Happy New Year, but Don’t Forget Vt. Limits N.H. Hooch, Beer

West Lebanon — Hundreds of Vermont residents have been traveling across the Connecticut River in recent days to buy Champagne and other alcohol for tonight’s New Year’s Eve parties.

But news that a New York man was cited for allegedly transporting $44,000 of New Hampshire-bought liquor into the Green Mountain State raised the little-remarked upon fact that there are limits to how much wine, beer or liquor can be brought into Vermont from other states, including tax-free New Hampshire.

Outside the New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlet in West Lebanon, several customers said the limits rarely cross their minds — and they would rarely reach them, anyway.

“This is about the max (that I buy),” said Massachusetts resident Sam Nork, who was carrying a case of wine out to his car to bring it to his vacation home in Quechee. The limits, he said, aren’t something he really thinks about.

Many other customers were seen carrying out small brown bags of alcohol, one or two bottles at a time. But standing outside the store, Wilder resident Robert Hamilton said he sees people spending “$300 or $400 in one wham.”

“I think that’s the only thing (out-of-staters) come here for,” he said, gesturing to the state liquor outlet.

In Vermont, people are allowed to transport into the state up to 8 quarts of spirituous liquors and up to 6 gallons of beer or wine.

That works out to 10 “fifths” of hard alcohol, and roughly 30 bottles of wine or 64 cans of beer.

Even then, those limits are difficult to enforce. Bill Goggins, director of enforcement at the Vermont Department of Liquor Control, said the most common way of identifying violations is “if we trip over it.”

In other words, if Vermont police pull over a car for a traffic violation, they might notice the driver has too much alcohol.

That allegedly was the case with Andy Chan, 34, of Flushing, N.Y., who was pulled over for a traffic stop on Interstate 91 by Vermont State Police in Putney on Saturday, when a trooper “observed a large quantity of liquor cases in the vehicle,” according to a state police news release.

“A subsequent investigation revealed that the operator purchased the liquor worth over $44,000 dollars in New Hampshire and was transporting it to New York,” the release said.

Chan was cited to appear in court in February and was released.

Otherwise, violations can be difficult to detect, said Goggins.

“We have received anonymous complaints in the past of people giving us information that alcohol is being smuggled into the state, so at that point we do (an investigation),” Goggins said, but that “doesn’t happen very often.”

As they pushed a cart of wine and liquor outside of the West Lebanon store Monday, Bob and Heildwig Parker, of Canaan, said they believe people transporting large amounts of liquor out of New Hampshire happens more frequently than it is detected.

“I’m sure it happens all the time,” Heildwig Parker said.

Bob Parker said he didn’t realize that there were limits on the amount of alcohol that a private person could transport into Vermont.

Goggins said the “majority” of liquor that is illegally transported into Vermont comes from New Hampshire, and that the concern for illegal liquor transportation is high at the end of the year.

“Any time when you go into the holidays, the festive time of year, people tend to celebrate more,” he said. “So there’s always the chance that they’re going to be buying more than they normally would to host their holiday parties.”

Rick Gerrish, director of marketing for the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, said “a little more than 50 percent of sales” at outlets system-wide are to out of state buyers: 28 percent from Massachusetts, about 10 percent from Vermont and more than 8 percent to Maine residents.

Canadian tourists are also frequently seen at New Hampshire outlets.

(Buyers using credit cards are asked to punch in their zip codes at New Hampshire outlets, giving state officials a way to track where customers come from.)

“This is a busy couple of days, but not as busy as before Christmas,” Gerrish said. Sales are “primarily” Champagne, he said.

The West Lebanon store ranked ninth among Liquor Commission outlets according to the 2012 annual report for the agency, with $11.5 million in annual gross sales.

As for restrictions on sales, the Liquor Commissions website says, “With the possible exception of certain limited availability items, there are no restrictions relative to the quantity of liquor purchased from a New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlet store. However, you should be aware that each state or province regulates the transportation of alcoholic beverages differently. You may wish to check with local authorities for any restrictions that may apply to your purchases.”

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.