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What Is a Liquor License?
A liquor license is a permit issued by the government that allows restaurants, bars, liquor stores, and other establishments to sell alcoholic beverages. Liquor licenses are regulated separately by each state, and each state has its own rules and regulations.
Some rules and regulations pertaining to the sale of alcohol that states will regulate include:
- Where alcohol can be served
- The amount that can be served
- The cost of alcohol
- Types of containers alcohol can be served in
- Times alcohol can be served
- How and when alcohol can leave the premises
Types of Liquor Licenses
Most states have several types of liquor licenses available for different purposes. It is common to see the following categories for liquor licenses:
- Beer and Wine License: This license allows the establishment to sell beers and wines but not strong alcohol like liquor. This is a common license to have because it is generally easier and less expensive to obtain.
- Restaurant Liquor License: This license is also called a general liquor license and allows the establishment to serve all types of alcohol. States generally limit these licenses, and they can be difficult to obtain.
- Bar Liquor License: Sometimes called a Tavern liquor license, this is for businesses whose alcohol sales are more than 50% of their total sales. This type of license varies by state and jurisdiction.
- Server License: Some states require those who will be serving alcohol to have their own employee permit to administer alcohol.
On-Licenses vs. Off-Licenses
Liquor licenses will differ for establishments that serve alcohol to be consumed onsite, like a bar or restaurant from establishments like liquor stores that sell alcohol to be consumed off-premises.
A business like a brewery that sells alcohol for both onsite and offsite consumption may be required to have both license types.
Liquor licenses are considered a privilege, and they ensure that establishments selling alcohol comply with all the local laws and regulations surrounding the sales of alcohol.
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How To Get a Liquor License
Obtaining a liquor license can sometimes be difficult, and most states limit the number of available liquor licenses. Once you have determined what type of liquor license your establishment requires, follow these steps to get a liquor license.
Step #1: Research
Before applying for a liquor license, you should research your state and local government’s laws and regulations on liquor licenses. Your county or city may have additional requirements on top of your state’s rules. You can find out everything you need to know about your area’s liquor license requirements by contacting your state’s Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) board.
The ABC board can also inform you whether a license is currently available and help guide you on the type of license you need.
Step #2: Apply
After researching laws and ensuring that your business has met all requirements, you can apply for a liquor license with your local alcohol control agency. You will need to submit all required documentation along with the processing fee.
Step #3: Additional business permits
Depending on your state and jurisdiction, you may be required to obtain additional business permits before being issued a liquor license. These additional permits may include:
- Business license
- Building and zoning permits
- Health permit
- Sales tax permit
Step #4: Defend your proposal
Some jurisdictions allow members of the community to protest the issuance of liquor licenses. If a member of your community disagrees with your proposal to sell alcohol, you may have to defend yourself at a public hearing.
Step #5: Approval
The process of being approved for a liquor license can take up to six months. If approved, you will be required to pay a license fee. Depending on your state, this fee can range from around $300 up to $450,000.
Step #6: Renewal
You will need to renew your license per your state and local laws, usually between every 1-3 years. You must also obey all liquor laws and regulations while you hold a liquor license. If you break any liquor laws, your license can be revoked.
Liquor License Fees & Governing Agencies – State-by-State
Each state regulates liquor licenses. The governing agency, application process, and license fee will vary depending on where you live.
Alabama. Liquor licenses in Alabama are regulated by the ABC licensing division in each county. The cost of a liquor license ranges from $100 to $1,000 , depending on the license type.
Alaska. The liquor license process in Alaska is longer than in most states. Approvals need to come from several agencies, including the Alaska ABC board. Application fees range from $48 to $500 , while the license fees range from $200 to $2,500 .
Arizona. There are over 20 different types of licenses in Arizona. Most license types are regulated by quotas purchased through a broker or awarded by a lottery. The cost is between $100 and $2,000 .
Arkansas. The ABC Division of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration regulates liquor licenses. The cost of the licenses ranges from $100 to $3,000 , depending on which one of the six available licenses you are requesting.
California. Liquor licenses in California can be applied for with the local ABC office. Some counties have different regulations. License costs range from $1,000 to $16,000 .
Colorado. The Colorado Department of Revenue issues liquor licenses in Colorado. You can apply for your license online, and you will be subject to both local fees ranging from $22 to $1,000 and state fees ranging from $337 to $1,020 .
Connecticut. Connecticut has more than 20 types of liquor license permits. The Department of Consumer Protection issues licenses. Fees cost between $20 and $2,650 .
Delaware. The Delaware liquor licensing system is online and controlled by the Office of ABC Commissioner. Liquor licenses in Delaware range from $150 to around $2,000 .
Florida. In Florida, liquor licenses are regulated by the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco. The population of the county determines costs for licenses in Florida.
Georgia. Georgia requires those looking to sell alcohol to obtain both a local license and state license through the Georgia Department of Revenue. You must have your local license before applying for a state license.
Hawaii. Each county controls liquor licenses in Hawaii, and prices for licenses vary.
Idaho. It is difficult to obtain a liquor license in Idaho due to the quota system in place. Idaho ABC controls liquor licenses and requires fingerprint cards, background check fees, and other documents not usually required by other states.
Illinois. Illinois, like Georgia, also requires establishments to obtain both local and state licenses through the Illinois Liquor Control Commission. State fees are
Indiana. Indiana uses a population-based quota for liquor licenses controlled by the state Alcohol and Tobacco Commission.
Iowa. Getting a liquor license in Iowa is done entirely online through the Alcoholic Beverages Division. There is a high demand for licenses, so business owners should give plenty of time for their applications.
Kansas. The Kansas Department of Revenue’s ABC accepts applications for liquor licenses online.
Kentucky. Kentucky has the option of half-year licenses or full-year licenses. All liquor licenses can be applied for online. Depending on the license type and term, fees range from $30 to over $7,000 .
Louisiana. The ATC of Louisiana requires all applications and fees for liquor licenses to be mailed. Prices for licenses range from $120 to $345 .
Maine. The liquor licenses in Maine are controlled by the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages & Lottery Operations. Applications are also reviewed locally as well.
Maryland. In Maryland, liquor licenses are controlled by the local government, and fees vary depending on county and license type.
Massachusetts. The Massachusetts State Treasury controls the state’s ABC commission. Applications require a $200 processing fee , and an advertised public hearing is required to approve or deny applications.
Michigan. Michigan is another state that issues liquor licenses based on quotas. Several types of licenses are available, all controlled by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
Minnesota. Although licenses are issued locally in Minnesota, they are all controlled by the Alcohol and Gambling Division. Fees vary by area and range from $100 to over $2000 .
Mississippi. Of Mississippi’s 82 counties, 34 are completely dry counties, while others have stringent alcohol regulations. Liquor licenses can cost upwards of $9,000 and are controlled by the state’s ABC.
Missouri. Missouri has three ATC offices as part of the Public Safety division that process liquor licenses. Costs range from $50 to $300 depending on the type of alcohol that will be sold.
Montana. Applications for liquor licenses in Montana are filled out online at the Department of Revenue website. Fees are between $400 and $800 , with an additional $400 processing fee for new licenses.
Nebraska. In Nebraska, liquor license applications cost $400 and are submitted to the state’s Liquor Control Commission.
Nevada. Nevada liquor licenses are issued by county or city. Fees vary by license type but generally cost between $75 and $550 .
New Hampshire. New Hampshire requires those seeking a liquor license first to submit a request for an application. They also require in-person appointments with the Liquor Commission Division of Enforcement.
New Jersey. Liquor licenses are obtained through the ABC Division at the Office of the Attorney General. New Jersey charges a $200 fee , and the application can be completed online.
New Mexico. New Mexico is another state with liquor license quotas managed by the state ABC. Licenses can be purchased or leased by a liquor license attorney or broker.
New York. In New York, there are several available liquor licenses with various requirements. The State Liquor Authority requires businesses to notify local authorities when applying. Fees for the license vary by license type.
North Carolina. North Carolina has a state quota of 50,000 total liquor permits in specific jurisdictions. The permit fee is $1,000 .
North Dakota. The Office of The Attorney General handles liquor license applications in this state. North Dakota requires both local and state licenses, with the local license having to be obtained first.
Ohio. In Ohio, the Department of Commerce requires that the public be notified when a liquor license application is filed. This allows the public to object.
Oklahoma. License fees in Oklahoma are some of the least expensive in the country at just $55 . Business owners can apply for a liquor license online, in person, or by mail to the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission.
Oregon. A special liquor license commission processes applications for liquor licenses in Oregon. The fee can be up to $1,000 for a regular license; however, they offer temporary liquor licenses for $10 a day .
Pennsylvania. Applying for a liquor license in PA is done online through a special Liquor Control Board portal. Fees can range between $125 and $700 .
Rhode Island. The Department of Business Regulation issues liquor licenses in Rhode Island.
South Carolina. In South Carolina, a notice of applying for a liquor license must be posted in a local newspaper and requires a filing fee of $300 .
South Dakota. In South Dakota, liquor licenses can only be leased, which is controlled by the Department of Revenue.
Tennessee. The ABC regulates liquor licenses in Tennessee. Retailer licenses cost $850 . Licenses for bars and restaurants vary depending on the capacity of the establishment and the type of business.
Texas. The liquor license fees in Texas vary significantly from just $25 for temporary permits to over $17,000 for other types of licenses. All liquor licenses are controlled by the ABC and can be applied for online.
Utah. In Utah, the issuance of liquor licenses is controlled by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Applications need to be submitted before the 10 th of every month, and fees range from $125 to $10,000 .
Vermont. In Vermont, the Department of Liquor and Lottery Division divides liquor licenses into three classes. They range in fees from $25 to over $1,000 .
Virginia. Virginia divides their liquor licenses into three types: banquet, retail, and industry. The ABC controls licensing, and the application fee is $195 .
Washington. Liquor Licenses in Washington are issued by The Washington State Liquor & Cannabis Board. Rather than being issued as a separate document, licenses are issued as endorsements on a business license.
West Virginia. In West Virginia, liquor license fees can cost over $7,500 and are controlled by the Alcohol Beverage Control Administration.
Wisconsin. Even though Wisconsin liquor licenses are handled at the local level, they are overseen by the Department of Revenue. WI is subject to license quotas which are based on population.
Wyoming. In Wyoming, liquor licenses are regulated by both the state Liquor division and local authorities. Licenses cost between $300 and $3,000 and must be renewed every year.
For more information about each state’s liquor license laws, read this article.
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Liquor License Requirements
Each state and local government will have different requirements for a business to obtain a liquor license. Some jurisdictions require that a company have a business license, health permit, sales tax permit, and other documents before issuing a liquor license, while other jurisdictions have more relaxed requirements.
Some standard requirements you may find on your state’s application for a liquor license include:
- EIN for tax purposes
- Local zoning permit
- Code compliance certificate
- Signage permit
- Alcohol tax permit
- Certificate of incorporation
- Food handlers permit
- The current or proposed food menu
- Floor plan
- Building title
It is essential to research your local jurisdiction’s requirements, so you know exactly what you need to obtain a liquor license for your business.
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