Hurry Up and Wait!” game.  Hurry up, fill out these tedious applications and then wait WEEKS for an agent to comb through, deposit your hard-earned check, and in return, send you a certified permit or two finally allowing you to start paying more taxes.  Er… I mean do business.

I came to a particular form that said, “Note: The annual registration tax for brands of distilled spirits is $250. The initial brand registration tax of $250 on any brand(s) of distilled spirits subsequent to the beginning of the privilege tax year is to be prorated on a monthly basis from the date of registration to the end of that privilege tax year.  The registration tax for distilled spirits for the subsequent first full privilege tax year shall be based on the average monthly number of cases sold at wholesale during the initial partial privilege tax year times twelve (12).  There is no tax due on the initial registration of any brand(s) of wine.”

Oh how nice for wine … why am I doing whisky again?  Right, labor of love. Ok. Next … HUH?  $250/year, got it. Prorated, got it.  But when does their year start and end?  If I’m filling this out in the middle of February, where am I hitting in their cycle? I can’t find this anywhere.  Now I have to call.

Alllllright. Find the phone number for the appropriate division and then hurry up and wait!  The first time I called, I was put on hold for 49 minutes during which time I reconfirmed my hatred of “hold” music.  Why can’t they link it up to a book on tape or something better than the same 5 bars of electronically generated orchestral music!? Finally, at 49 min and 13 sec, someone picked up and hung up.

…Well that was frustrating! And a total waste of an hour.  Try again. Eventually I get someone one the phone.  And here is what happened next:

Me: “Hi, I’m filling out the <insert name of form> for the first time and am just trying to figure out what your state’s annual tax cycle is as it says I need to pay a prorated fee based on the annual registration fee of $250″

Agent: “It’s every 12 months”

Me: “Yes, that much I understood, but I can’t find out what defines your state’s year.  Is it based on the calender year?  A 12 month cycle from the day I file the forms? Or some other date?”

Agent: “Huh? What form are you looking at?”

Me: “<insert name of form>” and wait for this person to find it herself.  After another minute, I continued, “I’m referring to the note at the bottom of the instructions.”

Silence.  I am sensing her frustration in my inability to understand something that is clearly not printed anywhere on these forms but despite it’s lack of black & white presence seems otherwise painfully obvious to herself.

Me: “Basically, Ma’am, you’re going to need to speak to me like I’m a 2nd grader because where things may seem obvious to you, please just assume that they are not to me. I am learning that every state has their own unique set of rules and I want to make sure I understand the specifics of yours.  Now please tell me when the year ends for <insert name of state here>”

Agent: “Oh, May 31st”


Of course it does.  Because THAT makes PERFECT sense. 😛



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§ 9 Responses to UNITED States of America?

  • To survive and thrive it sounds like “form completion”, “State licensing process comprehension” and “preseverance” are essential core competencies.

  • Every time I read something like this it makes me think that my dream of someday opening a craft distillery is misguided…maybe I’ll just stay a blogger. Lol

    Well, other than the discouragement, loved the post!

    • Thanks Eric!
      Whisky as a business is no picnic – it’s the hardest & most complex job I have ever had – but it is also the best. It takes a thick skin, creativity, passion, dedication, intelligence AND a tireless work ethic. But I can honestly say that after all of the many hurdles I’ve gone over and knowing that I’m still only at the very beginning (ok, that’s a really exhausting thought! lol) – I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. I wake up grateful every day and I LOVE what I do … it combines both art and business and keeps me constantly humble. (and extremely busy! please someone tell me they’ve figured out that whole cloning thing!). ☺

      I’m a huge proponent of turning dreams into realities so I will always take the “don’t give up on a dream, no matter how hard the road is ahead!” stance. But there are other ways to enjoy one’s passions – and being a part of ‘whisky’ through blogging is certainly a wonderful one! Clearly I’m a fan!

      Thanks again for dropping me a note!

  • James ross says:

    I really enjoy hearing from someone in the industry.I live VA. where its prohibited to receive hard liquor over the internet.I like reading your post because they always are fun and informative..

    • Why thank you, James!
      That’s very kind (and inspiring). I truly appreciate knowing that you are enjoying my posts. VA is similar to TX and MA (and others) in that way. It’s just so confusing to me why every state has to have different rules … especially since at the end of the day, all they want is to make sure they get their taxes (and fees!) – don’t they understand if they made simpler (and logical!) rules and made interstate commerce legal everywhere they’d make more money!?!?! Grrrr 😉

  • Josh Feldman says:

    This kind of thing would make me want to slit my wrists. But you manage to do it all with a smile on your face. That is 100% the correct attitude. I admire you tremendously for that. I think I, personally, would have exploded and burst a blood vessel in my brain!

    • lol! Josh,
      I think you might surprise yourself – I believe that people have more patience for these types of things once they have to do it for their own product because the end goal is shines that much brighter. 🙂 I always appreciate your thoughts – thanks for including your comments to this post!


  • whiskyguyrob says:

    I have to say I really enjoy the details that you share in the process of you have of trying to take your whiskey to a wider audience. Your frustration, while insane for you, definitely makes for a good reading and gives good insight as to what it really takes to run a whisky business. Hang in there!

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