ABC Liquor License Rules

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Each state has a department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) that regulates liquor stores and restaurants that are licensed to sell adult beverages to consumers. Although each state has its own rules regarding alcohol sales, there are some regulations that apply across the board in areas where alcohol sales are legal.


All stores, restaurants, hotels and other establishments that sell alcohol in any form, whether bottled or by the drink, must have a liquor license from the state. The license must be displayed in a public place as determined by your state's ABC so that customers can see it at all times. Some states require businesses to apply for a new license each year. Businesses that do not adhere to their state's ABC requirements are at risk of losing their license, for example, if they serve liquor to minors.

Sales Tax Permit

In addition to the license issued by the ABC, a business must register for a sales tax permit in order to sell alcoholic beverages in every state except for Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon. These permits can be obtained from the Sales Tax Division of the State Board of Equalization or the comparable department in your state; selling without it may result in misdemeanor charges.

Site Visit

Some states require a site visit before granting an ABC license. In Virginia, this is one of three primary reasons why businesses can be denied a license. If the establishment is found unsuitable based on state laws governing the running of businesses selling liquor, your license can be denied, suspended or even revoked. For example, ABC inspectors in California have the authority to inspect the bar and associated cabinets, safes, kitchen and store room to make sure that they are up to code. Each state has its own standards for site visits that can be found on its ABC website.

Minimum Eligibility

While each state may have a slightly altered form of these rules, there are four minimum requirements for obtaining a liquor license. The grantee must be a U.S. citizen, at least 21 years of age, not be convicted of a felony or a police officer who has the ability to arrest individuals.