Crossing the Border with an Open Container of Alcohol
December 27, 2005 8:36 PM   Subscribe

How I legally transport an open bottle cognac from Toronto to Boston?

I have a bottle of cognac that my grandfather gave me when I was 5, to be consumed at my graduation. As you can imagine, this bottle has great sentimental value.

My family and I had some of it when I got my BA and we would like to consume the rest when I get my PhD this June. The problem is that my PhD convocation will be in Boston. The bottle is on Toronto. I would like to do this legally to avoid risk of having the bottle confiscated.

Travel between Toronto and Boston will be by plane. Is there some sort of special permit I can get? Some other procedure I can follow. This requires both the cross-border transport of the alcohol, as well as having an open container in a car in both Ontario and Massachusetts.
posted by duck to Law & Government (14 answers total)
I'm not a lawyer, nor am I at all versed in the actual laws (which can, of course, vary from state to state), but it's my understanding that open containers in vehicles in the US are only an issue if they're accessable to the driver. In other words, keep it in the trunk and out of the passenger area.

As for going across the border with it, I'd first call the airline and ask them, since if anyone stops you, it'd be either the airline, or airport security.

P.S. Congratulations :)
posted by CrayDrygu at 9:05 PM on December 27, 2005

I believe that an open container is a problem only if it's within the cab of the car itself. If the trunk is inaccessible, it might be ok. Check with the cops on that.

Call the airline and ask about transporting the cognac. They'll know.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:06 PM on December 27, 2005

posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:06 PM on December 27, 2005

Every adult (non-U.S.) visitor is allowed to bring into Massachusetts, 'free of duty': one liter of wine or hard liquor. "If you exceed these amounts, you may have to pay some duty on the excess."
posted by ericb at 9:06 PM on December 27, 2005

Massachusetts has an "open container law" (which is TEA-21 Compliant). As has been mentioned above -- as long as the bottle of Cognac is not "in the passenger area of [the] motor vehicle," you are okay here in Massachusetts.
posted by ericb at 9:16 PM on December 27, 2005

I would carefully pack and ship it ahead of time. Send it ground as the change of pressure combined with the volume of air in the open bottle could lead to problems of the k-blam variety.
posted by Mr T at 9:26 PM on December 27, 2005

I wonder if, for safety in transit and to discourage any trouble should some official ask to take a look, you could create a temporary wax seal over the top of the bottle?
posted by Scram at 9:50 PM on December 27, 2005

Cognac itself is the result of a wine-shipping dilemma. The wines of the Charente region of France were boiled down by the Norse seafarers to save space in the ships and reduce taxes on volume. They originally intended to add water upon arrival at their destination, but the essence distilled from these acidic wines is one of the great accidents of history. If you can work this into your PhD thesis, the open bottle of cognac might get immunity.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:43 PM on December 27, 2005

Can't you just recork the bottle? If so, I don't see why you would have any trouble, particularly if you aren't carrying a bottle opener with you.
posted by b1tr0t at 1:00 AM on December 28, 2005

I agree with the recork idea. There are wine vacuum pumps that allow you to close a bottle again (also available from Amazon).
posted by m.openmind at 1:50 AM on December 28, 2005

If you're taking it by air, whatever you do make sure you have a backup plan in case airport security doesn't allow it through. Even if you check with the airline and some random person at the security office and they all say that recorking/sealing with wax/whever will definitely work, we all know that it just takes one random screener with a bad attitude to ignore any rule they please or make up their own entirely. Have someone waiting at the airport until you get through security; if you aren't able to get the liquor through at least you can save it for another day instead of having it go down the drain in front of your eyes.
posted by Gortuk at 5:36 AM on December 28, 2005

That's fascinating, wgp.
posted by odinsdream at 6:47 AM on December 28, 2005

There is some information here regarding bringing alcohol into the US under the personal exemption.

Check with the airline about bringing it in your carry on. I would not recommend shipping it internationally. At least one of the express carriers will only accept shipments of alcohol if they are consigned to a party licensed by the ATF. I don't know if any of them will accept shipments of alcohol destined for MA (the state recently sued UPS, FedEx and DHL over alcohol deliveries).
posted by Carbolic at 9:15 AM on December 28, 2005

Based on Scram's suggestion: The upscale wine store near me has a wine-bottle resealing thing that seems to spray wax over the top of the bottle to reseal it. I'm having no luck Googling up something similar, but if you end up in dire straits, I can probably pick one up for you and mail it out. It would be safer than a vaccuum cork, I think, since it couldn't just be knocked out of the bottle.
posted by occhiblu at 9:28 AM on December 28, 2005

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