How to get a liquor license in Colorado
If you’ve spent your career thinking about the Rocky Mountains’ high-altitude terroir for growing wine grapes or hops, you might consider joining the burgeoning alcoholic beverage industry in Colorado. Restaurateurs can also get in on the action, opening up new venues in Colorado where customers can enjoy the local flavors of wine, beer, and spirits.
Whatever your small business, understanding Colorado’s liquor license laws is the first step toward kicking off your journey.
Colorado liquor license requirements and laws
Colorado cities have local licensing authority. That means you’ll need approval from your local government’s city council to sell alcohol. They approve new liquor licenses, transfers, and reported changes to your business. Your journey begins at the city clerk’s office, where you can get localized information about the individual steps and fees required.
By law, the Liquor Licensing Authority holds applications for 30 days before hearing them, so plan carefully. For licenses that need renewal, apply 60-90 days before expiration. For new licenses, plan 3 to 4 months ahead of time.
Get your zoning and business permits in order
In some locations, you’ll need a Zone Use Permit before submitting your liquor license application. In Denver, check your Zone District, Neighborhood Context, and Zoning Code. Confirm approved uses for your business address and get your space approved (the process may differ in your city).
Since Colorado is a dual-jurisdiction state, you will need your business registered with the city where you plan to obtain a liquor license. Make sure you have applied for a business license with your local jurisdiction and the State of Colorado Department of Revenue.
Once registering your business, you’ll have insurance obligations as an employer. Colorado can require liquor liability insurance, general liability insurance, workers’ compensation insurance, and unemployment insurance.
Complete the liquor license application
Next, regardless of your business location, you’ll submit the following to schedule a hearing:
- Colorado Retail Liquor License Application or 3.2% Beer License Application
- Individual History Report
- Fees for both the county and the Colorado Department of Revenue
Before the hearing, you may need to submit:
- Petition and Report
- Affidavit of Posting and Documentation
- Training documentation
In some cities, the town clerk will post notice of your public hearing on the property and provide you with a preliminary report before the meeting.
Attend a public hearing as a new license applicant
Applicants or their representatives must attend the public hearing.
Colorado’s liquor licensing system allows multiple liquor licenses to be issued in a given jurisdiction subject to the neighborhood’s “needs and desires.” If the community does not want a new license issued, you will not get a permit for your new retail location.
After the hearing, approved liquor licenses are forwarded to the state licensing authority for final approval.
Consider Responsible Vendors Training
Unlike many jurisdictions, Colorado does not require all employees to complete server training to sell alcohol. However, the Liquor Enforcement Division offers Responsible Vendors Training for liquor license holders. It requires training for some license holders, like those who host tastings at liquor stores or liquor-licensed drugstores.
The Responsible Vendors’ Program (RVP) is optional, but it has benefits for your business. New employees will undergo training and adhere to state regulations for record-keeping and business procedures. The RVP certification can also minimize your business risk and enhance your standing in the community. You can post your certification outside your business.
You’ll file a renewal application every 3 years.
Transferring a license
Purchasing a restaurant, bar, or catering business in Colorado can avoid many struggles of the liquor license application process. Colorado allows for the transfer of ownership for existing licenses provided the new owners meet certain conditions, like “good moral character.”
To transfer a license, you’ll submit:
- Individual History Record
- Diagram of the premises
- Proof of property possession
- Wholesaler Affidavit of Compliance
In many jurisdictions, a license transfer does not require a public hearing or carry the risk that your neighborhood denies your new license.
Types of Colorado liquor licenses
Colorado classifies liquor licenses by class according to the kind of business serving alcohol:
- Arts Liquor License
- Bed and Breakfast License
- Beer and Wine License
- Brewpub License
- Club License
- Fermented Malt Beverage License
- Hotel and Restaurant License
- Hotel and Restaurant License with Optional Premises
- Liquor Licensed Drug Store License
- Retail Liquor Store License
- Tavern License
- Vintner’s Restaurant License
There are also special permit classes, including art galleries and bed and breakfast inns. All are subject to approval by the City Liquor License Board.
For most types of licenses, customers will consume alcohol on the licensed premises. They will not bring alcohol into your business or consume alcohol elsewhere unless your company is licensed for off-premises consumption, as with a liquor store.
Colorado’s Liquor Enforcement Division has clarified the liquor code, confirming that on-premise retailers can also fill growlers and crowlers, as well as other containers for delivery or consumption off-site. Colorado’s recorking law also allows for partially consumed wine to be taken home and finished later.
You’ll want to confirm liquor laws with Colorado’s liquor enforcement division and law enforcement to ensure the type of license you choose will accommodate your business plans.
Can I get a one-day liquor license in Colorado?
You can apply for a special event permit liquor license. You’ll need to submit your application forms more than 30 days before your event. However, there are limits on the kinds of organizations that qualify for a permit. Eligible businesses include:
- Social, political, or athletic organizations
- State agencies
- The Colorado Wine Industry Development Board
- A division of a city or county
- A registered political candidate
Apply by filling out the form, drawing a diagram, providing a copy of your lease (or permission to use the event property), and showing your Certificate of Good Corporate Standing from the Colorado Secretary of State. You might need to post an announcement at the site 10 days before the event.
How much does a Colorado liquor license cost?
City and state fees differ. Here are some common license fees:
- City (Denver): $1,000 plus fees and fingerprinting
- City (Denver): $750 to transfer an existing license + fingerprinting
- State: $1,550 for new and transfer licenses or $1,650 for concurrent review
- One-day license: $25 (Municipalities may have additional fees. For example, there is a $100 non-refundable fee in Larimer County.)
- One-day beer license: $10
- Fingerprinting: $38.50 for each owner with a 10% or higher stake in the company
Another cost you’ll need to account for is liquor liability insurance and the other small business insurance coverages that will protect your new Colorado business. Luckily, Huckleberry makes this cost affordable. It’s also quick and easy to get a quote online (it’ll take under 5 minutes).