How does importing spirits into the UK work?

The UK spirits market is the fifth biggest by value in the world with revenue from spirits sales in the United Kingdom in 2021 was around £8.99 billion, so it is certainly an attractive place to establish a brand in, due to the potential opportunities. It has relatively low barriers to entry and alcohol regulation is light compared to some other countries.

However the UK is also a very competitive market with many domestic producers – 820 in 2022 according to The Office of National Statistics, and many imported brands competing for space. So any brand approaching the UK must have a plan, and certain things in place.



If you are brand looking to export your spirits to the UK the first thing to check is that you can export under bond – duty suspended. If you have already paid duty in the country you are produced in, there will still be duty levied in the UK on your spirit. Your importer will be responsible for ensuring that duty is paid in the UK to the UK Government (HMRC), but you must do your due diligence to make sure that they have a bonded warehouse, a WOWGR and AWRS number. Duty for HMRC stamping can take place in the country of origin if you register with the UK Government and this can save time and money.


Format and packaging

The standard size of bottle in the UK is 70cl for spirits, although 50cl and other smaller variants are commonplace. If you are wishing to import from say the USA, where 75cl is standard, you will have to fill to 70cl and label as such.

You will also have to have the address of your importer/distributor on the label, amount of units and other standard warnings against drinking whilst pregnant. And, this might sound obvious, the descriptor should be in English.


Import partner

Most small to medium size spirits brands which are imported into the UK depend on an import partner or local distributor to facilitate entry into the UK market. We discuss the benefits of working with a distributor in this post.  As mentioned above, a spirits importer should have access to a bonded warehouse, they should also have a WOWGR which means that they can import and handle spirits/alcohol duty suspended, and an AWRS number which allows them to sell alcoholic goods within the UK.

An import partner should be able to sell onto wholesalers who service the on trade and directly into the off trade and online retailers.



Between you and your import partner you must work out a way to transport your stock into the UK safely and legally. There are many logistics companies who are specifically set up to do this and will carry out all of the customs paperwork at both ends of the trip. You must check though before sending stock under bond, that your logistics partner has all the right paperwork to do so.


Sales and marketing plan

Having all of the legalities and logistics in place is essential, you must also have a sales and marketing plan for once the stock is in the UK. An import partner might be able to help with this, however if they import multiple brands they might not have the time or resources to concentrate on developing your brand specifically. There are other options, with hiring the services of a sales and marketing agency or employing your own sales/marketing team, but this will add an extra margin which will push your costs up.

The most traditional route to take, would be to find the right fit with an importer/distributor who has got the capacity, contacts and knowledge to work with you to grow your brand in the UK market. Your’re probably wondering how much this might cost? We’ve written about the cost of working with a UK distributor in this post.  

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