How to Obtain Liquor Licenses in Washington, D.C.

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Rather than just one type of Washington, D.C., liquor license, there are more than a dozen choices. The license for an elegant martini bar (on-premises retailer, class C) is separate from the permit to manufacture mead (manufacturer class A liquor license). However, the licensing and permitting process is the same, whichever alcohol license in the District of Columbia you want.

Washington, D.C., Liquor License Categories

The different types of Washington, D.C., liquor licenses are based on two factors: the type of alcohol you're going to sell and the type of business. The District of Columbia's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) breaks down liquor into three types:

  • Beer.
  • Wine, which in D.C. includes cider and mead.
  • Distilled spirits such as gin, whiskey or vodka.
  • There's also a special license if you want to make baked goods with alcohol. The maximum alcohol content is 5 percent.

The ABRA likewise breaks businesses into several categories:

  • Alcohol manufacturers. A manufacturing class A liquor license lets you make spirits and wine, class C is for baked goods.
  • Wholesalers.
  • Off-premises retailers, such as a grocery that sells bottles of wine or six packs of beer.
  • Internet retailers.
  • On-premises retailers, such as a bar or restaurant where you sit and enjoy your drink. This option is subdivided according to whether you run a restaurant, a bar, a bed and breakfast and so on. Class D lets you sell beer and wine, class C lets you sell spirits too.
  • Nightclubs.
  • Common carriers. If you transport passengers by boat or train, this is a license to serve your passengers alcoholic drinks.

Endorsements and Permits

Endorsements and permits offer a few more options for an alcohol license in D.C. you might be interested in. For example:

  • An on-site manufacturer's sale and consumption permit lets a manufacturer sell their product on-site.
  • A tasting permit allows retailers, manufacturers and wholesalers to offer product tastings.
  • The entertainment endorsement allows manufacturers and on-site retailers to offer dancing, live entertainment or charge patrons a cover price for admission.

Are You Qualified?

Like most parts of the United States, the District of Columbia sets rules for who can hold a D.C. liquor license.

  • You must be at least 21.
  • You must apply online for a "clean hands" certificate from the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue. You can only receive the certificate if you don't owe the District of Columbia more than $100 in taxes or fees; if you do, you'll have to settle up before you get your license.
  • You must be eligible to work in the United States.
  • If you've been convicted of a misdemeanor in the past five years or a felony in the past 10, you'll have to provide the board with information about the case.

Washington, D.C., Liquor License Paperwork

You can find the license application online, though you'll have to hand in a hard copy in person. Regulators want to see you're the person you claim to be before issuing a license. You use the same paperwork whether you're buying a license from a current holder or filing to launch a new business.

The alcohol license D.C. application includes questions about your financing, hours of operation and how your business will affect neighboring property values. You'll also have to provide added paperwork such as a lease of the property, a business license and your articles of incorporation if you're incorporated.

The application fee at the time of writing is $75. License fees range from $250 to transfer an existing license to $7,500 to run a distillery pub.

On-Site ABC Manager

One final requirement for your business is that you are or you employ an alcohol beverage control (ABC) manager. You must have an ABC manager on-site whenever alcohol is being sold. This requires a separate application with the manager's signature on the application notarized.

To qualify as an ABC manager, you have to complete an alcohol awareness training program by a D.C.-approved provider. Along with the application, you submit a certificate saying you've completed the program and a police clearance showing the D.C. cops have completed a background check.

References

About the Author

Fraser Sherman has written about every aspect of business: how to start one, how to keep one in the black, the best business structure, the details of financial statements. He's also run a couple of small businesses of his own. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs. His website is frasersherman.com

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