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Beginning April 25, 2023, Tennessee law changed to allow grocery stores to sell wine coolers and a broad array of wine products that were previously taboo. SB497 / HB411 changes the definition of wine for grocery stores and clarifies that beer cannot contain spirits.

When wine in grocery stores (WIGS) originally passed, there was broad opposition to grocery stores selling wine coolers. The original WIGS law was drafted to prohibit any wine coolers.

What can grocery stores sell under the new law?

Grocery stores will soon be able to sell nearly anything that contains wine and is under 18% alcohol by volume. That’s 36 proof. The definition of wine was also broadened to include fruit and other agricultural juice products in addition to grapes.

Popular wine spritzers like Day Drinking, House Wine pouches, Muddle & Spear wine cocktails and other popular wine-based RTDs will be legal at grocery stores. Previously, consumers had to purchase these products at liquor stores, where patrons must be 21.

The new law also appears to include products like many BuzzBallz Chillers, clocking in at 15% ABV and made from orange wine.

Image of Buzz Ball Chiller

BuzzBallz and other RTD shooters are often featured as impulse purchases at the checkout line in liquor stores.

We are frankly surprised to see a new category of RTDs being allowed to be sold in grocery stores, with nary a comment about the impact on minors and young adults. 

Even fortified wines are included, as long as they are under 18% ABV. Thunderbird advertises 17.5% ABV, best served chilled, according to ads.

Remember this classic from ZZ Top?

Get high everybody, get high

Have you heard? What's the word?

It's Thunderbird

What is beer under Tennessee law?

The legislation also changes the definition of beer. Beer is defined in Tennessee as “products made from the normal alcoholic fermentation of malt or other cereal grains, sugar or fruit ingredients used to make cider, and having an alcoholic content of not more than eight percent (8%) alcohol by weight and that do not contain distilled spirits or wine…”

There had been some discussion in the industry concerning whether spirits-based RTDs under 8% ABW could be sold as beer. Beer had become a catchall for products that did not seem to fit in any other defined category.

The new law clarifies that beer in Tennessee cannot contain one drop of distilled spirits. RTDs with one drop of distilled spirits are not beer and cannot be sold with a beer permit. If the beverage has the name of a spirit – like vodka, tequila, or whiskey – on the label, it probably has spirits in it and cannot be sold with a beer permit.

 Image of High Noon, vodka and soda can

The High Noon product above cannot be sold unless you have a liquor license – such as a restaurant, hotel or retail liquor store. High Noon cannot be sold at a grocery store, convenience store or beer-only business, like a mobile establishment in Nashville or a beer-only bar like Santa’s Pub.

The new law still calls plenty of things “beer” that are not what most folks would call beer. Truly is made from fermented sugar, and sold as beer. Sake is made from fermented rice, but sold as beer in Tennessee, if it is less than 8% ABW.

One important change appears to be mead. Mead is generally made from fermented honey, but honey is not among the ingredients that make up “beer” under the new law.

We’ve included a comparison of the changes in the definitions made by SB497 / HB411. 

The law has been sent to Governor Lee for signature and takes effect as soon as he signs it.

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