Whisky Advocate

So, how are you shipping your whisky purchases into the U.S.?

October 14th, 2008

Okay, here’s an issue many of us have to deal with, and that includes me. So many whiskies are not imported to the U.S. You want to buy a whisky from a retailer somewhere overseas, you have a friend who wants to ship you whisky, or (in my case) a whisky company wants to send you review samples. But if you ship through the proper channels it gets flagged at the Newark Airport (or wherever) and they won’t send it to you unless you have an importer license, pay them lots of money, give up your first born child, etc.

I’m not advocating breaking any laws, but I know some of you have found ways to have your whisky shipped to you faster and with less red tape. You comments are anonymous, so does anyone want to offer some advice to those of us less enlightened?

(I’m not referring to shipping whisky with you when you are traveling but rather having whisky shipped to you from overseas.)

28 Responses to “So, how are you shipping your whisky purchases into the U.S.?”

  1. Clearly there is a limit to what you can legally declare. If you ship it to yourself, you can mark it as “collectible whisky; no commercial value” and it will probably get to you. If you want to check it, and it’s under the limit, you had better pack it securely. Baggage handlers aren’t known for being gentle.

    If you buy it at duty free, you can carry in as much as you want — again, keeping in mind whether you want to declare why your bag is rattling so much. A friend bought 6 bottles of Highland Park 21 at Heathrow and made it through Philadelphia with no trouble. I think US citizens can bring in 2 bottles with no need to pay a duty, but IANAL and you should check the Customs web site to be sure.

  2. John Hansell says:

    Thanks Thomas. I was referring more to shipping whisky and you are NOT traveling with it. Any thoughts on that? I clarified my original posting to reflect this.

  3. I’d break it up into small, well-packed boxes and ship each with a different carrier (DHL, UPS, FedEx, etc.) to get around import limits. If you ship with one carrier they’ll be obligated to enforce whatever legal restrictions there are. Yes, this is painful. A very good way to do it would be to have the retailer ship it for you. Again, mark it as “collectible whisky; no commercial value” and it *should* get through. No guarantees!

    Another option I’ve been dreaming of would be to set up an “import collective” where a group of people set themselves up as an importer. I’d love to know what this would cost. You could charge people to be members and act as a legal recipient and keep it all above-board, and relay shipments to their final destination. Set up shop in a state where there are no inter-state shipping restrictions and you should be good to go. Would there be sufficient interest for such a company to exist?

  4. John Hansell says:

    I have been sent whisky under various guises. “Yeast samples,” “Water samples”, with “No commercial Value” noted.

    I think the most creative one was from a French company who sent a whisky sample to: Father John Hansell, Church of the Malt Advocate, and the liquid was identified on the box and shipping paper as “Holy Water”. I got it. I still chuckle today about it.

  5. Magnus says:

    Well, i can’t give you any advice here, but we in europe have the opposite problem when we would like to buy bourbon or even single malt from the U.S. the prices are sometime much better in the U.S. but we can’t order it to europe.
    Since you are in europe from time to time, maybe you could be our courier? 🙂

  6. Tony Menechella says:

    I have purchased quite a bit of whisky from the UK without any problems. They have shipped it Royal Air Mail as a collectible with either no declared value or a modest value of generally $300 or less. I’ve also shipped whisky from the US to a friend of mine in the UK via the Post Office without any problems. I’ve generally tried to limit my purchses to 2 or 3 bottlers at a time. I have also bought whisky from Germany and Australia , but once again, only in small quantities.

  7. John Hansell says:

    Tony: I, too, have had a high success rate with Royal Mail for those shipping samples to me from overseas. My local mailman hand delivers them to me, no questions asked.

  8. Bryan says:

    I agree with John – I’ve had great success with the Royal Mail and their Parcelforce division. Deliveries are no problem, and have arrived here on the west coast from the UK in as little as 4 days.

  9. John Hansell says:

    This is great. I feel like we’re getting somewhere here. Royal Mail seems to be working consistently for everyone. Has anyone had problems with Royal Mail?

    I think that every time someone ships me something via Airborne, it gets snagged by Customs (And for some reason the whisky companies seem to like Airborne.)

  10. Harvey Fry says:

    Parcelforce complete with tracking often comes (east coast) in 3 days + for
    3 packs Royal Mile charges less than TWE (The Whisky Exchange).

  11. Rich says:

    Harvey, they were talking about U.K. Royal Mail, not Royal Mile. 😉 having said that, on numerous occasions i’ve ordered anywhere from one bottle to twelve from Royal Mile Whiskies, The Whisky Exchange and Whisky Online. all shipments have come through just fine. i just placed an order last week with Single Malts Direct; i’m hoping that comes through as well. you pay a bit more for shipping from The Whisky Exchange and a few other merchants because they guarantee the shipping. Royal Mile Whiskies and others ship “at buyer’s risk.” you get your Parcelforce tracking number and hope for the best. as noted above, the customs declarations have all come through as “collector’s malt: no commercial value”, and all have made their way through. so, i agree that seems to be the most promising route.

  12. Harvey Fry says:

    Rich, your confusion is understandable BUT (strickly construed) th’logic of my comment was= 1. Parcelforce (which is Royal Mail) does very well for us + 2. Royal Mile (which is Royal Mile) charges less for shipping 3 packs
    across th’Atlantic Ocean than TWE, which, as th’MA blog was nice enough to translate for those who don’t know, is The Whisky Exchange. however,
    IF you’re going to order 12 or more bottles, th’price differential diminishes
    enough that other considerations (a larger selection + th’guarantee) might
    help you to choose TWE.

  13. Bill Fillingim says:

    The last time I tried to have a bottle of whisky sent from Scotland through the mail, all I got was an empty box with a form letter inside that said shipping alcohol through the US Mail is illegal and subject to a $10,000 fine. Unfortunately all mail that originates in the Royal Mail ends up in the US Mail once it gets into this country. I had many bottles shipped to me this way before this that came through, but, once they confiscated one bottle I decided this wasn’t the way to go.

  14. John Hansell says:

    Bill, that’s a bummer! That’s never happened to me. I wonder what became of the bottle?

  15. Bill Fillingim says:

    John, supposedly anything confiscated by customs is supposed to be destroyed, but you never know. What is interesting is that it is legal for companies like UPS and Fed-Ex to ship alcohol in the US, but I’ve been told that they won’t accept packages containing alcohol in Scotland for shipment to the US.

  16. Michael Novich says:

    So, the conclusion seems to be – buyer beware? The reason I’m utterly upset by this today is the exchange rate. With now below 1.5 to 1, not only can you buy things abroad you can’t get here, but it is incredibly cheaper even including the shipping. For example, Benriach Authenticus, over 150 at retail here, about 85 bucks at royal mile whiskies. Their FAQ says they wont ship to the US, but now i hear they do – which is it?

  17. John Hansell says:


    Most companies won’t ship, but some do. I don’t know how they get it past Customs and all, but that’s something you would have to work out with the retailer directly. I never bought something and had it shipped to me from overseas. Realize also that I imagine there are shipping sharges involved too!

    Why don’t you email Harvey Fry? He seems to have no problems getting whisky shipped. Click on his name above to reach him.

  18. James says:

    OK, so how about carrying whisk(e)y back from Ireland/Scotland. I’ll be near Islay this summer and wondered how much I can take back in my luggage without getting flagged? If I purchase bags that are leak-proof and wrap in bubble-wrap, how much could I ship back in my (rather large) luggage? Anyone done that?

  19. Jerry says:

    I would never order anything from the whisky exchange. I have been waiting over 2 weeks for my order and I have sent them 4 emails, they won’t even bother to answer one. No tracking number. If you order from them do so at your own risk. If you have a problem they will not lift a finger to help you. Only shop in England I have ever had a problem with. Buyer beware.

  20. Doug says:

    I have a customer who bought a cask and would like half it bottled and shipped to the US… Any ideas – dont fancy packing it into lots of boxes of 12 and shipping via Royal Mail / Parcelforce!

    Any help appreciated.

  21. Jack says:

    I was wondering which states everyone is having their whisky sent to them from Scotland. I know most states prohibit distilled spirit shipping and was wondering if anyone has been successful in having the whisky exchange shipping a case to NJ. I am deciding to have 12 bottles sent to me by TWE or having them sent to a friend in the EU then ship it to myself with the statement as herbal body oils

    Thank You

  22. mongo says:

    so, there’s one positive vote for the whisky exchange’s shipping in the discussion above (comment 11) and one very negative one (19). i’m considering purchasing some whisky from them and having it shipped to the u.s, and so am hoping to get more data on the advisability of this. is this a 50/50 proposition or is one of these two reported experiences an outlier?

  23. Ken says:

    I have ordered from TWE on a number of occasions and have never had any problems whatsoever.

  24. Desert Dog says:

    Lots of good discussions and suggestions here, but none relate to my problem. My problem is that I own a hogshead in Speyside under bond and would like to export it under bond to SC in USA to avoid UK taxes. My reading indicates that if it for personal usage then it would be up to the Customs agent on duty in SC if there would be any import duty. Soley at his-her discretion. First of all I can’t locate anyone that will ship it under bond out of UK after I get it bottled (<256 litters), and then of course there is the uncertainty of what will happen when it arrives at SC docks. Advice-comments appreciated.

  25. mongo says:

    having finally made a purchase from the whisky exchange i thought i should respond to my own question from a few months ago. this was my experience: great! i placed my order at 7.30pm, cst on wednesday, and the package was delivered at 4.30 pm on the following monday. the packaging was superb (everything arrived intact, including two complimentary tasting glasses which were part of a deal) and i was able to track the package the entire way (though the parecelforce tracking info was far more inscrutable than your usual ups/fedex style updates).

    yes, it took less than three full business days from the moment of order for me to get the bottles–that’s twice as fast as the fastest ground shipping i’ve had from california, and just a little slower than shipments from chicago (i’m in minnesota). of course at £10 shipping per bottle (i purchased 5 at one go which brought the individual shipping cost down) shipping was a fair bit more expensive than ground shipping via ups/fedex in the u.s, but again probably not as much more expensive when you compare to second-day shipping, which is more or less what this was. and what i saved on the springbank 18 (including shipping) versus having it shipped from california more or less covered the shipping on the rest of the bottles.

    in short, based on this excellent experience i would order from them again and recommend it highly.

    • mongo says:

      and indeed i did order from them again, and this time the package arrived in 8 days. i placed the order late night on a sunday. for whatever reason it didn’t processed till the tuesday and only got shipped out on wednesday, but it was here the following monday. that’s still as good as most stores from the west coast.

      and i discovered that you can track the parcelforce number on the usps expressmail site and receive far better tracking updates.

      unless i have any bad experiences i’ll stop posting about twe shipping now. i just wanted to put it out there as when i was first looking i couldn’t find much specific information, and it took me a long time to summon up the confidence to place an order.

  26. Sophie says:

    Oh, I wish I had read this earlier or did some research..
    I had just sent a Birthday parcel to a Friend in the USA,
    in it is a tiny little bottle of Whisky!

    Will I get into trouble?

  27. JohnH says:

    …interested to find out how 24) Desert Dog got on; I am in a similar position and am looking into the best way to bottle and ship from casks I purchased when I lived in the UK from UK to US.


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