The Basics Of Getting A Liquor License In The United States

If you're in the market for a liquor license, you should be prepared to do a little research and learn the basics. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau regulates items such as interstate transportation of alcoholic goods and the proper labeling of those products. But, liquor licenses are overseen by individual states and sometimes by county agencies. Below you'll find examples of some state regulations, a definition of some different types of licenses, and a few tips to help with the application process.

Researching the Local and State Liquor Laws in Your Area

State Alcohol Control Boards govern the production, marketing, and distributing of alcohol within that particular state's lines. Each state's laws are different. If you are seeking a license in one state, you must meet the laws in that one state. Getting a second license in a neighboring state requires you to follow the liquor laws of that new state. A sampling of state Alcohol Control Boards and their licensing requirements are listed.

California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control

Licensing regulations in California are divided up by county. The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control lists each county and any specific regulations. For example, Alameda County limits the number of licenses it grants each year. The county holds a lottery. Applicants are notified where they are on the waiting list and are advised to apply within 90 days of the notification. Most California counties operate in this fashion.

State of Hawaii's Liquor Commission and Department of Liquor Control

The State of Hawaii works a bit differently. On Oahu, the main island, the Liquor Commission City and County of Honolulu takes care of licensing for that entire island. The Big Island of Hawaii, Kauai, and Maui each have their own Department of Liquor Control offices. The application process is similar on all islands and a lottery is not usually needed.

Deciding on the Type of License You Need

Licenses are granted for different types of businesses. When researching your state laws, find out if that state uses any specific names for their licenses.

  • Tavern licenses are granted to businesses that sell food, but more than 50 percent of their profits comes from alcoholic beverage sales. Sports bars may fall into this category.
  • A restaurant license is awarded when the amount of alcohol served makes up a smaller percentage of the profit, determined by the state. All types of alcohol may be served.
  • A beer and wine license does not allow hard liquor sales and is more often found in smaller restaurants, wine bars, and brew pubs.
  • An off-license is granted to businesses, such as liquor and grocery stores, that sell alcohol to be consumed elsewhere.

Helpful Application Process Tips

The application process usually varies from state to state, but the following tips should help you no matter your location.

  • The sooner you get your application in, the better. In states that have a lottery system, it's important that you meet the filing deadline after being notified of an available spot. Also, if your state or city does hold a lottery, find out if you have to file preliminary papers to qualify for the draw or how else you might get on the lottery list.
  • Be prepared to spend some money on that license. The cost varies from state to state, and sometimes from town to town. States that have limited licenses every year and that employ the lottery system usually charge considerably more for those licenses.
  • Sometimes it's possible to take over a license from another business. If you choose to go this route, be sure you get a lawyer with liquor licensing experience involved. You must be sure the transfer of that license complies with state and local laws.

For more information on how to get a liquor license, consider contacting Arizona Liquor Industry Consultants.