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Highest and Lowest State Liquor Taxes - I NEED TO MOVE!!!

I found a graphic in the Wall Street Journal a couple of months back that listed the highest and lowest state excise-tax rates per gallon. As someone that tries to find cheap booze prices, I found this information very helpful (and depressing, since I live in Michigan).

Highest:
Washington - $26.70
Oregon - $23.03
Virginia - $20.91
Alabama - $18.61
Michigan - $13.24

Lowest:
New Hampshire - $0
Vermont - $.32
Wyoming - $.83
Montana - $2.00
Colorado - $2.28

So, do the states with the lowest taxes listed above actually have the lowest liquor prices? (This may be a dumb question, but I'm not sure what else goes into pricing liquor other than state excise-tax, so I'm asking anyway.)

Article here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000...

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  1. When we lived in upstate NY everyone went over to New Hampshire to stock up, because there were no taxes. But it didn't seem to be that much cheaper unless you brought a tractor trailer! And here we have Indian (sorry Native American I think?) reservations for cheap cigarettes which are half the price without tax. What each individual place decides to do with their base price is up to them, and if they want to advertise out of their area then that's their privilige. At least where I am, the prices vary store to store, and you can shop around. But I know states that do have state run stores so hard to say, in general.

    1. I'm surprised New Jersey is not on the high list....

      2 Replies
      1. re: fourunder

        I'm sure that's just a sample of the highest.

        1. re: fourunder

          When I lived in NJ, it used to be low. That was decades ago, and I know they've raised them a lot since then. Sad.

          But, taxes aren't the only factor in pricing. NH has no alcohol tax, but all the stores are state run, and I don't find the pricing that much better than MA (which is pretty high, though not top five). Plus the selection is not that great. Point being, there are better reasons to be depressed about living in Michigan.

        2. It's kind of like buying in duty-free shops. A lot of the time, despite the lack of taxes, the price is jacked up so you won't save much, if anything. New Hampshire does have pretty low prices on a lot of things, but it is certainly possible to find things cheaper in MA from time to time if you go to the right store. Plus NH only sells liquor in state-run stores so the state is taking in the profits in lieu of excise taxes, thus making it an unfair comparison. Also, you won't find the same kind of selection you would in a private-market state.

          California has pretty low prices (check the bevmo site) and it still has middle of the road taxes.

          1. I presume the OP is not serious about moving . . . can't imagine anyone drinking so much in distillates that it's worth moving for.

            That said, the article itself tells of people driving from Washington to Oregon for cheaper liquor . . . I have some experience with that.

            For many years I worked for Liquor Barn, a chain of 104 stores -- the pre-cursor to BevMo -- based in California, but with 16 stores (IIRC) in Arizona. The northernmost store we had was located in Redding, CA -- 137 miles from Ashland, OR, the first town of any size in that state. That one store would go through approximately 400-500 cases (6/1.75L) of Black Velvet Canadian Whisky every month. People from Oregon would drive down in motor homes and buy 25+ cases at a time, and then drive back north. They'd buy for their friends, family members, neighbors . . . it was a little scary!

            The grass is always greener . . . Washington people now drive to Oregon; Oregon people still drive to California . . . whatever.

            2 Replies
            1. re: zin1953

              A field trip to load up on Black Velvet? Wow.

              1. re: zin1953

                " Oregon people still drive to California . . . whatever."
                Yes we do, it is only a 20 mile round trip for me. Huge savings even with Ca sales tax.

              2. Wow, I'm shocked that Massachusetts isn't on the list.

                I used to subscribe to a "best wines under $10" blog based out of New York City, and every time I went to buy one of the recommendations the wine cost me, IIRC, between $14 and $18 here in Taxachusetts. Similarly, when I see discussions of spirits prices around the country I often notice that I seem to be paying a lot more.

                1. Thanks for the post 4Winds. This helps explain to a large degree why I was feeling such frustration looking for deals in my new state of NE... it's not that I'm getting gouged here.. it's that I was just used to getting gouged LESS in CO.

                  I just came back to CO for the holidays in a vehicle rather than on an airplane.. there's a whole lot of gin, scotch and tequila making the trip back with me! I may have to FedEx one of the kids to make room for it all. I'm saving between $5 and $15/bottle on distillates. I'm not sure how much I'm going to lose in decreased MPG on the road.. but I'm not going to figure that out for fear of getting depressed.

                  A list I found with google :

                  http://taxfoundation.org/article/stat...

                  1. I have no idea about the liquor tax or regulations in Maryland, but I do know that based on over a year's worth of booze discussions on these boards, the prices I pay in Montgomery County, Maryland seem like some of the lowest in the country. It's worth noting that this is only for Montgomery County. Go over one county to Prince George's and you'll pay noticeably more.

                    I can also tell you, liquor ain't cheap in Virginia.

                    1. Back in the day (20+ years ago) Wyoming was indeed very cheap and it was the first time I saw drive through liquor stores. The state controlled ALL alcohol (we couldn't buy any at grocery or convenience stores) where we lived. We rarely drank alcohol in a bar.

                      1. There is a new 2014 map listing the states with the highest and lowest taxes on liquor.

                        "Spirits are taxed the highest in Washington at $35.22 per gallon. Next in line are Oregon ($22.73), Virginia ($19.19), Alabama ($18.23), and Alaska ($12.80). Least-taxed states are Wyoming and New Hampshire, which have no spirits excise taxes (note that these are states in which the government controls all sales, and spirits may be subject to ad valorem mark-up and excise taxes). These are followed by West Virginia ($1.87), Missouri ($2.00), Colorado ($2.28), and Texas ($2.40). To see where your state falls, see the map below."

                        http://taxfoundation.org/blog/map-spi...

                        34 Replies
                        1. re: signofthefourwinds

                          Retailers near state / county lines adjust prices up or down for parity. Don't spend too much gas and time trying to save a dollar. They do this for a living, you do it for a happy hour.

                          1. re: signofthefourwinds

                            We lived for almost 20 years in Southern Oregon. We happily drove two hours one way to buy booze at greatly reduced prices. You know, like almost half off. It was a little day trip. Drive down, have lunch at a nice place, fill the car for us and our friends and drive back. MORE than paid for the gas.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              When I worked for Liquor Barn in the 1980s, the store in Redding, CA -- closest to the Oregon border -- would go through 75-100 cases (6/1.75L) of Black Velvet Canadian Whisky PER WEEK, with much of that going into the back of vans, pickups, campers, and motor homes . . . nearly all, into vehicles with Oregon license plates, often 25 cases at a time.

                              Then again, our store in Imperial Beach (an "economically challenged" part of San Diego) -- closest to the Mexican border -- sold several hundred cases of Budweiser a week, nearly as much <$5 Chilean wine a week as all California wine combined, and the proverbial "ton" of high-end Bordeaux and Dom PĂ©rignon . . . the last two items often being loaded into vehicles with Mexican (Baja California) plates.

                              1. re: zin1953

                                I would say Black Velvet was quite popular with our native Oregonian neighbors :)

                                1. re: zin1953

                                  Wait. I was just in Imperial Beach visiting my BIL. Do you still own a store? Which one?

                                  Good fish taco truck on 18th st. Good Pho in the Walmart plaza.

                                  1. re: EvergreenDan

                                    No, no, no . . . I *never* owned a store, in IB or anyplace else.

                                    Liquor Barn was a chain of 104 stores, 88 in California, and 16 in Arizona (IIRC). I worked with them from over a dozen years, in various capacities -- principally as one of their corporate wine buyers (for all 44 stores in Southern California) and in charge of both their employee and customer wine education programs throughout the entire chain. Originally begun as a division of Safeway, it was spun off to the owners of Majestic Wine Warehouses PLC out of the UK, then went into Chapter 11, was rescued out of that after about a year, then sold to a group of California-based investors, before it eventually declared Chapter 7 and died a slow and painful death . . . only to be resurrected as "Beverages, & more!" (aka BevMo).

                                    1. re: zin1953

                                      I never knew that history. Thanks. Love BevMo though we don't get there often.

                              2. re: signofthefourwinds

                                I've seen that one before - it's an interesting map. Like I've said, at least in MD, the county-by-county difference can be huge. Just off the top of my head, a bottle of Elijah Craig goes for around $28-$30 in most stores in Prince George's County but sells for $20.65 in Montgomery County. DC is definitely pricey for liquor, but beer is actually cheaper in DC than any of the surrounding counties, as far as I can tell.

                                1. re: signofthefourwinds

                                  When we lived in MA, we would make a point of stopping at the NH liquor store whenever we crossed the state line. I don't remember making a special trip of it though except for during a stretch of about 4 months when I was working almost in sight of the line (and one of their outlets). It was cheaper, but I don't remember how much cheaper.

                                  I live in Wisconsin now. You don't go to Illinois to find cheaper prices on anything. Selection, yes. Price, not so much.

                                  1. re: harrism

                                    At one point MA state police put spotters at the NH state liquor store parking lots and would pull people over at the MA border.

                                    NH is a bit cheaper, but not enough for a special trip. Selection is terrible, at least in the types of esoteric things that I like. Vermouth, as I recall, was especially ghastly.

                                    I"m sure they have great prices on candy corn vodka.

                                    But in general, I'd rather give my money to a local store, and encourage them to stock interesting things.

                                    1. re: EvergreenDan

                                      Yeah, at the time my tastes were not sophisticated enough to care. No candy corn vodka, but mostly not much better.

                                      I totally agree with you about local stores. Fortunately I have a couple in town now that are pretty good. Neither is really amazing, but the seem to complement one another at the margins and I can find most of what I want. Now I just have to keep my tastes from becoming too much more sophisticated.

                                      1. re: EvergreenDan

                                        Just in browsing the prices at the New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlets (http://www.liquorandwineoutlets.com/) the prices aren't any cheaper than I can find in Bethesda (and in some cases are higher), and the selection for the more higher end and obscure stuff (imported rums, tequilas, higher-end sherry, digestiffs and amaros, small batch and single barrel bourbon, etc..) are weak to non-existent. Sort've a shame since I was going to be up in Maine for a week this summer and would be driving through NH on the way up from my GF's parent's place in RI.

                                        1. re: The Big Crunch

                                          The loss leaders, which don't get advertised online, are the really great deals in NH. I've picked up premium items for less than their wholesale price in NY.

                                          1. re: JMF

                                            Any examples you can remember? I'm actually driving through NH this weekend.

                                            1. re: Alcachofa

                                              Alcachofa, they're loss leaders... they come, they go, they're rarely the same.

                                          2. re: The Big Crunch

                                            Perusing your link, I see that NH prices are on par with Quebec's SAQ prices:
                                            1.75l NH price = 750ml Quebec price.
                                            Yeah, we pay double.

                                            1. re: porker

                                              Ouch. I have felt the pain in Quebec, I didn't know it was that severe. Porker, you need to return to the Caribbean!

                                              1. re: Veggo

                                                That's one way they pay for "free" health care in Canada - tax vices to a ridiculous extent.

                                                1. re: ncyankee101

                                                  From what porker wrote it seems that Oregon is in the same league price-wise...and there's no free health care there.

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    If you look at the 2014 map, Washington state is now much worse than Oregon, which is a distant #2 - $35 tax per gallon vs $23.

                                                    1. re: ncyankee101

                                                      WA State doesn't have free health care either :)

                                              2. re: porker

                                                porker, I've seen that, or very, very close to that, between Oregon and Calif. When we used to 'bootleg' for our elderly friend in OR, we could buy Smirnoff for as little as $16+ with sales tax and that same thing (1.75L) for $35ish with no sales tax in OR. You are not alone :(

                                                1. re: porker

                                                  Looking a little closer
                                                  http://www.liquorandwineoutlets.com/p...
                                                  http://www.saq.com/page/en/saqcom/vin...
                                                  I realize "double" might not be FULLY accurate
                                                  NH Washington cab $7.95 USD

                                                  SAQ Washington cab $18.40 ($16.56 USD

                                                  )

                                                  http://www.liquorandwineoutlets.com/p...
                                                  http://www.saq.com/page/en/saqcom/sco...
                                                  NH Johnnie Walker Red 1.75l $29.99USD
                                                  ($17.14USD/liter

                                                  )

                                                  SAQ Johnnie 750ml $29.95 ($26.96USD)
                                                  ($35.94 USD/liter)

                                                  etc etc
                                                  (slightly > 2x.....)

                                                  The SAQ is somewhat draconian in their pricing and practices.
                                                  You MUST purchase spirits and most wines/imported beer from them, whether for personal use or bar or restaurant.
                                                  Bars & restos pay an 8% premium across the board over personal prices (they add special labelling, a small sticker, for this).
                                                  If you want a product not listed by SAQ (any wine, beer, or spirit), you have to special-order it through THEM and swallow THEIR taxation/pricing (you will lose any price benefit of cheap stuff from elsewhere).
                                                  They also have a policing arm which randomly tests bars and restos for strength (dip tests - they don't care if you're ripping the customer, they're worried that watering down your booze slows their sales) and proof of proper labelling (that you paid your 8%).

                                                  I'm just sayin.
                                                  Yeah, I miss the Caribbean...and the US, and Mexico, and Central America, and Spain....

                                              3. re: EvergreenDan

                                                Pull people over for what? Is it illegal to transport alcohol across state lines for personal consumption? For resale, yes, but I didn't think there was anything to stop you from transporting for personal use/consumption?

                                                1. re: jrvedivici

                                                  I think it could become an issue when you're buying for all your friends and family. A vehicle loaded with many cases of whatever could be questionable. I don't know if I knew this was an issue going from CA back into OR or just suspected that it could be. But we were never stopped so it was never an issue for us.

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    When I was growing up my parents would make the liquor run to NH for home and friends. Most people covered it all up with luggage and blankets. The word on the street back then was if the police stopped you after leaving NH they would confiscate it.

                                                  2. re: jrvedivici

                                                    profiling presumed future drunks.......

                                                    1. re: jrvedivici

                                                      When you purchase tax-free goods from outside of MA, you are expected to declare it and pay use tax which is equal to the sales tax that a MA retailer would have collected. Therefore, you are expected to pay whatever the liquor tax is in MA that is paid by the stores (or distributors -- not sure) on your behalf.

                                                      I found this out the hard way when I imported an expensive auto part from Europe and received a bill from the state about a year later.

                                                      (I'm neither tax lawyer nor accountant, though.)

                                                      1. re: EvergreenDan

                                                        You are correct about self-assessing sales tax on taxable items purchased elsewhere. However, the tax on booze in MA is an excise tax, not a sales tax. The sales tax on booze was very short lived. (Which makes sense: you're gonna have an excise tax, then slap a sales tax on top of that? Ugh.)

                                                        I don't think that story about troopers following people who went to the NH liquor stores is true. I think it is mixed up with the fact that they do scope out people buying fireworks in NH, especially close to the 4th of July, and pull people over suspected of bringing personal fireworks into MA.

                                                        1. re: Alcachofa

                                                          >>> Which makes sense: you're gonna have an excise tax, then slap a sales tax on top of that? <<<

                                                          In most (but, apparently, not all) states, a sales tax is charged on the actual sale price, which -- again, in most (but, apparently, not all) cases -- includes whatever excise taxes, tariffs, customs duties, etc., etc. are included in the price.

                                                          1. re: zin1953

                                                            NC charges sales tax on liquor - as well as food, medicine, clothing, everything (unlike other states I have lived in). A few years ago, they did revise the taxes on non-prepared food so it is only 2% now, rather than the full 6-7% it had been.

                                                            1. re: ncyankee101

                                                              Quebec (and Canada) also charges tax everything (except non-prepared food, but I don't know how long that'll last).
                                                              PST (provincial sales tax) is 10% and GST (General (federal) sales tax) is 5%.
                                                              They don't calculate based solely on the purchase price...they charge the 10% on the purchase price, then calculate the 5% on the new total (purchase price plus PST), ie they tax the tax.

                                                    2. re: EvergreenDan

                                                      The NH liquor store is now carrying several varieties of vermouth, including Dolin. They have been getting better in selling more esoteric spirits, but it's still mainly a great place to pick up 100 different flavors of vodka. I think that their wine prices are pretty similar to what I pay in the Boston area, but some liquor prices are much lower. My wife likes Bombay Sapphire Gin. It's $40 for 1.75L in MA, goes for $35 on sale. Regular price in NH is $35, and it goes on sale for $30. Not a great deal of savings, but as we travel to Maine from Boston often, and go right by, it's not a major extra trip for us.

                                                2. To give you an idea how dependent New Hampshire is on liquor revenue, the main north/south highways are lined with combination rest stop/liquor stores. A half gallon of Grey Goose vodka is about $20 cheaper here than in NY. The state motto is "Drink booze, freeze and die".

                                                  1. Hey, first post here, just had to comment since I hear talk about various prices state to state a lot working in a PA state store. Most people complain that we're consistently more expensive, but as a native West Virginian, nearly everything in a PA store is 5-20 bucks cheaper depending on the product, with a few exceptions of course. I always credited this to the markups of the private stores in WV. When I managed a store there the markup was 77% on every bottle- huge. But looking at some of the figures and seeing that PA's tax rate is pretty high and WV's pretty low, it's pretty reasonable to say that tax isn't a really reliable way to tell the price of booze in an area. I haven't really bought alcohol anywhere else, NY once which, yeah, was high, but I'm not familiar with prices in other places. I can find most of the stuff people mention here for similar prices, so I assume it's reasonable. I have to assume the price is really just a variable based on cost of living and other stuff, basically they sell it for what they can. I wish I would have known how much cheaper PA's prices were when I was still in WV, definitely would have made the drive.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: hwdavis88

                                                      As a California resident, trust me: PA is high. AND limited.

                                                      1. re: zin1953

                                                        Actually, PA is very competitive on a few items - especially when they are on sale. I have been shopping online and travelling to PA and FL over the last 4 years, and comparing prices between NY, GA, CA (Hitime wine), NC and PA. They have had the best prices on Laphroaig 18 yr and Thomas handy ($60), prices as good as anywhere on Barbancourt 5 star (sale) and Wild Turkey 101 rye (when they had it) at $19-20. There were quite a few others I don't recall now, but I always came back from PA with a dozen or more bottles.

                                                        The selection is much better if you go to one of the "luxury" stores.