Bootlegging & rum-running: Transporting alcohol in Virginia | Allen and Allen

Bootlegging & rum-running: Transporting alcohol in Virginia

Virginia has a long history of bootlegging and rum-running. One particularly famous example comes Franklin County, which during the Prohibition era of the United States (1920-1933), was reputed to be the moonshine capital of the world.

Franklin County VA bootleggers

Franklin County Virginia bootleggers – Photo Credit: The Library of Virginia

But what is bootlegging and rum-running? Are there limitations on the transportation of alcoholic beverages in Virginia today? And if so, what is permitted under Virginia law? This article explores these questions.

What is bootlegging and rum-running?

Bootlegging and rum-running refer to the illegal business of smuggling alcoholic beverages. The term bootlegging generally refers to smuggling over land, whereas rum-running refers to smuggling over water. In many cases, bootlegging and rum-running are intended to circumvent taxation or prohibition laws within a particular locality.

The term bootlegging might have originated during the American Civil War, when soldiers snuck alcohol into army camps by concealing bottles within their boots or beneath their trousers. The term rum-running became popular during Prohibition, when ships from the Caribbean transported cheap rum to Florida speakeasies.

Today, the term “Rum Runner” also refers to a popular tropical-inspired cocktail that was invented in the Florida Keys in the 1950s, which includes rum, banana liqueur, grenadine, and blackberry liqueur.

rum runner cocktail

A rum runner cocktail

Is it illegal to transport alcoholic beverages into Virginia?

Yes, in general it is an illegal practice, but there are exceptions. As a general rule, it is illegal to import alcoholic beverages into Virginia without a permit unless:

  • The alcoholic beverages are for the individual’s personal use, and are not for resale (Note the below quantity limitations); or,
  • The individual is relocating to Virginia and has alcoholic beverages in his or her household effects (in which case, individuals can bring a “reasonable quantity” of alcohol into the state).

Limitations on the transportation of beer and wine in Virginia

In addition to restricting the importation of alcoholic beverages into the state, Virginia also restricts the quantity of beer, wine, or other alcohol that people can transport within the state at any one time.

If the beer or wine is purchased in Virginia, there is no limit to the quantity that individuals are allowed to transport. However, those who purchase beer or wine outside of Virginia are not allowed to transport more than one gallon or four liters without a permit. (One gallon is approximately 3.785 liters.)

Rows of wine bottles

In Virginia, “beer” is any alcoholic beverage obtained by the fermentation of an infusion or decoction of barley, malt, and hops or of any similar products used in drinkable water, and containing one-half of one percent or more of alcohol by volume.

“Wine” is any alcoholic beverage, including cider, obtained by the fermentation of the natural sugar content of fruits or other agricultural products containing sugar, honey, or milk, that contains one-half of one percent or more of alcohol by volume, and that is not the product of distillation.

“Wine” also includes any wine to which wine spirits have been added, as provided in the Internal Revenue Code, to make products commonly known as “fortified wine” which do not exceed an alcohol content of 21 percent by volume.

an empty bar lined with bottles of alcohol

Limitations on the transportation of other alcoholic beverages

Virginia also limits the transportation of other alcoholic beverages, such as spirits or liquors. Individuals are allowed to transport up to three gallons or twelve liters of alcoholic beverages that are purchased in Virginia.

However, the alcoholic beverages must be transported in relatively large containers. Virginia does not allow individuals to transport more than one gallon in containers that are less than one-fifth of a gallon in size, or more than four liters in containers that are smaller than 750 milliliters in size, at any one time.

Virginia imposes tighter restrictions on alcoholic beverages that are purchased outside the state. By law, individuals are not allowed to transport more than one gallon or four liters if the container is metric.

Note: If multiple people are traveling in a passenger vehicle, each person is allowed to transport beer, wine, or other alcoholic beverages, up to the legal limit.

Failure to follow Virginia law regarding the transportation of alcoholic beverages is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

And, of course, it is always illegal to drive while intoxicated.