Beer distributors play an integral part in the lawful production, sale and consumption of beer throughout the country. They are the link between breweries and consumers. Every state government and the federal government have enacted laws that regulate alcohol beverage products in general and beer distributors in particular. To operate your business as a beer distributorship, you must comply with these laws.

Alcohol Beverage Distribution System

Since the end of Prohibition, alcohol beverage products sold in the U.S., including beer, go through a three-tiered system composed of manufacturers, distributors and retailers. The manufacturers, such as brewers and beer importers, sell their product to distributors. The product is sold by distributors to retailers, such as bars, restaurants and markets. Consumers purchase the product from retailers. The system is maintained by state laws regulating how sales occur between the three tiers, as well as to consumers.

Federal Requirements

To lawfully act as a beer distributor, you must obtain a permit from the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, also known as the TTB. The permit is obtain by filing an application on a form provided by the TTB or by using its online system. The application process involves an investigation and background check by the TTB, including, if necessary, an examination of your facility where you'll store product. You must also register your storage facility with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

State Licensing

Every state has an alcohol beverage control agency that issues various types of alcohol beverage licenses. The type of license needed to operate as a beer distributor and the activity permitted under the license is determined by each state. For example, Arizona issues a license type called "Series 4: Wholesale/Distributor," which allows the licensee to sell beer, distilled spirits and wine to Arizona-licensed retailers. Arizona law also permits a Series 4 licensee to conduct temporary sampling at licensed retail locations. A state's alcohol beverage licensing requirements are in addition to any other state or local licensing requirements that generally govern operating a business.

Self-distribution Laws

Although the three-tiered system of alcohol beverage production, distribution and sale exists in all states, some states have laws that permit manufacturers of alcohol beverages to self-distribute their product. The type of activity permitted under a self-distribution license varies among the states that permit it. For example, Arizona permits a licensed microbrewery to sell an unlimited amount of its product at a retail business that it owns, but can otherwise only sell a maximum of 93,000 gallons per year to all other retailers. In Texas, a licensed shipping brewery can self-distribute up to 75,000 barrels of beer per year, but a licensed brewpub is prohibited from self-distributing. California law permits licensed beer manufacturers to self-distribute regardless of size or amount.