If you’re planning to open a brewery, bar, club, restaurant, or any bar-related business that will be selling or serving alcoholic beverages, you’re going to need a liquor license.
The steps you’ll need to take will be slightly different depending on where you live, so we’ll do a deep dive from the basics all the way through the specific requirements in each state.
What is a Liquor License?
A liquor license gives a business the legal right to serve alcohol as well as the responsibility of serving and selling liquor in compliance with local regulations.
In the United States, each state and even certain municipalities have their own liquor laws and requirements for procuring a liquor license, so it is important to research and understand the liquor laws in your state as you prepare to open your business.
Liquor License Laws regulate things like types of alcohol a business is allowed to sell, the cost of alcohol, what containers alcohol can be served in, and times when alcohol is allowed to be sold. They can also designate whether discounts on liquor are allowed or if unfinished wine bottles can be taken out of a restaurant.
On-license vs. Off-license
By the time you’re ready to start researching Liquor licenses, you’ll know how your business will be tendering alcohol. All the different types of liquor licenses can essentially be divided into two categories: On-License and Off-License.
- On-License: for businesses looking to sell or serve alcohol that would be consumed on-premises, like a bar or restaurant.
- Off-license: for businesses selling alcohol to be consumed elsewhere, like a liquor store.
Some states have “dry” counties that prohibit alcohol sales altogether, and others can have “mixed” ones that only allow off-premises consumption.
Before you get too far into your business plan, you should be certain of whether your business will be located in one of these counties. Violation of dry law requirements can result in revocation of alcohol licenses, monetary fines, or even jail time.
The Different Types of Liquor Licenses
1. Beer and Wine Liquor License
This license is just what it sounds like. It allows you to sell beer and wine, but not stronger alcohol or spirits.
2. Tavern Liquor License
This type of license is for restaurants serving alcohol and food, for whom more than 50% of sales are from liquor alone.
3. Restaurant Liquor or All Liquor License
This is the most common type of liquor license. Allowing a restaurant to serve beer and wine in addition to other alcohols and spirits. If you have this type of license, many states limit the percent of your earnings that can come from alcohol.
4. Server License
Some states, like Indiana and New Mexico, require servers to each have their own employee permit to administer alcohol. In other states, server licenses can be voluntary or not regulated at all.
Depending on which state you live in, the cost of obtaining a liquor license can be pretty substantial.
According to Ballotpedia, as of June 2018, the cost of liquor license fees by state ranged from $100 to $13,800. The average cost was about $1,400. So, what are you actually paying for?
You’ve got the base cost of the license, but you may have to pay an additional processing fee of between depending on your local regulations.
Certain states have Liquor License Quotas, so the number of licenses that can be in use at a given time depends on the population of the area. In these states, new licenses can be more expensive due to the limited supply.
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How Do You Get a Liquor License?
Now that you have a good idea of what type of license your business will need, your next step is to research exactly what you’ll need to do to get it.
Step 1: Research your state’s liquor laws
Look into whether there are additional requirements in your city or county as well. You can find this information by consulting your state’s ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) board.
If you’re still on the fence about what type of license you will need, your state’s alcohol or liquor control agency may also be able to help.
Step 2: Apply with your local alcohol control agency
Once you know your local laws and have determined the type of license your business will need, you can apply directly with your local alcohol or liquor control agency.
Step 3: Acquire all other business permits needed
You’ll likely need some other permits first (business license, building and zoning permits, health permit, and sales tax permit), so definitely check out the application ahead of time.
You’ll also want to give yourself some additional buffer time. It may take several months for your application to be completely processed.
Step 4: Defend your proposal
You may even need to defend your proposal to sell liquor at a public hearing if a member of your local community protests your application.
Step 5: Remember to renew licenses and permits
Finally, remember that getting a liquor license isn’t a one-time task. You’ll typically need to renew your business’ liquor license every one to three years, and if you are found to be in violation of liquor laws you could have your license revoked completely.
How Do You Get a Liquor License in All 50 States?
We’ve gone through a lot of information about the different possible laws and regulations you may have to deal with during the process of obtaining your liquor license. Now it’s time for you to take the next step and find out exactly what you will need to do based on where you will be opening your business.
Getting your liquor license won’t be a walk in the park, but with the right information at your disposal, you’ll be able to avoid many common setbacks and take a little bit of the stress out of the overall process of opening your business.
The Alabama ABC has licensing division offices in each of its counties. You will need to make an appointment with your county’s office and complete a pre-application form checklist ahead of time. Liquor license fees in Alabama can go for between $100 to $1,000 depending on the type of license you are applying for.
Alaska has quite a long process for liquor license applications because approvals need to come from a number of agencies including the Alaska ABC board. Prices for application-related fees range from $48 to $500, and alcohol licenses themselves cost between $200 and $2,500.
Arizona has over 20 different types of liquor licenses and corresponding applications. Bar, Beer & Wine Bar, and Liquor Store licenses are quota licenses that can only be obtained by purchasing on the open market through a broker or awarded through a lottery. You can find the forms for each type of Arizona liquor license here. Liquor licenses in Arizona cost between $100 and $2,000 for the first year. You can also get half-year licenses.
Liquor Licenses in Arkansas are regulated by the ABC Division of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration. Arkansas has six types of liquor licenses you can only apply for via snail mail. The cost of the license can be between $100 to $3,000.
To obtain a liquor license in California, you will need to apply at the local ABC district office. Some counties and cities do have additional regulations in place, so be sure to check with your local authorities as well. General alcohol licenses in California cost between $1,000 and almost $16,000.
Liquor licenses in Colorado are handled by the Colorado Department of Revenue. You can apply for a liquor license through their website, but they note that you first need to get license approval from the local government. Local fees run from $22 to $1,000 and state fees between $337 and $1020. You can find the full list of fees here.
Connecticut has more than 20 types of liquor license permits that can be obtained through the Department of Consumer Protection. Initial license fees cost between $20 (for employee licenses) and $2,650.
Delaware has an online licensing system controlled by the Office of ABC Commissioner (OABCC). Licenses to sell alcoholic liquors in this state start at $150 and max out at $2,000.
Florida liquor licenses are regulated by the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Licenses are renewed annually, and the cost is determined by the county’s population.
To sell liquor in Georgia, you’ll need a local license and a state license, as well as a Federal Basic Permit. The Georgia Department of Revenue controls Alcohol licensing. You can apply for your state license online here only after you have received your local license.
The quota system employed by Idaho makes getting a liquor license in the state very difficult. Applications need to be sent to the Idaho ABC along with a number of different documents, including fingerprint cards and background check fees. You can find the different application forms here.
Illinois Liquor licenses are controlled by the Illinois Liquor Control Commission, which requires a business to have both a local and state license. Applying with the state requires an application, supporting documentation, and a fee of $750.
The Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (ATC) handles liquor license applications in Indiana. Applications take several weeks to process, and this state does employ a population-based quota for liquor licenses in each city or town.
Iowa’s Alcoholic Beverages Division website notes a high volume of applications and encourages business owners to apply for their licenses at least 45 days in advance of their event so they can be reviewed at least 15 days prior to the effective date. Their entire process is carried out online and they’ve created an easily accessible e-licensing user guide for applicants.
Liquor license applications in Kansas are also processed online. The Kansas Department of Revenue’s ABC has created helpful handbooks detailing the process for each type of alcohol license and permit in the state.
The Kentucky ABC allows applicants to fill their form manually or apply online. Licenses can last for a half or a full year, and the fees are priced accordingly, ranging from about $30 to more than $7,000.
The ATC of Louisiana requires applications, documentation, and fees to be mailed directly to their office for processing. Information about all the different types of licenses in Louisiana can be found on their website, including permit pricing ranging between $120 and $345.
The Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages & Lottery Operations controls all state alcohol licensing and provides all required license and permit application forms on their website. Applications are reviewed at the local level by counties and municipalities as well.
Liquor Licenses in Maryland are mainly controlled at the local level but the Maryland comptroller can intervene with certain renewals and transfers. Alcohol permits and fees vary from just $5 for a change of domicile to $500 annually for non-resident storage.
The Massachusetts State Treasury controls the state’s ABC commission. Alcoholic beverage retail license application forms can be found on their website. Processing fees are $200 each and should be sent with the paper applications directly to the Local Licensing Authority. A publicly-advertised public hearing must also be held before the LLA will make a decision.
Liquor licenses in Michigan are handled by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. The Michigan Liquor Control Commission website notes the details of their quota laws and provides instructions for retailers looking to apply for any of their many types of liquor licenses. They also have a helpful FAQ page that addresses many important questions you may have while beginning to apply.
Liquor licenses are issued by local authorities in Minnesota but are ultimately controlled by the Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. You can find the answers to general licensing questions on their website, here. Fees vary by locality and business category but can range from around $100 to over $2000.
34 of Mississippi’s 82 counties are completely dry and many of its other counties are only partially wet.If you are opening a business that sells liquor in this state, it will be extremely important for you to review your local regulations ahead of time. Missippi’s ABC issues all the alcohol licenses within the state. Costs of licenses can be as high as $9,000 for retailers.
The Missouri Department of Public Safety’s ATC division controls liquor licenses in this state. On-licenses in Missouri cost between $50 and $300 depending on the type of liquor to be sold. Applications are typically processed within one month, by one of Missouri’s three ATC offices.
Liquor licenses in Montana are regulated by their Department of Revenue, who process applications through their online portal here. New license and renewal fees cost between $400 and $800. There is an additional $400 processing fee for new licenses.
The Nebraska Liquor Control Commission handles liquor licenses for this state. They have included an applicant requirements guide on their website. The application fee for a retail liquor license is $400.
The Nevada ABC website notes that liquor licenses are issued by county or city, while the Nevada Department of Taxation handles importing and wholesale licenses. Application fees vary by license type, but license fees cost between $75 and $550.
The New Hampshire Liquor Commission Division of Enforcement requires businesses to file a request for a Liquor and Tobacco License application. Applications must be mailed along with a check for the $100 processing fee to their office. Once you gather all required documents, a final in-person appointment is required for a license to be issued.
The ABC division of the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General regulates all alcoholic beverage sales and enforces licensee conduct. New Jersey liquor license applications need to be filed along with a $200 fee and can be processed through their ABC Online Licensing System.
New Mexico’s ABC handles requests for liquor licenses in this state. Because it’s a quota state, and a limited number of licenses to award. These licenses can only be obtained with the NM ABC’s approval, but the licenses themselves are typically bought or leased by a liquor license Attorney or broker. Applications must include the $250 application fee and the New Mexico ABC does not accept cash or credit cards.
The State Liquor Authority of New York has designated several types of liquor licenses, each with specific application requirements. The SLA requires businesses to notify their local authorities of their intent to apply for a license prior to submitting an online application via their application wizard. Retail alcohol license fees vary by county and type of license.
In North Carolina, liquor is regulated by their ABC, which has created a pretty cute “Permit Wizard” to help business owners work through the application process. This state has a quota of 50,000 total retail permits that are allowed to be in use within specific jurisdictions that allow the sale of alcohol. The permit fee for an on-premises Mixed Beverages Permit is $1,000.
North Dakota’s Office of The Attorney General processes liquor license applications. Local licenses need to be issued prior to state-level licenses, and applications need to include a floor plan designating the exact area within which alcohol can be sold. License fees are determined based on the type of liquor being sold, the population of the city the business is located in, and the month in which alcohol sales will begin.
The Division of Liquor Control of Ohio’s Department of Commerce processes all applications for liquor permits in this state. Applications need to be notarized and sent to the DLC along with a $100 processing fee. The local public has to be notified of the application being filed and given the opportunity to object. If any objections are posed, a hearing will be held. It can take up to 12 weeks for a permit to be issued.
In Oklahoma, the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission regulates liquor licenses, which can be submitted online, by mail, or in-person in their Oklahoma City office. License fees in this state are comparably inexpensive, maxing out at $55.
Oregon has a Liquor License Commission which processes applications for state liquor licenses. License fees can be as high as $1000, or as low as $10 per day for special temporary permits.
Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board has a Bureau of Licensing which issues alcohol licenses throughout the state. Applicants must register with the online portal, PLCB+, in order to complete an application. An access code is required for registration and can be obtained by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org directly. Liquor license fees cost between $125 and $700.
Rhode Island’s Department of Business Regulation handles alcoholic beverage matters throughout the state. Applications can be filed online through the DBR’s eLicensing portal.
The South Carolina Department of Revenue manages liquor licenses. You can find the requirements for all the different state licenses here. A Brewpub Beer/Wine license application requires a notice be posted in the local newspaper and a filing fee of $300.
Leasing Licenses in South Dakota are regulated by the Department of Revenue, but issued at the county level. Their website provides supplemental information for licensees and applicants here.
The Tennessee ABC has different requirements for each of its different liquor licenses. The price of liquor licenses in Tennessee varies. A retailer license in this state costs $850, and the cost of liquor-by-the-drink licenses are determined by the capacity and type of the business selling alcohol.
Texas’ ABC has an online portal that contains licensing information for businesses as well as certification resources for sellers. License fees can cost anywhere between $25 for special temporary permits to more than $17,000 for manufacturers with at least 5 establishments.
The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control of Utah controls liquor licenses in the state. Applications must be submitted by the 10th of every month. Liquor licenses in Utah range from $125 to $10,000. Application fees will run you between $75 and $330.
Vermont divides its liquor licenses into several categories including First, Second, and Third Class. You can download application forms on the Vermont Department of Liquor and Lottery Division of Liquor Control website here. Applications must be submitted with payment for an application fee rather than a license fee. Application fees span from $25 up to more than $1,000.
The Virginia ABC groups its liquor license types into Banquet, Retail, and Industry. Retail license applications must be submitted to the ABC central office with a $195 application fee. The guideline webpage advises applicants to research regional guidelines in case there are any additional qualifications.
Liquor Licenses in Washington are issued by The Washington State Liquor & Cannabis Board. In this state, liquor licenses are issued as endorsements on a business license rather than an independent document. Liquor license applications must be submitted with a $75 filing fee in addition to a Business License Application and a Liquor and Cannabis Board Addendum.
In the state of West Virginia, the Alcohol Beverage Control Administration is responsible for alcoholic beverage licensing. License fees range from $100 to over $7,500 and you can find the application forms here.
Wisconsin Liquor Licenses are overseen by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue but handled at the local level. This state has license quotas which are determined by a municipality, based on its population. Specific details about cost and application processes need to be requested directly from local authorities.
Liquor licenses in Wyoming are regulated by the Liquor Division of its Department of Revenue. Many liquor licenses and permits in this state are issued by local licensing authorities. A Retail license in Wyoming has to be renewed annually and costs between $300 and $1,500. Other types of liquor licenses in this state can cost up to $3,000.
You’re Now Legally Allowed to Sell Alcohol!
Congratulations, you’re now know how to legally open a restaurant, craft brewery, or bar.
You still have many hurdles to jump – and it won’t be easy. Be sure to build out a brewery business plan and you’ll be well on your way to your brewery’s grand opening.