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Getting Started in the Business: Licensing

This blog entry is part of a continuing series discussing important steps to get started in the alcoholic beverage industry. Once you have pinpointed a location for your business (discussed in a previous post, here), you will need to obtain a license, or a combination of licenses, before you commence operations. To determine what type(s) of license(s) you need, here are some answers to questions you may be asking: * Do the Tied-House Laws Permit Me to Hold the Licenses I Want? Federally and across all states, “tied house” laws generally prohibit the same person or entity from having an ownership interest in alcohol beverage businesses in more than one of the 3 tiers -manufacturing/importing, distribution and retail. (To learn more about tied house laws, review this post.) However, that restriction is far from absolute. Many statutory exceptions have been carved out of the 3-tier system to permit cross-tier licensing and the resulting patchwork of exceptions can be difficult to comprehend. For example, in California, wineries can also own restaurants (subject to restrictions) and certain off-sale retail stores. Small breweries (less than 60,000 barrels/year) can own on-sale retailers but large breweries cannot. Beer and wine wholesalers cannot also be retailers, unless they sell only wine through the retail store. Other states have their own set of hard-to-explain exceptions. * What Does My License Permit Me to Do? The general rule is that manufacturers sell to wholesalers; wholesalers sell to retailers; and retailers sell to consumers. But this, too, is riddled with exceptions. California wineries and breweries can sell their products directly to retailers and consumers without using a distributor, but distilled spirits manufacturers can sell only to distributors and cannot themselves hold a distributor license. Rectifiers, on the other hand, can act as their own distributor and sell their products – and spirits products made by anyone else – directly to retailers. Moreover, you may need more than one license to operate your business. For example, if you are going to be operating a distillery, you will need a Type 4 (Distilled Spirits Manufacturer’s license), and a Type 6 (Still) license. If you are importing distilled spirits from outside of California and distributing them to retailers you’ll need a Type 12 (Distilled Spirits Importer), and a Type 18 (Distilled Spirits Wholesaler). California issues dozens of different licenses so it is important to know exactly what you want to do, which licenses are needed to accomplish it, and whether you are eligible to hold them. * What are the Processing Times to Obtain a License? In California, it takes about 90-120 days to process an application for a new license, and slightly less time to transfer an existing license at a premises that is already licensed. It will take longer to process an application that is incomplete, contested by neighboring residents or the local authorities, or filed incorrectly. Also keep in mind that the ABC cannot issue a license until it has received confirmation from the City/County that all required use permits have been obtained. Each applicant will be assigned a local ABC investigator to handle the application until the process is completed. Currently, U.S. Alcohol Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau (“TTB”) licenses are processing in about 90 days, similar to California licenses. * May I Obtain a Temporary Permit? Provided that you are transferring an existing license at an already licensed premises, the California ABC may grant a temporary permit so you may operate your business while the license transfer application is being processed. A temporary permit is not available in connection with applications for new licenses or applications to transfer existing licenses to a premises that has not been previously licensed. * What Are the Costs Involved? Depending on what type(s) of license(s) applied for, the cost can vary considerably. A schedule of license costs is available here. Some retail licenses are limited in numbers and must be purchased on the open market. Prices for these licenses vary greatly by type and location. For instance, a Type-47 (On-sale general eating place) may sell for $200,000 in San Francisco, whereas the same type of license in Fresno County currently only costs $12,000. In conjunction with your ABC application, you may also need to obtain other federal, state or local licenses/permits. In California this may include, for example: federal licenses through the TTB; a certification from the Secretary of State that you are qualified to do business in the state; and a sales tax permit from the State Board of Equalization. Contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have questions about applying for a license to get started in the alcohol beverage business. Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2013 · All Rights Reserved ·

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