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Have Wine, Will Travel

It is called everything from the bombastic “corkage” to the everyperson “BYOB,” but it means the same across all fifty states and beyond: bringing ones own bottle of alcohol to a restaurant for consumption with ones meal. Not every state allows the practice, but Virginia is on the brink of joining the list of states where brown-bagging is permissible. On February 8th, the Virginia Senate passed SB 1292 (27-Y, 13-N) and the bill passed the House on February 22nd (78-Y, 18-N), leaving only Governor Robert McDonnell’s signature to make it official. The bill was introduced by Republican state Senator Jeffrey McWaters, who argued passage of SB 1292 would help boost Virginia’s restaurant and wine industries. SB 1292 will add Section 16 to § 4.1-201(A) of the Code of Virginia, thereby allowing licensed restaurants to permit customers to consume legally acquired wine on a restaurant premises and allowing the restaurant to charge a corkage fee if desired.

Each state that allows BYOB has its own unique set of regulations. Virginia’s neighbor to the South, North Carolina, has a “brown-bagging” permit, which allows customers in permitted establishments to bring and consume on the premises “up to eight liters of fortified wine or spirituous liquor, or eight liters of the two combined.” Restaurants, hotels and community theaters are only allowed such permits if they are located in a county where the sale of mixed beverages has not been approved. Eight liters of fortified wine, which in North Carolina is defined as 16-24% alcohol by volume, or distilled spirits, may seem like an exorbitant amount of alcohol. However, unlike Virginia’s SB 1292, North Carolina’s law is not about enjoying a glass of ones own wine with dinner, but rather about consuming a gin and tonic at ones local haunt when such establishment is not allowed by law to sell gin. Attending “liquor locker” provisions in North Carolina allow patrons to store their brown-bagged alcohol in individual lockers at licensed facilities, so that they can drain their provisions over time. Traditional bottle opening fees do not apply in such situations, rather the restaurant makes money selling the mixer used by the patron, commonly referred to as a “set-up.”

The North Carolina arrangement would be defined as an illegal “bottle club” in California. California only allows people to bring their own alcohol to a licensed premises, and one can only bring alcohol that could have been sold by the licensee at the establishment. So if a restaurant only sells beer and wine, one cannot bring in vodka. Also, in California any unfinished portion of the BYOB must be left at the restaurant, so if you bring a bottle of expensive wine to a restaurant, bring enough friends to drink it all!

As we head into the weekend, we’ll leave you to ponder these burning questions: Is it counterintuitive for California to forbid people from bringing wine to restaurants that do not serve it, but permit patrons to bring wine to restaurants with the exact same bottle available for sale on their wine list? Also, who pays more in BYOB alcohol costs—North Carolina patrons bringing in eight liters of distilled spirits or New York patrons (blind item) dining at a well known restaurant with a $90 corkage fee?

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2010-2011 · All Rights Reserved ·

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