Wholesalers of beer, wine, cider and/or distilled spirits occupy the middle distributor tier of America’s "three-tier" alcohol beverage industry. As a licensed distributor, the alcohol wholesaler has a unique and indispensable role to play in assuring that America’s alcohol industry operates safely, efficiently, responsibly and successfully.

Mandatory licensure and comprehensive regulation are part-and-parcel of the alcohol distributor’s existence. Maintaining the security and integrity of alcohol inventories, assuring the timely payment of excise taxes, and providing the intermediary buffer between the supplier and retailer tiers are critical responsibilities for America’s alcohol wholesalers. The lawyers and professionals of our Alcohol Industry Team work hard every day to help wholesalers meet those responsibilities.

From the wholesaler networks spanning multiple states and distributing hundreds of established brands from all segments, to the specialty houses focusing on particular artisanal products in specific markets, our Alcohol Industry Team helps distributors maintain their licensure requirements, meet their compliance responsibilities, and achieve their business objectives. We combine the talents and capabilities of experienced attorneys, former federal and state industry regulators, and skilled licensing specialists to provide the broadest range of support services to wholesalers.

The challenges facing alcohol wholesalers are limitless. Whether advocating for responsible taxation policies, protecting brand distribution rights, or defending a federal or state tax audit, our Alcohol Industry Team has the skilled and experienced professionals to protect your interests and secure your objectives.

Examples of the way we can help include:

  • Start-Up

    We have extensive experience working with new "niche" entrants to the alcohol industry, as well as with experienced players who are diversifying with new brands from different segments of the industry and/or implementing innovative business concepts to strengthen their market positions. We provide guidance and assistance for Start-Up issues ranging from warehouse and vehicle procurement and capitalization to market penetration and mid-long term planning.

  • Licensure

    We handle alcohol beverage licensing at the federal, state and local levels for locations throughout North America. Additionally, we work with clients from all tiers of America’s three-tier system to secure all required operating and collateral alcohol beverage licenses associated with their businesses, including local health, safety and occupational permits.

    GrayRobinson alcohol beverage attorneys, along with our former regulators and licensing specialists, represent an extensive roster of local, regional and national restaurants, hotel chains, theme parks, and other alcohol license holders. Our team assists manufacturers, importers, proprietors and corporate entities with the preparation and filing of federal and state alcohol beverage license applications. GrayRobinson also assists clients in establishing, preserving  and terminating wholesale distribution relationships, as well as negotiating and preparing distributorship agreements.

  • Brand Development

    We understand that a brand is more than a label. From initial appointment through registration and market rollout, we assist clients with the creation and promotion of their new products to assure compliance and enhance the prospects for market success. Our regulatory guidance for brand development encompasses compliance with federal product formulation and labeling requirements, as well as state brand registrations and practical, experience-based input on brand development. 

  • Contracts

    Preparation and negotiation of key contracts is vital to success in the alcohol industry. Our services in this area include drafting distribution agreements with suppliers, sub-distribution agreements with other licensed wholesalers, private label production contracts, import agreements, etc.

  • Taxes and Records

    Because it is a heavily regulated industry, alcohol beverage distributors must produce and maintain records that are accurate and complete. Moreover, because it is a heavily taxed industry as well, wholesalers are obligated to meet their federal and state taxation responsibilities; failure to do so can jeopardize a wholesaler’s licensure, which directly impacts the ability to remain in business. We provide comprehensive assistance with taxation and record-keeping responsibilities.

  • Marketing

    In today’s world, with the unprecedented proliferation of brands and industry members, the ability to distinguish a particular distributor or a specific brand is fundamental to success.   While advancing technology presents extraordinary new opportunities for marketing and promotion, the regulatory restrictions applicable to alcohol beverages produce concomitant compliance risks.   Our Alcohol Industry Team provides specific advice regarding marketing, advertising and promotional activities, including issues relating to tastings and samplings, social media marketing, stealth and guerilla marketing, and the use of third-party promoters and service providers.

  • Compliance

    Unlike any other consumer product, alcohol beverages present industry members with huge compliance challenges because the laws and regulations of every state are different.   For interested parties with no prior experience in the industry – as is often the case with Merger and Acquisition activity involving private investment funds or financial institutions for whom selling alcohol is not a primary endeavor – regulations predicated on concepts such as "tied-house evil" and "mandatory three-tier" can be especially bewildering to comprehend, and difficult to follow.    We counsel clients on trade practice and compliance issues at the federal, state and local levels on issues ranging from M&A guidelines, product recalls and brand sponsorships, to supplier relations and restrictions on dealings with the retail tier.   

  • Government and Public Relations

    Legislative change is rarely easy, but sometimes it is vital to development and growth. Issues can range from focused matters such as IRC coupon redemption regulations, to more expansive issues such as legislative initiatives that attempt to strengthen (or weaken) comprehensive state "franchise" protections for distribution relationships. We have proven experience in securing needed legislative changes for clients, working with alcohol industry members to design and implement strategic public relations and legislative lobbying campaigns, including the drafting of proposed legislation and regulatory rulemaking. 

  • Enforcement

    In a heavily regulated industry, the risks of regulatory enforcement always are substantial. In especially competitive markets, these risks often escalate because competitors do not hesitate to complain to regulators whenever they perceive an alleged violation that arguably yields an unfair advantage in the marketplace. Whether in the form of an audit, subpoena for records, or institution of formal administrative proceedings, our Alcohol Industry Team’s professionals are experienced at protecting clients’ rights and defending their interests against administrative actions at the federal or state levels.

  • Dispute Resolution

    Disputes can arise from any number of sources: government agencies, members of the public, and even other alcohol industry members. Whether those disputes ripen into litigation often depends on the initial actions and reactions of the relevant parties. Our experience proves that skilled communication and strategic planning often can avert litigation, saving all parties time, effort and expense. Our unique combination of lawyers and former regulators, along with our experience of representing all tiers and segments of the industry, enable us to offer alcohol industry clients unparalleled mediation capabilities that can identify key issues, overcome cross-tier or inter-company obstacles and resolve disputes before control is ceded from the parties to the courts. When mediation is not an option, our trial lawyers have decades of experience with litigation and arbitration, including supplier termination, intellectual property protection, and product liability matters. 

  • Education and Training

    We use the experience and knowledge of our Alcohol Industry Team’s attorneys and former regulators to develop tailored education and training programs that emphasize best practices while encouraging compliance. Whether in the format of a live presentation before an in-house classroom audience, or a company-wide online webinar, we can devise programs that add value by increasing employee education about alcohol trade practice DOs and DON’Ts while reducing both compliance and liability risks.

  • Research and Insights

    Our attorneys and former regulators stay current on industry developments, and work to identify developing trends ahead of the market curve. That prowess can be invaluable for wholesale distributors who seek a competitive and strategic edge. We offer such clients leading-edge industry research and reports that provide critical information and insights needed to make important mid-and long-range business decisions. Our Alcohol Industry Team brings complex information together and makes it understandable so our clients can stay ahead of emerging trends.