Getting a license to sell beer is often the most harrowing experience many brewers have to deal with, and the ease with which they’re granted varies drastically from state to state.
But in order to legally sell beer, a brewer must have a license, and many do pursue this route. In fact, according to Julia Herz, craft beer program director of the Brewers Association in Boulder, CO, at least 50 percent of brewers begin as homebrewers. In fact, she added, “homebrewing is a core element of why craft brewing is so hot right now.”
As a homebrewer without a license, there are caps. A single-person household can brew up to 100 gallons of beer per year, but if there are two or more adults, that number jumps to 200 gallons. To produce more beer, a license is needed.
Seth Gilligan, owner of Gilligan’s Brewing Co. in Seattle, said that while it was very difficult to get a license in his home state of Pennsylvania, it was much easier once he moved to Washington.
“They’re very friendly to small brewers here. You pretty much have to follow their process and do everything correctly, but it only took about two months,” he said, having received his license to sell growlers and kegs eight years ago.
“It’s a little time consuming but as long as you file the correct paperwork, it’s not that bad,” he said. The total cost was only around $300.
It was the paperwork that Peter Ausenhus, owner of Worth Brewing Co. in Northwood, IA, found intimidating about the licensing process.
“The TTB [Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau] sent about 20 different forms and it was just a matter of working through those,” he said. He then had to get licensed through the state of Iowa, which was much less trouble. The whole process took about three months, he explained.
Vine Park Brewing Co. in St. Paul, MN, received its license to brew and sell growlers of beer five years ago. The federal license came first, followed by the state and then the city license, said owner Andy Grage, who added that it was very hard work.
“We had to get two new city laws passed to allow us to sell growlers,” he said, “because the license we needed didn’t even exist.”
He was then told that he couldn’t brew in the building he wanted to use, so a city councilman created a new rule to allow them to stay in it.
Finally, after three years, Vine Park was licensed. The hardest part, Grage said, was dealing with the state of Minnesota. “The liquor board’s standard reply to any question is ‘You can’t do that,’” he pointed out.
Chris Miller and Mark Lehman, owners of Breaker Brewing Co. in Plains, PA, spent a lot of time researching the entire license process. They began by emailing the TTB, and then went to the state and the local zoning authority for approval.
“It wasn’t hard but only because I did a lot of research beforehand,” said Miller. “I spent dozens of hours looking into this.”
The entire process took around six months, he said.
And it wasn’t cheap. There were no fees for the TTB, but the Pennsylvania brewers’ license cost $1,500 and brand name registration is $75 per beer.
Born and raised in the United Kingdom and now a resident in the Pacific Northwest, Amanda Baltazar has been surrounded by beer her entire life. She now writes about it, and other topics, for magazines ranging from Beverage World to The Toronto Star.