Last Call

Tennessee 2014 WIGS Residency Requirement for Retail Package Stores Is Not Legal

By - September 19, 2014 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

So says the Tennessee Attorney General in an opinion released this week.  The full opinion is here.

For decades, state law required that liquor stores must be owned by Tennessee residents.  The Attorney General found the original residency requirement unconstitutional on June 6, 2012.

Reminds us of Genesis’ catchy 1984 hit Illegal Alien:

It’s no fun being an illegal alien, I tell ya
It’s no fun being an illegal alien, no no no no no
It’s no fun being an illegal alien, I mean it when I tell ya that
It’s no fun being an illegal alien,
An illegal alien, O.K.


As a part of the messy deal struck for wine in grocery stores, which we affectionately call WIGS, the legislature reaffirmed the Tennessee residency requirement with new language designed to make the residency requirement constitutional.  Industry insiders speculate that the Tennessee retail liquor store association pushed for the revamped residency requirement to prevent out-of-state mega liquor stores, which are game changers for the market.

The residency fix in WIGS calls to mind a poignant Einstein quote: “The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.”  We expected the Attorney General to find that the WIGS residency requirement was unconstitutional.

The take away?  If the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission follows the advice of the Attorney General, retail liquor stores can be owned by folks that are not Tennessee residents.  The Tennessee ABC is not legally bound to follow the Attorney General ruling, but we expect it to do so.

2014 Taste of Tennessee Showcases Artisan Distillers

By - September 06, 2014 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

The inaugural Taste of Tennessee festival featured distillers’ finest, served neat for whiskey aficionados. The September 6, 2014 event was hosted by the Tennessee State Fair and benefitted the Tennessee Distillers Guild.

We grabbed shots of the participating distillers and event sponsors.  Enjoy.

4V5A3290 4V5A3291 4V5A3292 4V5A3294 4V5A3296 4V5A3298 4V5A3300 4V5A3302 4V5A3308 4V5A3309 4V5A3310 4V5A3311 4V5A3316 4V5A3318 4V5A3320 4V5A3321 4V5A3322 4V5A3323 4V5A3324 4V5A3326 4V5A3329 4V5A3331 4V5A3334

Obscure 2014 Liquor Law Muddies Water for Sweet Treats with Alcohol

By - September 04, 2014 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

The 2014 Tennessee legislative session profoundly impacted the alcoholic beverage industry. Although the Wine in Grocery Stores (aka WIGS) debate was prominently featured, there were a number of big changes that passed quietly.

Buried in Section 8 of PC 1001, a law passed to resolve the controversy over infusions, is a new law that specifies that any product containing distilled alcohol  that is capable of being consumed by a human being is an alcoholic beverage.

Previously, it was unclear whether products like Liquor Filled Chocolate Covered Cherries were regulated as liquor.  Mainstream retailers sell a wide variety of treats that contain alcohol. Unlike alcohol used in sauces and other cooking recipes, a small amount of alcohol is in the finished product.

Finer restaurants often feature desserts with liquor, where alcohol is not cooked out.

The new law appears to make it clear that at restaurants and bars, food products containing alcohol are alcoholic beverages. Since most restaurants have liquor licenses, the change is not a problem, for licensing purposes.

The real issue is taxes. Liquor-by-the-drink has an additional 15% tax. If desserts with alcohol are alcoholic beverages, restaurants have to collect the 15% tax, in addition to the 9.25% sales tax.

We suspect that no one rings up desserts with small amounts of alcohol as an alcoholic beverage and pays the 15% tax.

Little Jimmy Dickens sings:

I got a hole in my pocket and my money just runs on through.
Can’t seem to save a dollar like my baby dolly wants me to.

We strongly encourage restaurants that serve desserts or other dishes with alcohol to enforce 21 carding for purchases, just like you do for drinks.

Although we read the law as only applying to restaurants and bars, we have heard that the ABC is investigating manufacturers of products that contain alcohol. For example, there are a number of bakeries that produce variations of the Tennessee Whiskey Tipsy Cake featuring Jack Daniels.

As we read it, the new law only applies to restaurants, bars and other LBD establishments.  The ABC appears to be enforcing the new law against food manufacturers that do not hold ABC licenses.

Stay tuned as we sail through unchartered territory.

Wine in Grocery Stores Makes Ballot in 80 Tennessee Cities for November 4, 2014 Elections

By - September 02, 2014 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

Tens of thousands of Tennessee oenophiles are wondering why wine is not in their grocery stores. We hear the question all the time: Wassup? Tennessee legalized the sale of wine in stores like Publix, Kroger and Trader Joes. When will my favorite varietal be on store shelves?

We blogged about the hurdles for wine in groceries here.

Good news for most fans of WIGS (our pet name for wine in grocery stores). The petition drives to place WIGS on the ballot for local option election were successful in 80 Tennessee cities, including Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville.

To qualify for the ballot, each municipality or county had to receive a petition with a number of valid signatures equaling at least 10 percent of the voting population in the 2010 gubernatorial election. Petitions were due on August 21.

14 cities, including Columbia, Dickson, La Vergne, Portland and Springfield failed to collect enough qualifying signatures. Petition drives in unincorporated parts of Hamilton and Shelby counties also came up short.

The next step for WIGS are local option elections on the November 4 general election ballot. Early voting runs October 15-30.

After all the dust settles from voter referenda, the waiting begins again for oenophiles. The soonest that Yellowtail will grace the shelves at Kroger is July 1, 2016, unless the Legislature changes the effective date for WIGS.

Groceries in cities or counties that fail to approve WIGS will be at a distinct disadvantage to neighboring stores in cities that vote in favor of WIGS. For example, wine-drinking shoppers near Columbia may drive to competing stores in Spring Hill to buy groceries and wine. Groceries located outside of cities in Shelby and Hamilton counties will undoubtedly suffer from not having wine on shelves.

Metro Nashville includes Davidson County, which means WIGS is up for election for the entire county.

Brings to mind the classic Loretta Lynn tune Wine, Women and Song:

Well I’m at home a workin’ and a slavin’ this way
You’re out a misbehavin’ spendin’ all of your pay on wine women and song

The following 80 cities and counties will hold wine-in-grocery-stores referendums on Nov. 4:

Ashland City
Church Hill
Unincorporated Cumberland County
East Ridge
Johnson City
Unincorporated Knox County
Lenoir City
Mt. Juliet
Mt. Pleasant
Oak Ridge
Pigeon Forge
Pleasant View
Red Bank
Signal Mountain
Spring Hill
Thompson’s Station
Union City
White House

Pro wine in grocery advocate Red, White and Food posts updated information here.

I Got Some Action at the August Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission Meeting

By - August 26, 2014 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

Today’s August 26, 2014 Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission meeting featured some notable firsts.  We like it when the ABC takes action in unchartered territory.

Reminds us of the classic disco tune “I Love The Nightlife” by Alicia Bridges from Adventures of Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert:

I want some action, I wanna live
Action, I got so much to give
I want to give it
I want to get some too
I love the nightlife, I got to boogie
On the disco ’round, yeah
I love the nightlife, I got to boogie
On the disco ’round, yeah


Bootleggers Homemade Wine LLC in Gatlinburg was approved for the first satellite winery under new 2014 legislation PC 1015.  Bootleggers will open a satellite store in nearby Pigeon Forge.

The satellite winery law allows Tennessee wineries to open up to two additional retail stores for tastings and sales of bottles and merchandise.  Satellite wineries cannot make or bottle wine.

In addition, the new winery law allows wineries to hold a restaurant or limited service restaurant LBD license.  Previously, winery owners were prohibited from owning a restaurant.

We see the new privileges as being very positive for the winery business in Tennessee.


Tennessee passed legislation that significantly expanded the location of liquor wholesalers.  The new law allows liquor wholesalers to be located in any “county in which the voters of any municipality or other jurisdiction within that county have approved retail package sales or consumption of alcoholic beverages on premises by referendum as provided in this title.”

Holston Beverages was the first wholesaler approved by the Tennessee ABC under the new law.  Holston primarily serves the tri-cities: Kingsport, Johnson City, and Bristo.  Previously, state law required Holston to be located in Knoxville.

Bone McAllester Norton Alcoholic Beverage team member Rob Pinson represented Bootleggers and Holston today at the ABC.

License Revocation.

In what we believe to be a first for the Commissioners appointed by Governor Haslam to the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Commissioners voted to revoke the liquor license of a retail liquor store. The manager was accused of lying to the ABC in connection with a no buy, based on a falsified letter.

The take away is never ever lie to the ABC.  Whatever you may have done, it most likely pales in comparison to the punishment you will get from trying to conceal the truth from the ABC.

Good News for Trendy Cocktails in Tennessee

By - August 22, 2014 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

Infused alcoholic beverages became headline news last year as the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission questioned the legality of infusing for cocktails. Industry members and the TABC reached a compromise that became Tennessee law this summer.

We repeatedly hear two questions about the Tennessee infusion law:

1. The law limits infusions to a 10 day period.   When does the 10 day limit begin – when the infusion process begins or when the infusion is ready to be sold to the public?

2. How are bitters treated?

Conjures up the 1967 Cream classic Strange Brew:

Strange brew, kill what’s inside of you.
She’s a witch of trouble in electric blue,
In her own mad mind she’s in love with you

Reliable sources tell us that the ABC says that the 10 day period for infusions begins when the infused product is offered for sale.  This gives cocktail connoisseurs time for lengthy infusion processes, perhaps even including barrel aging.  We thought that 10 days was too short to properly infuse and sell all infused product.

Recently, bitters have emerged as a subject of discussion among the ABC and industry members.

Personally, we think bitters are non-beverage under federal law, and therefore are not alcoholic beverages subject to ABC jurisdiction.  Non-beverage products contain alcohol, but are not drinkable.  Think of peppermint extract, which is around 180 proof, or Scope.  Both have significant amounts of alcohol, but are not regulated as alcoholic beverages.

We understand that the liquor wholesalers are pressing the Tennessee ABC to require that bitters be distributed by liquor wholesalers and only sold at liquor stores.

In our humble opinion, this is plainly wrong.  Will the wholesalers’ next target be cooking wine or Calvin Kline Eternity perfume?

Brings to mind another classic rock song, this time from The Beatles:

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world

We hear that the ABC is moving toward a position that will allow barkeeps to continue making and using house-made bitters.  We see this as great news.  Nashville is reaping the benefits of being a trendy designation for tourists.  The freedom to serve cutting edge cocktails is an important part of pleasing trend-setting tourists.

Tennessee Liquor Stores Given Free Booze for Tastings

By - August 17, 2014 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

The Tennessee Wine in Grocery Stores law was a game changer on many levels.  One obscure victory for retail liquor stores is the ability for distilleries and importers to donate product for tastings at retail liquor stores.

Tennessee liquor stores earned the right to conduct tastings in 2011.  We blogged about the new law here.

The Tennessee ABC cracked down on free liquor beginning on July 1, 2014.  Only nonprofits and liquor stores tastings can receive free liquor under Tennessee law.

The crackdown on free liquor was a big change for the Tennessee liquor industry.  Reminds us of a classic Beastie Boy tune about rebellion:

Yo ho ho and a pint of Brass Monkey
And when my girlie shakes her hips she sure gets funky
Skirt chasin’, free basin’, killin’ every village
We drink and rob and rhyme and pillage


Retail liquor stores scored a number of huge victories in the WIGS battle and we commend their lobbyist David McMahan for making the best out of WIGS. Grocers cannot conduct tastings, much less receive free product for doing so.

What Can I Sell at My Tennessee Retail Liquor Store?

By - August 10, 2014 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

The Tennessee Wine in Grocery Store law, which we affectionately call WIGS, allows Tennessee liquor stores to sell a list of very specific items.  We understand that this list was the result of complicated and contentious negotiations.

We find it most interesting that before the specific list is a lawyerly phrase that gives enormous flexibility about what a retail liquor store can sell:  “Such items may include but are not limited to.”

Hank Williams’ classic “All My Rowdy Friends” comes to mind for no apparent reason:

And the hangovers hurt more than they used to
And corn bread and iced tea took the place of pills and 90-proof
And it seems like none of us do things quite like we used to do
And nobody wants to get high on the town
And all my rowdy friends have settled down


The list of items approved for sale at Tennessee retail liquor stores is quite specific.

Printed or video material related to alcoholic beverages or food
Utensils and supplies related to alcohol, including corkscrews, strainers, pourers, flasks, wine racks, etc.
Gift cards, packages and baskets
Nonalcoholic beverages, such as water, soft drinks, red bull, mixers, etc.
Kegs and growlers of beer, wine and possibly liquor (be aware of TTB restrictions and licensing requirements for liquor and wine)
Beer and wine-making kits and related products and supplies
Lemons, limes, cherries, olives, etc.
Peanuts, pretzels, chips, cheese, crackers and other snack foods
Coolers, ice chests and ice
Party supplies, decorations, bags, greeting cards, etc.
Articles of clothing and accessories related to alcoholic beverages
Combined packages of multiple alcoholic beverages
Cigarettes, cigars, lighters, etc.
Lottery tickets


Gas, for example, was excluded from the list, presumably by convenience stores.  Bread, milk and other food staples was excluded for grocery stores.

From a legal perspective, saying “include but are not limited to” suggests that the list should be read broadly.

For example, WIGS allows the sale of tobacco products.  Can a liquor store also sell e-cigarettes and other vaping devices?

Does “Peanuts, pretzels, chips, cheese, crackers and other snack foods” include stuffed olives, pate, humus, smoked sausages and cocktail shrimp?

Does party supplies include rented chairs, tables and tablecloths?

Given the Tennessee ABC’s strict construction of liquor laws and large monetary fines for alleged violations, retail liquor store owners have good reason to worry that deviating from the specific list is fraught with danger.

The compromises that lead to the passage of WIGS includes new opportunities for retail liquor stores.  It will be interesting to see how broad the Tennessee ABC will construe these privileges and how profitable the new lines of business will be for stores.

Where Is My Wine in Tennessee Grocery Stores?

By - August 06, 2014 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

Tennessee’s Wine in Grocery Stores law, which we affectionately call WIGS, is deep into its next test.  Will enough local voters sign petitions to place the local option election authorizing WIGS in your city or county on the ballot for approval?

Whilst Tennessee wallows in the WIGS battle, we hear Pink Floyd singing:

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun 


WIGS legalized wine in food stores.  But each city or county must have a local option election to authorize the sale of wine in food stores.  To place the local option on the ballot requires the signatures of 10 percent of the residents that voted in the last gubernatorial election.

Petitions must be completed and shared with the local election commissions by August 21 to be on the ballot for November 4th elections.

Although WIGS is hugely popular, the local option requirements pose a problem for some cities.

Confusion about WIGS complicates the local option process.  In Memphis, the Memphis Business Journal declared victory for wine, although WIGS insiders know Memphis is far short.  On average, about half of the signatures on wine petitions are from folks that do not vote in the city where they sign the petition, or are not registered voters.

The failure of Memphis to approve WIGS could be a huge setback for Memphis food stores that compete with grocers in Germantown, Bartlett and other suburbs.  Memphis is about half way to having enough petitioners to place WIGS on the ballot.

In addition, we have real concerns that Memphis voters may not approve WIGS at a popular election.

Other Tennessee cites are more promising for WIGS.  According to reliable sources, the following have enough signatures to place WIGS on the November 4 ballot:

Church Hill
Unincorporated Knox County
Lenoir City
Mount Juliet
Oak Ridge
Pleasant View
Spring Hill
Thompson’s Station

We understand that WIGS is close to having enough signatures to be on the ballot in Nashville, Brentwood, Franklin and Hendersonville.  Same with Chattanooga.

But the August 21 petition deadline is just days away.  Wine in Tennessee grocery stores is at a critical crossroad in many cities.  Although WIGS is largely about convenience to customers, the failure of a city to approve WIGS will be a huge blow to grocers trying to compete against grocers in neighboring cities.

Here Is a Quick Fix for the Sales to Minor Problem in Tennessee Restaurants, Bars and Clubs

By - July 30, 2014 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

Ask any restaurant, bar or club owner in Tennessee about recent stings for sales to minors.  With tough consequences, sales to minors is near the top of the worry list.

Cheap Trick’s classic tune Dream Police seems fitting:

The dream police
They live inside of my head
The dream police
They come to me in my bed
The dream police
They’re coming to arrest me
Oh no

Based on what we know, the stings involve undercover informants that produce driver’s licenses which clearly show the informant is under 21.  Problem is, servers and bouncers misread IDs and the informants order alcohol.

A second sale to minor in two years typically leads to two separate 14 or 15 day suspensions – one for liquor and one for beer.

Tennessee’s law about under 21 driver’s licenses is a big part of the problem.  Although underage drivers licenses are clearly marked as under 21, the licenses are valid for as long as three years after the person turns 21.

Instead of creating the impression that the person is too young to drink, servers are required to do math to determine if the person really is under 21.

The solution is easy.  Tennessee driver’s licenses should expire shortly after someone turns 21.  That way, almost no one with an under 21 license will be of age.

Other states have tackled this problem and we think Tennessee should change its laws to simplify carding.  Here are the laws in a few other


Arizona – Under 21 licenses not valid for alcohol sales 30 days after the 21st birthday.

Colorado – Under 21 licenses expire 20 days after the 21st birthday.

Idaho – Under 21 licensees expire 5 days past 21st birthday.

Kansas – Minor license expires on 21st Birthday.

Kentucky – Under 21 licensees expire 90 days past 21st birthday.

Michigan – Under 21 licenses expire on the 21st birthday.

Minnesota –  Under 21 licenses expire on the 21st birthday.

Montana – Under 21 licenses expire on the 21st birthday.

Nebraska – Under 21 licenses expire on the 21st birthday.

New Hampshire – Under 21 licenses expire on the 21st birthday.

Ohio – Under 21 licenses expire on the 21st birthday.

South Dakota – Under 21 licenses expire 30 days after the 21st birthday.

West Virginia – Under 21 licenses expire 30 days after the 21st birthday.

Wyoming – Under 21 licenses expire on the 21st birthday.

We are encouraging the Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association to back legislation to make 21 year olds get new driver’s licenses at or closely after their 21st birthday.

If under 21 IDs expire at or close to the 21st birthday, servers can presume that the person is underage.  This significantly reduces the chances of math errors.

If legislation is introduced next winter, we will call on our loyal readers to contact legislators to get the law passed.  Stay tuned.