Receiving Liquor Licenses In the State of Washington

by Nicole Rash

Oct. 18, 2022 — Looking to apply for or learn more about liquor licensing in Washington State? As part of our relationship with the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB), we assist our clients will all their beverage licensing needs. While these needs are ongoing and vary over time, there are a few key steps that must be completed to receive a liquor license.

Step 1: Prepare the Application:

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) only issues licenses to businesses who will be able to start selling or manufacturing alcohol in about three months. Currently the estimated time frame to process a new application is about 60 days, so 90 days before the planned opening is when you and your business should start applying for a liquor license.

It is imperative to have a business plan prepared because during the licensing process, the applicant will be asked to describe the following:

  • The intent of the business
  • Owners of the business
  • Costs associated with opening the business
  • Source or sources of funding
  • Anticipated opening date
  • Business location address with the right paperwork (lease or deed) to verify exclusive rights to the property
  • City or county permits or zoning requirements

If the applicant plans to produce, import, or wholesale alcohol, also known as non-retail license (which we will dive into below), the business must have an approved federal permit before applying for the state liquor license.  Note that since many businesses are initially forming at or near the time of applying for a liquor license, it’s equally important to ensure you have the right business structure for your business, a topic we’ve discussed recently and can help you with.

Step 2: Apply for a License

A liquor license is an endorsement to your business license issued by the Washington State Department of Revenue (DOR) Business Licensing Service. There are two types of licenses: retail and non-retail. Retail licenses include restaurants, theaters, nightclubs, grocery stores and similar businesses. Conversely, non-retail and out of state licenses include wineries, breweries, distributors, and out of state licenses.

Within these two categories, there are different subcategories of whether the licenses are intended for wine, beer, or spirits.

The applicant will need the following required documents:

  • Business structure
  • Financing/start-up costs
  • Lease or purchase agreements
  • Floor plans
  • Personal/criminal history statements
  • Public Posting notification

Depending on the type of license (retail or non-retail), the applicant will need to complete a briefing and inspection of the premise. For a retail license, the WSLCB will request the completion of an online briefing of liquor laws and submit photos of the premises. For non-retail licenses, the WSLCB will schedule an on-site briefing of liquor laws and final inspection.

If the completed documentation has been received and approved by the WSLCB and there are no outstanding issues, the applicant will receive an approval letter that serves as a 30-day liquor license until the Master Business License with the liquor endorsement arrives.

Step 3: After Licensure

Once the license is approved, the business will be assigned an Enforcement and Education Officer, who will be the primary point of contact. The Officer is there to help answer any questions and help you and your business stay in compliance with the state liquor laws and regulations.

There will be mandatory training and reporting. For example, if you serve alcohol in a restaurant, lounge, or conduct tastings at a grocery store, servers will need to do mandatory alcohol server training. There are also voluntary training programs for spirts, beer and wine retail licensee, open to employees to take as well. Businesses are required to report taxes to the WSLCB.

Step 4: Stay in the Loop

While efforts required to be granted a liquor license are typically the most time consuming and potentially challenging, to keep the license it is equally important to stay up to date with the WSLCB rules and regulations. The WSLCB reviews rules as part of its on-going regulatory improvement efforts. They will send out updates through their email notification system whenever updates are made. Furthermore, if you would like, you can stay in the know by attending WSLCB board meetings.

Have any questions? Do not hesitate to call Gleam Law with questions, comments or to grab a drink.