As you can imagine, there are all sorts of regulations involved with the sale of alcoholic beverages. If you’re going to sell alcohol, licensing requirements vary greatly.
For example, if you’re going to run a liquor store, you’ll need a certain type of license. If you’re operating a vineyard and want to have taste test events, and sell bottles for folks to take home, you’ll need another type of license. If you are running a restaurant and want to start serving alcohol, your liquor license requirement will vary (beer and wine only or all types of alcohol).
We’ll get you started with a basic look at the different types of licenses, and tell you how to apply. Also, we’ll go state by state to steer you to the information you need to the type of liquor license you need.
READ MORE: How to Open a Bar
What is a Liquor License?
Liquor licenses are permits to sell alcohol. The licenses are specific to the types of alcohol, the type of licensed premises or venue (bar/tavern or restaurant), and the hours it can be served. Liquor licenses can also be specific for how the alcohol is packaged – for example, sold in an 8-ounce container or sold as a six-pack or in a bottle.
Types of Liquor Licenses
The first major division in types is by location. The two types are On License (consumed on the premises) and Off License (consumed someplace else). For example, if you’re operating a vineyard or a brewpub, you may need both types – one of the On License to cover you for those taste samples, and an Off License retail liquor liquor license, for you to sell alcohol for folks to take with them.
Here are some other basic types:
- Beer and Wine – That’s all you’ll serve, on license. No take-home off-premises. No hard alcohol such as whiskey or vodka.
- Tavern – You run a bar and also serve food. In general, you’d get a tavern license if 50% or more of your sales are liquor.
- Restaurant – Similar to the tavern license, a certain percentage of sales may be from alcohol, but that varies from state to state. Liquor permits can be complicated and expensive for a restaurant. That’s why many restaurants opt to get beer and wine liquor licenses because they are less expensive and typically easier to get.
- Federal basic permit – needed for vineyards that sell wine and brewpubs that sell beer products across state lines. These types of operations will also need a retail liquor license or wholesale license.
- Liquor Store – Liquor stores may sell beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages. You’ll need a retail license for selling liquor.
- Local business license – Often the state permit isn’t all you’ll need. You’ll also need a specific local business license to sell alcohol. For example, in Maryland, you’d need to be licensed by the state, but in one county – Montogomery – you’ll need another local license.
- Server – In some states or localities, you’ll need a license for each person who serves alcohol.
Not sure what type of liquor licenses you need? Don’t worry. Each state website (as we list for you, below) will lead you through the process to make sure you get the type of liquor licenses that are required for how you’re doing business.
How to Apply for a Liquor License
In each state, there’s a department that regulates the sale of alcohol. In some states, it’s the Department of Revenue. In other states, a board may oversee sales of liquor, cannabis, and tobacco, or lottery operations.
Without exception, you can’t apply for liquor licenses without having certain other licenses and documentation in place. So let’s start there:
- Get your Employer Identification Number (EIN), which you’ll need as your sales tax permit number. You’ll also need a business license. You may also need a health permit. Applications for liquor licenses ask for this information.
- Go to your state’s website and find the department that handles alcoholic beverage control. We’ve got the websites for you, below.
- If liquor license applications are also reviewed by local authorities, be prepared to plead your case with local government leaders, such as local government zoning or hearing boards. Often, a business license application for selling alcohol will be published in a local newspaper, and/or posted on the door of the business. That can create some pushback from local people and local authorities. Be prepared to present your case to local government leaders, as well as the public, to get approved for the needed zoning permits.
- If you’ve gotten a license, pay close attention to the license renewal period. It’s a lot easier to just pay the renewal fee, without going through the application process again.
How to Get a Liquor License in all 50 States (A-Z)
Liquor licenses are available in every state, but the liquor license application systems vary. Some states have an online licensing system, and some require that liquor licenses be mailed. Many have an Alcohol Beverage Control board, but many call it something else or include it under the state’s Department of Revenue.
Here’s the underlying thing that remains the same – if you’re selling alcohol, you need some type of alcoholic beverage license. To get these, you have to apply through your state for liquor licenses and abide by your state’s liquor laws.
How to Get a Liquor License in Alabama
Each county in Alabama has a licensing division. You can start your application at the Alabama State Board.
How to Get a Liquor License in Alaska
A person wishing to get a liquor license in Alaska needs approval at a variety of levels, and from a variety of agencies. You can start with the Alaska Board of Ccommerce.
How to Get a Liquor License in Arizona
Arizona has specific definitions for various types of liquor licenses, with 20 different types. You can start with the Arizona Liquor License board.
How to Get a Liquor License in Arkansas
Arkansas has 6 different types of liquor licenses and applications may only be received by mail. You can get more information at the Arkansas ABC Divison.
How to Get a Liquor License in California
To get a state license in California, you need to apply through a local district office. That’s because many counties and cities have additional regulations. You can start your search at the California ABC.
How to Get a Liquor License in Colorado
The Colorado Department of Revenue handles liquor licensing. You can’t apply until you first get approval from your local government authorities. You can start your Colorado application at the state Department of Revenue.
How to Get a Liquor License in Connecticut
The state’s Department of Consumer Protection oversees liquor licenses. There are more than 20 types of licenses defined.
How to Get a Liquor License in Delaware
Delaware has an easy-to-navigate online system. The Delaware Office of ABC Commissioner oversees the program.
How to Get a Liquor License in Florida
Florida’s license process falls under the direction of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and is regulated by the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco.
How to Get a Liquor License in Georgia
Georgia requires licensing on 3 levels, federal basic permit, and state and local licenses. You must get your local license before applying to the Georgia Department of Revenue.
How to Get a Liquor License in Hawaii
Hawaii has a separate application process in each of its four counties: Hawaii, Honolulu, Kauai, and Maui.
How to Get a Liquor License in Idaho
Idaho has a challenging application process and quota system. Various documents including fingerprint cards and background check reports are required. You can apply using the Idaho ABC.
How to Get a Liquor License in Illinois
Applicants must have both a state and local business license before applying. Apply with those supporting documents at Illinois Liquor Control Commission.
How to Get a Liquor License in Indiana
Indiana is a quota state, population-based. Liquor license applications are handled by the state’s Alcohol and Tobacco Commission.
How to Get a Liquor License in Iowa
Iowa’s application process is online and includes an informative user guide. Applicants should go to Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division.
How to Get a Liquor License in Kansas
Kansas has handbooks available online. The handbooks describe the type of alcohol license needed. Applicants should go to the Kansas Department of Revenue ABC.
How to Get a Liquor License in Kentucky
The Kentucky state license can be purchased for 6 months or a full year. You can apply by mail or online. Go to the Kentucky ABC Licensing Division.
How to Get a Liquor License in Louisiana
Applications, documents and fees must be mailed. You can download an application and review what type of license you need at the Louisiana ATC.
How to Get a Liquor License in Maine
Applicants should go to the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations. In most cases, you will also need approval from the county and local authorities.
How to Get a License in Maryland
Liquor license applications in Maryland must get approval from the state and also the local government. Applicants should start at the Maryland Department of Taxes.
How to Get a Liquor License in Massachusetts
Massachusetts requires that applicants also get approval at a public hearing by the local licensing authority. Applicants should start at the Massachusetts State Treasury, which oversees the ABC commission.
How to Get a Liquor License in Michigan
Michigan is a quota state. The number of licenses allowed is based on population and type of license (retail, beer and wine, etc.). Applicants should start at the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
How to Get a Liquor License in Minnesota
Liquor licensing is overseen by the state’s Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division, which is a division of the Department of Public Safety. Applicants will also need approval at the local level.
How to Get a Liquor License in Mississippi
Getting a liquor license in Mississippi is challenging. That’s because 34 of the state’s 82 counties are dry. In the remaining counties, areas are “dry” with no liquor license allowed. Also, since licenses are rare they are expensive, about $10,000 and higher. Check your options at the Mississippi Department of Revenue ABC.
How to Get a Liquor License in Missouri
Missouri has three ABC offices and applications are processed promptly, typically in as little as 3 weeks. Go to the Department of Public Safety ATC Division.
How to Get a Liquor License in Montana
The Montana Department of Revenue processes applications and issues Montana liquor licenses through its online portal.
How to Get a Liquor License in Nebraska
Liquor licenses are handled by the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission. The Nebraska liquor control commission website includes an information applicant requirements guide.
How to Get a Liquor License in Nevada
Nevada makes a split. The state Department of Taxation handles importing and wholesale licenses. The state ABC processes all other licenses, which are issued either by the county or city.
How to Get a Liquor License in New Hampshire
New Hampshire requires that applicants first request an application. When you complete the application, you mail it in with the required processing fee and documentation as needed. Once that’s been received, you’ll need to appear before the New Hampshire Liquor Commission Division of Enforcement.
How to Get a Liquor License in New Jersey
New Jersey’s Office of the Attorney General oversees the state’s ABC division. The OAG also oversees enforcement.
How to Get a Liquor License in New Mexico
New Mexico is a quota state with a very limited number of licenses available. Liquor licenses are typically purchased or leased by applicants who use a liquor license attorney or broker. You’ll still need approval from the New Mexico ABC.
How to Get a Liquor License in New York
The various types of liquor licenses have specific requirements which must be followed. For example, applicants must let local authorities know that they are filing an application. Applications are handled by the New York Liquor Authority.
How to Get a Liquor License in North Carolina
Applications are handled by the North Carolina ABC. It is a quota state, in regard to a limit on retail permits (50,000).
How to Get a Liquor License in North Dakota
Liquor license applications go through the North Dakota Office of the Attorney General, licensing and gaming division. Applications request specific information about the population of the city, the type of liquor that will be sold, and when sales will begin.
How to Get a Liquor License in Ohio
In Ohio, applicants must inform the local governing authority of the intent to apply, and allow for the public to make objections. If objections are received by the Ohio Divison of Liquor Control, a public hearing must be held.
How to Get a Liquor License in Oklahoma
Applications may be received by mail, online, or in-person in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma to date is one of the least expensive states to get a liquor license, with the cost of only about $55. Apply through the Oklahoma Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission.
How to Get a Liquor License in Oregon
Oregon’s Liquor License Commission handles licensing in the state. Temporary permits are as inexpensive as $10 per day.
How to Get a Liquor License in Pennsylvania
To apply, people must go online and register through the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. You’ll need an access code to register, and you can obtain that by sending an email to email@example.com.
How to Get a Liquor License in Rhode Island
Applications for a liquor license in Rhode Island go through the state’s Department of Business Regulation.
How to Get a Liquor License in South Carolina
Liquor licenses are overseen by the South Carolina Department of Revenue. If you’re going to need a liquor license for a brewpub or vineyard, you’ll be required to post a notice in your local newspaper.
How to Get a Liquor License in South Dakota
South Dakota has a detailed applicant requirements guide. You’ll find it at the South Dakota Department of Revenue.
How to Get a Liquor License in Tennessee
Liquor licensing for various types of businesses have very specific requirements. For example, the cost for a tavern license is based on the business’s seating capacity. For more info go to the Tennessee ABC.
How to Get a Liquor License in Texas
Texas has an online application process. Applicants who go online at the Texas ABC will also get information about how and where to get any required documentation.
How to Get a Liquor License in Utah
Liquor licenses are handled by the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
How to Get a Liquor License in Vermont
Liquor licenses are separated into first, second and third class categories. You can learn more at the Vermont Department of Liquor and Lottery Division.
How to Get a Liquor License in Virginia
Liquor licenses in Virginia fall into three categories, banquet, retail and industry. Each of those divisions has varying license application requirements. Go to Virginia ABC.
How to Get a Liquor License in Washington
The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board handles liquor licenses, which are called Endorsements, and are added to the applicants existing business license. Applicants submit a business license application, as well as a liquor and cannabis addendum.
How to Get a Liquor License in West Virginia
Liquor licenses are handled by the West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration, where applicants will find information about the type of license needed and the license fees that are required for each type.
How to Get a Liquor License in Wisconsin
Liquor licenses are handled by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. Wisconsin is a quota state at the local level, where quotas are determined by the population of specific municipalities. Applicants should start at the state’s Department of Revenue, and follow instructions about the application process via local authorities.
How to Get a Liquor License in Wyoming
Although many liquor licenses are issued by local licensing authorities, applicants must also apply through the Wyoming Liquor Division of the state’s Department of Revenue. The Wyoming Department of Revenue will provide information about the requirements applicants must meet at the local level.
Do you need a license to sell alcoholic beverages?
Absolutely, you need a license to sell alcoholic beverages. Licensing is typically handled by a state’s alcoholic beverage control board, and many states also require that applicants get approval at the county and local municipality levels.
If you choose to play by your own rules and you and/or your business is caught selling alcohol without a license, strict penalties and fines will be enforced as spelled out in the state’s liquor laws. In most states, penalties and fines would be imposed by the Office of the Attorney General.
READ MORE: How to Open a Restaurant
How Much is a Liquor License?
Liquor license applications typically have two fees – the actual license fees and the application fees. Those two items add up to the liquor license cost.
License fees range, as you’d expect, with a range from $300 to $13,800 nationwide. The average license fee is $1400 in the US. The license filing fee for the application can be several hundred dollars for processing fees.
You’ll find the most expensive license fee if you’re applying in a state that has license quotas. Some states base the number of licenses to sell or serve alcohol on population numbers. If you learn that this is the case in your state, you may have to purchase a liquor license that a business entity is selling, or wait – it can be years – for the alcohol beverage control board to again approve new licenses.
Liquor licenses can be sold, business to business (business location stays the same), business to business (the business relocates in the same town) and business to new owner/new location. If a state has liquor license quotas, often liquor licenses are sold – subject to approval by the state liquor control and appropriate county regulations, if required, such as the local ABC district office. As you can imagine, in a liquor license quota state, prices are high on liquor licenses. For example, an auction house in Bucks County (Philadelphia area, Pennsylvania) lists liquor licenses for sale with prices beginning at $375,000.
Which States Have a Liquor license quota?
Many states have a quota system for liquor licenses, but that varies by the types of state licenses required. If you want to know if there’s a quota system for your state license board, our best advice is to check using a liquor license advisor.
Currently, there are 17 states that have some type of license quota, on various types of liquor licenses by business regulation.
How long does it take to get a liquor license?
After you’ve completed your state liquor control board application to sell liquor and paid the required license fees and filing fee, your wait should not be long before you can begin alcohol sales at a restaurant or tavern. The time frame is similar for retail license applications and wholesale licenses. You can expect a result from a state liquor control board within a time frame ranging from a few weeks to 2 months. If in addition to state licenses you must also get approval from local officials, your time frame for a completed license application may extend to several months.
More in: Restaurant / Food Service Business