The (Legal) History of Mini Bottles of Booze


Everyone loves mini bottles of spirits--especially when stuck on a cross-country flight. Renowned drinks writer Wayne Curtis writes about the history of mini bottles (sometimes called airplane bottles) for Imbibe, including how the government has regulated them over time:

[M]inis enjoyed their golden age in the 1960s and ’70s, and not only because of American travel trends. It was also thanks to the ham-handed efforts of states to regulate tippling. Battles over the sales of minis cropped up like political wildfires, in part because states alternately saw them as routes both toward and away from moderation. In temperance-loving Utah, for example, minis were first legalized in 1969 as the lesser-of-two-evils alternative to the brown-bagging of restaurant patrons. The mini-only policy lasted until 1990, when the state reversed course and again banned minis. (Only 200 ml. and larger bottles are now legal.)

Legalization disputes also flared up in Texas in 1968 and in Chicago in 1995 (focusing on grain alcohol minis, which were used to cook up crack cocaine). In much of the South, puritanical state legislators banned minis, viewing them as a cheap shortcut to inebriation for working men. (Bar owners often supported these bans, as they’d rather someone stop by their place for an after-work shot than detour by the local liquor store.) They’re still restricted in spots, including Louisiana, where the 100 ml. mini—twice the size of the more familiar version—was legalized only in 2014.

Last year, Maine joined the scuffle, alarmed by a surge in sales of minis—from 8.4 million bottles in 2016 to an estimated 12 million in 2017. (In Maine, Fireball sold in minis brings in four times as much revenue as that in full-size bottles.) Litter was out of control, some groused—a person couldn’t walk from Eastport to Westbrook without trodding on mini Fireballs the whole way. So the state legislature proposed a 15-cent deposit, to which the anti-tax governor threatened to ban all minis. In the end, the state bumped up the retail price by 50 percent, and added a 5-cent deposit as a coup de grâce.

The state associated most closely with minis, however, remains South Carolina. Like a clueless soldier fighting a long-lost war, the state required all bars and restaurants to make drinks from minis until 2006...

Read the rest of Curtis' article here