How to Obtain a Liquor License in Minnesota

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The public sale of intoxicating beverages in Minnesota is governed by state statutes and city ordinances. The state sets laws on who may issue a license, and also sets the maximum fees a licensing bureau can charge for applications. Within that framework, the county or city decides on the required forms, information, fees and procedures. The cost and complexity of a license application varies from one city or town to the next, with larger jurisdictions such as Minneapolis demanding much more information from applicants than smaller cities such as Hutchinson or Brainerd. The process also varies with the type of business you have and the scheduled hours of operation.

First Steps

Minnesota law requires all businesses or organizations selling intoxicating beverages to have a valid license. An applicant begins this process by requesting the forms from the proper department. This may be a municipal licensing bureau or, if setting up in an unincorporated area, a county government. Staff at the license bureau should be familiar with forms, fees, review procedures and state requirements, if any. The forms also may be available online for downloading, or for online completion and printing. Minnesota law restricts the number of liquor licenses that can be granted in a single jurisdiction depending on population.

Forms and Fees

There are several different commercial venues for liquor sales, including on-sale bars and restaurants, off-sale retail outlets, conventions, concert events, brewery taprooms, hotels, wineries and groceries that sell specific types of beer. In many jurisdictions, including Minneapolis, there also is a separate application required for Sunday sales, which are legal statewide for licensed on-sale businesses but not permitted at liquor stores. The application will ask for business name and address, owner information, and the nature of any entertainment or food offered. Building information may also be required, along withe details on security provided, if any. Your business tax ID, workers' compensation insurance information and the Social Security number of owners and officers may also be requested.

The Multi-Step Process

After the initial application is filed, the license bureau may conduct a background check of ownership, which may include an investigation by law enforcement. In Minneapolis, for example, the licensing bureau requests information on any convictions within the past five years for violation of state laws on intoxicating beverages. Addenda to the application may include a zoning compliance statement, a health code certificate for food service, and the filing of a business floor plan. These and other forms may need to be certified or completed by city inspectors. Minneapolis, for example, also needs a noise management plan, a certificate of liquor liability insurance, corporate registration documents, a statement of the business's source of funds, a police security plan review, and a separate 2 AM Liquor License if the business plans to stay open until the state's legal closing time.

Review and Fees

After the application goes through an initial review process, the licensing bureau may require a public hearing or a period for public comment. Approval of the license also may be contingent on a building inspection, if the premises is either new or undergoing renovation. If business ownership or management changes during the application process, or other significant changes occur in the operation, the license bureau must be notified. Because the review process can be lengthy, temporary licenses are available for non-profit organizations in Minneapolis and elsewhere. The fee for a liquor application varies with several factors, including size and type of the establishment. In the city of Hutchinson, for example, the annual fee is $600 for a wine-and-beer on-sale license, $2,000 for a full bar, and an additional $125 for Sunday sales. Caterers pay $300 for an annual license or $100 per event; breweries pay $375 for off-sale operations and $600 for an on-sale taproom.

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