When Do You Need a Liquor License?

by Michael Wolfe; Updated September 26, 2017

Liquor licenses are specific types of business licenses issued by state government or other authorities incorporated by the state. The laws that regulate who needs a liquor license and when depends on the laws of the city and state in which the retailer is based. Generally, though, all prospective retailers must acquire some type of license.

Purpose

Liquor licenses grant a retailer the right to sell a particular type of alcohol under specific terms. Liquor licenses may specify that a store can sell beer and wine only or that it can sell hard liquor. Generally, a liquor license is issued for only a specific period of time and must be regularly renewed. All liquor licenses come with specific provisions and terms that the retailer must abide by in order to maintain the license. For example, retailers must confine their sales of alcohol to people of the legal drinking age. In addition to making sure that this law is enforced, liquor licenses are heavily regulated to make sure that retailers sell alcohol responsibly to limit civil and criminal liability deriving from irresponsible sales.

Types

The specific type of license that the retailer will be required to get is determined by the type of liquor he wishes to sell and what type of establishment he is seeking to sell it in. For example, a retailer seeking to open a bar will need a different type of license than a person seeking to open a liquor store.

Liquor Authorities

Most liquor licenses are issued at the state level. Generally, the retailer will need to submit an application to a state liquor authority. The authority will review the application and accept or deny it. In some cases, however, individual cities and counties will also have their own liquor license agencies. Retailers seeking to sell alcohol in these areas will need to apply to these agencies either in addition to or in lieu of applying to the state.

Considerations

Contact your secretary of state's office or a municipal office to determine whether you need a liquor license. Both permanent and temporary businesses, such as booths at a festival, require liquor licenses.

References

  • "The Everything Guide to Starting and Running a Restaurant"; Ronald Lee; 2005

About the Author

Michael Wolfe has been writing and editing since 2005, with a background including both business and creative writing. He has worked as a reporter for a community newspaper in New York City and a federal policy newsletter in Washington, D.C. Wolfe holds a B.A. in art history and is a resident of Brooklyn, N.Y.