Virtual Alcohol Tastings and Mixology Classes:
- Virtual alcohol tastings and mixology classes are not an entirely new concept; however, they have gained popularity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and necessity due to local and state orders.
- Virtual tastings and mixology classes come in the form of a recorded or live online guided sampling of or cocktail-making exercise involving one or more beer, wine, or spirits products. Licensed on-premises retailers can utilize these virtual experiential events as another form of personal connection with patrons.
- The vast majority of alcohol beverage control agencies have recently formally or informally acknowledged that supplier- or retailer-conducted virtual tastings are permissible under state ABC laws and/or approved of the practice of delivering samples. Only a handful of states prohibit or heavily restrict the practice of virtual tastings.
Regulatory Compliance Considerations and Best Practices:
- Confirm virtual tastings and other experiential events are permissible in your state. And comply with applicable restrictions and requirements; e.g., alcohol delivery/shipment requirements, licensure or permitting, location of staff leading the event, pricing of event, age verification.
- In some states, patrons must be charged for alcohol samples included in the price of the virtual event or otherwise.
- Only send manufacturer-sealed containers for use as samples during the virtual tastings. Samples shipped to consumers for tasting must have a valid COLA.
- Shipments of alcohol products made to virtual event attendees must be delivered in compliance with the laws of the retailer’s state and the consumer’s state.
- Must comply with all direct shipping laws/rules; e.g., container labeling requirement, volume restrictions, beverage type restrictions, age verification requirement.
- If samples are shipped to an out-of-state consumer under a state retail direct shipper-type permit, state excise, sales and use taxes, and other tax obligations may be triggered, as well as reporting and recordkeeping requirements.
- Tied-House laws apply to retailer-conducted virtual experiential events, including those organized by a retailer’s furloughed bartenders or employees. Retailers must ensure that its virtual events do not result in the retailer accepting any support from or receiving any prohibited thing of value from a licensed manufacturer or wholesale distributor.
- If food is included in a virtual event package sold by a restaurant, bar or hotel, the retailer should ensure compliance with state and local food and food delivery requirements and restrictions.
Recommendations for Retailers:
- Identify and monitor applicable federal and state laws, regulations, and agency advisories, as well as COVID-19-related temporary regulatory relief measures, to ensure your virtual experiential events remain in compliance.
- Establish a clear set of safety measures and ensure employees are adhering to them. Consider requiring execution of liability waivers by virtual event attendees.
- Actively observe the virtual platform to ensure that no illegal activities or inappropriate behaviors are visible during the virtual event.
- If employees are live streaming from the licensed premises during your virtual experiential events, ensure that employees are adhering to local and state COVID-19-related requirements and restrictions.
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Hannah Becker, Senior Associate
Hannah is a senior associate in GrayRobinson’s Tampa law firm office and a member of the firm’s nationwide alcohol beverage and food law department. Hannah’s practice concentrates on advising companies and entrepreneurs in heavily-regulated industries with regard to compliance with federal, state and local statutes and regulations that govern the manufacturing, importation, distribution, marketing, sale and consumption of alcohol beverages and other regulated products. She has worked with various food, lifestyle and fitness brands, craft breweries and distilleries, members of the hospitality industry, third-party providers, and companies and individuals from each of America’s three-tier system of alcohol distribution concerning licensing, regulatory, business and trade practice issues.