How to Get a Beer & Liquor License in Kentucky

If you want a license to sell or make alcohol in Kentucky, you need a computer. Kentucky only accepts license applications online through the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) website. The requirements and fees depend on the type of license you need.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

If you're applying for a population-limited license, such as for a bar, find out if your town or county already has a filled quota. If not, you can apply. Before applying for any liquor license, secure a deed or lease to a property that meets all local requirements. Then apply online with the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Types of Liquor Licensing

There are a few basics that apply to every wannabe licensee dealing with the Kentucky ABC. An individual applicant must be at least 21, a U.S. citizen and a Kentucky resident for the past year. Individuals, partners, business owners and corporate directors can't get a license if they've had a felony in the past five years or any alcohol-related misdemeanors in the past two years.

All licensees have to meet any county or municipal requirements and secure any required local licenses before they apply through the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control website. Kentucky ABC won't help you if you want to open a bar in a dry county, for example. You can open a distillery in a dry county, but you can't have on-site samplings.

Beyond that, the specific requirements depend partly on which type of license you need. There are different licenses for distilleries, restaurants that sell alcohol, package stores, wineries, breweries, caterers and microbreweries, among other options. Applicants use the same form, but they fill out different sections.

Kentucky ABC Quota System

Kentucky ABC law sets a quota for many types of licenses. The number of bars, for example, is restricted based on the local population. If a given county is maxed out on the number of licenses, there's no point applying. You can either convince an established business to transfer its license or wait until the population grows.

Some businesses, such as restaurants, hotels, convention centers, airports and private clubs, can apply for a non-quota license to serve alcohol by the glass. You have to meet state standards to prove you're not just ducking the quota. A non-quota restaurant has to show 50% of its food and alcohol revenue comes from the food. An eatery with 50 or fewer seats must have food service available whenever alcohol is available.

If you're quota-affected, the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control website allows you to do a Kentucky liquor license search for available licenses before you spend any money on application fees. Fees include $3,090 for a distillery that makes more than 50,000 gallons a year, $570 for a quota package store license and $210 for a no-quota beer license.

Laying the Groundwork

Even before you submit your Kentucky ABC application, there are requirements you need to get out of the way.

  • Local licensing. If, say, you want to open a bar in Louisville, you need to meet all city requirements before Kentucky ABC looks at your application.

  • Location. ABC won't issue any licenses until you show them either the deed or the lease for the property where you plan to operate. If you lease, the lease must be good for the whole period of your license. 

  • Background check. If you lived in other states during the past five years, you must provide background checks that are no more than 30 days old from all of them. You must also provide background checks for the top three officers of a publicly traded corporation or for all primary officers of a privately held corporation and any person who owns 10% of it. 

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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