Obtaining a Liquor License

All you need to know for selling, serving, exporting and importing alcoholic beverages

If you want sell alcoholic beverages retail, you need a liquor license from your state liquor authority (SLA), generally known as the State Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC), although the name may vary, depending on your state.

You don't need a federal license — that's only for producers, importers, exporters and wholesalers of spirits. The license laws differ from state to state plus there are thousands of municipal ordinances governing the sale of alcohol and zoning for liquor stores and bars. The two main ways to get a liquor license are:

  1. Apply to the state ABC
  2. Buy an existing liquor license – some localities limit the number in circulation

Apply to your ABC

Get in touch with your state licensing authority to learn the eligibility requirements and get an application. Some states let you apply for your license online.
complete contact list for each state's boards and licensing authorities. Some states have several boards. Contact the one nearest to you.

Buy a license

Brokers specialize in matching buyers and sellers of liquor licenses.

Use an expediter

Professionals specialize in seeing your application through all the state and local hoops.

Get the word out

Certain states require that on-premise businesses notify the appropriate government entity (village, town, or city clerk) of an application for a state liquor license.

Avoid government monopolies

Forget about your career as a liquor store owner In 18 states and one county -- the government holds all the licenses.
list of jurisdictions where governments have the monopoly.

If you're a producer, exporter, importer or wholesaler…

You and your business partners must apply for a federal license.
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issues permits that you'll need before conducting your business in beer, wine or distilled spirits.
  • The length of the license period depends on the class or type of license issued, as does the fee structure.
  • In some states, a DWI conviction will disqualify a liquor license candidate.
  • Location, location, location. Certain states prohibit a retail liquor store or on-premise business within a specific distance of a school or place of worship.
  • Check local zoning regulations if you plan to operate at a location not previously used for this type of business.
  • You need a license to sell alcohol beverage on the Internet.

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