ANSWERED: How Long Does It Take To Get a Liquor License?

Patience is a virtue… unless we’re talking about your fledgling business. Then, every moment waiting on a permit or contractor feels like money taken directly from your pocket. Waiting to obtain your liquor license is no different.

If you’ve spoken to other liquor store owners or hopeful entrepreneurs, you may have heard of the time, effort, and patience it takes to get your hands on a liquor license. The process can seem as complicated as a top-shelf cocktail recipe and leave you wondering: How long does it take to get a liquor license?

In this post, we’ll answer that burning question. Then, we’ll share some expert insights about the types of liquor licenses you should consider, who needs a liquor license, and how much these licenses cost

How Long Does It Take To Get a Liquor License? 

Let’s kick things off by answering the top question of this post: How long does it take to get a liquor license? Your time frame can differ significantly, depending on your state. In Michigan, for instance, it can take from 40 days up to six months. In Idaho, most business owners wait about 90 days for their license. 

Why does it take so long? Simply put, the process is long and complicated for regulatory agencies and liquor store owners alike. Navigating the liquor license application process can be a headache for any liquor store owner. Let’s look at some of the steps you might need to follow when applying for a liquor license to open a liquor store:

  1. Complete an initial application filing
  2. Notify the governing body of your application
  3. Comply with the regulatory body’s investigation (often including background checks)
  4. Submit to a final review
  5. Receive your license

Related Read: Before You Open A Liquor Store, Consider These 6 Things First

While the time it takes to get a liquor license will vary based on factors outside of your control, there are certain variables you can influence that can speed up your time frame. For example, if your application is complete with all necessary documentation from the beginning, your process may go more quickly. Following all regulations and requirements to the letter will help expedite your timelines and get your license in hand more quickly. 

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Types of Liquor Licenses 

One factor that can impact the timeline (and cost) of your liquor license is the type of license you need for your business. Many states offer various types of licenses designed to meet various purposes, like on-site service versus bottle sales, or beer and wine versus liquor. Let’s examine some of the most common types of liquor licenses:

  • Retail Liquor License: This license lets your business sell alcoholic beverages for off-site consumption. It covers spirits, beer, wine, and sometimes high-proof liquors.
  • On-Premises Liquor License: Geared towards bars, restaurants, or entertainment venues, this license allows the sale of alcoholic drinks for consumption on-site.
  • Beer and Wine License: This license is exclusive to beer and wine sales, excluding hard liquor or spirits. Its permissions may vary based on state regulations, allowing both on-site and off-site consumption.
  • Brewpub License: Specifically designed for breweries, this license permits on-site direct sales of brewery products, often accompanied by limited food service.
  • Distillery License: This license allows the production, storage, and sale of distilled spirits or hard liquor.
  • Winery License: Tailored for wineries, this license allows for the on-site production, storage, and retail sale of wine. Additionally, it may permit wine tastings and direct-to-consumer sales.

Related Read: 5 Features You Need in a Wine Boutique POS

  • Special Event Permit: Finally, a special event permit is a temporary permit that allows alcohol service at specific occasions, such as festivals, weddings, or fundraising events.

The license types available to you may vary depending on your state, so be sure to check your state’s liquor license requirements and laws before selecting the license type that best suits your business.

Who Needs a Liquor License? 

Next, let’s cover the answer to an important question: Do you need a liquor license for the store you want to operate?

If your store engages in the sale, distribution, or service of any alcoholic beverage, the answer is yes.

Many establishments fall under this umbrella, including bars, restaurants, liquor stores, breweries, wineries, distilleries, and even caterers or event planners hosting functions where alcohol will be served must obtain the proper licensing. 

Liquor licenses are mandated by state laws and are necessary to regulate the sale and distribution of alcoholic drinks. Without a valid liquor license, you’re breaking the law if you sell alcohol for on-site consumption, to-go purchases, or at public events. 

Unauthorized sale or distribution of alcohol can result in severe penalties, including fines, legal action, or the closure of your business. State regulators, such as the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (DATC) or similar bodies, oversee liquor licensure. These regulatory bodies ensure compliance with local laws, impose licensing requirements, and establish guidelines for the responsible sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. They are also responsible for penalizing businesses that fall out of compliance with these guidelines and requirements. 

How Much Does a Liquor License Cost? 

Like any other part of starting a business, liquor licensing isn’t free. You’ll have to pay application fees to get started. To maintain compliance, you must also pay renewal fees regularly (usually annually). 

Related Read: The Best Business Plan Checklist for New Owners

Your costs can significantly vary depending on the state regulations and the type of licensing you need. Each state imposes its fee structure, which can fluctuate substantially. For instance, in Delaware, your price can vary from $150 to well over $3,000 based on the type of license you need.

Generally, the cost of different types of liquor licenses can significantly differ from one another. Licenses for exclusively beer and wine sales tend to have lower fees than those required for retail liquor sales or on-premises alcohol consumption. Apart from the initial application fees, it's crucial to factor in recurring expenses for license renewals. In most states, annual license renewal fees are mandatory to maintain compliance and keep your establishment's license valid. Budgeting for these ongoing costs is essential to maintain compliance and keep operating your store legally in your state. 

State Variation in Liquor License Requirements 

As we’ve mentioned, your liquor license requirements, timeline, and cost will vary depending on what state your store is located in. Let’s take a look at a few sample states to give you an idea of what to expect, depending on your state’s requirements and strictness regarding the sale of liquor. 


Utah has tight control over liquor stores through the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC). All spirits and wine are sold through state-run DABC stores. Key regulations include:

  • Private liquor stores are prohibited in the state of Utah. Instead, all liquor sales go through DABC-run stores. This requirement gives the state greater oversight over licensing and alcohol access.
  • There are limitations on the number of DABC stores permitted in a geographic area based on population size. This regulation restricts competition and store density.
  • DABC-run liquor stores must close by 10 p.m. and are closed on Sundays and holidays. 

Related Read: Utah Liquor Store Inventory Basics


Michigan’s liquor laws are fairly lenient. The state provides liquor licenses to privately-owned stores through the MLCC. These stores can sell beer, wine, and spirits for off-premises consumption. Some key regulations are: 

  • No limit exists on the number of liquor licenses issued within a town or municipality. This lack of restriction leads to greater competition and greater chances of being granted a liquor license.
  • Stores can choose their own hours of operation. Many are open late nights and weekends.
  • Alcohol sales are also allowed in grocery stores, gas stations, and other retailers with proper licensing. 


Pennsylvania strikes a balance between state control and private retail for liquor stores. Their requirements are not as lenient as Michigan’s, but less strict than Utah’s:

  • All wine and spirits are sold through state-run Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores. Like Utah’s requirements, this measure provides state oversight for hard alcohol.
  • Privately-owned beer distributors can sell cases and kegs of beer once licensed. Grocery stores and gas stations may also sell smaller quantities of beer.
  • Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores have more limited hours than Michigan’s requirements. These stores close at 9 p.m. and most are closed on Sundays.

How Long Does It Take To Get a Liquor License — And How To Run Your Store Once You Have It! 

This post should give you a general idea of how long you can expect to wait for your license, and how you can speed up that process by submitting all required paperwork and documentation to your state as quickly as possible. However, receiving your liquor license is only the beginning of your liquor store operations journey. 

As you begin managing your liquor store, you'll find yourself managing tasks like inventory management, customer experience, and vendor relations. It can feel overwhelming, but with the right tools in hand, it doesn’t have to be. 

A robust solution like Bottle POS can make store management a breeze. Bottle POS is a point of sale solution tailor-made for liquor stores, equipped with all the features a liquor store owner needs to succeed, including age verification, case break inventory management, and customer loyalty programs.

Experience firsthand how our point of sale solution can streamline your operations, simplify inventory management, enhance customer experiences, and improve compliance for your store. Schedule a free software demo of Bottle POS today to get started. 

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