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How to get a liquor license in Illinois

Serving alcohol in the state of Illinois hasn’t always been easy or legal, with speakeasies cropping up all over cities like Chicago when Prohibition was the law of the land. Luckily for you, serving alcoholic beverages is no longer an underground industry: Selling alcohol is highly regulated in Illinois.

While getting a liquor license can be a bit of a hassle, having the right permits helps protect your small business from serious legal trouble and your customers from the dangers of bad booze. (Bathtub gin is NOT as fun as it looks in the movies.)

Here are some tips to help you get started getting a liquor license in Illinois.

Illinois liquor license requirements and laws

In Illinois, you’ll need to get both a state and municipal liquor license. You’ll need to first apply with your local municipality; then, you can apply with the State of Illinois. Each municipality will have its requirements for liquor licensure, so be sure to check you’re following all of the guidelines.

The Illinois Liquor Control Commission (ILCC) handles things on the state level and has very stringent issuance requirements, as laid out in the Illinois Liquor Control Act of 1934. Luckily, has a handy FAQ page to help you get all the required information, but here are the highlights:

  • Any licensee must provide a Certificate of Insurance. This will most likely be restaurant and bar insurance and liquor liability insurance, but can vary depending on your business. For instance, catering has its own set of insurance regulations.
  • You must provide the ILCC with a hard copy of your liquor license application and a hard copy or photocopy of your local liquor license. (A receipt WILL NOT COUNT.)
  • A licensee must be at least 18 years old and cannot allow a minor (anyone under 18) to serve alcohol. However, some municipalities, like Chicago, require any liquor license holders or servers to be 21 years old.
  • The $750 application fee must be paid by check or money order only. Once your license is obtained, you’ll need to renew it annually and pay $750 for each renewal. Luckily, Illinois makes it fairly simple to renew your liquor license online with MyTax Illinois, the state’s all-purpose tax website.
  • Illinois also requires liquor license renewal every year and to display it in a visible area on premises at all times. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) also provides any member of the public to request a copy of your liquor license at any time.
  • The ILCC also requires anyone who serves alcohol to pass Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training (or BASSET). This course teaches servers and sellers how to keep their establishments safe for their patrons and community, including how to spot intoxication, prevent underage drinking, and reduce DUIs and other alcohol-related accidents.

Types of Illinois liquor licenses

The main type of liquor license you’ll receive is the retailer liquor license. Most restaurants and bars will only need a general retailer license, but brewpubs, caterers, and winemakers all have their own type of license.

If you plan to do any type of alcohol delivery service, you will need to make sure that you have either an off-premises or combined liquor license.

There is a special use permit for any off-premise event you may be hosting, but you will still need a retailer’s license.

A homebrewer special event permit is required if you plan to offer samples of any homemade alcoholic liquor to the PUBLIC. So, if you want to sample your homemade mead at the Renaissance Fair, you’ll need this license. If you’re just taking it to your cousin’s Viking-themed wedding, no license is needed.

Homebrewer special event permits only cover free samples. Just like with any sale of alcoholic liquor in Illinois, you’ll need a retailer license if money will change hands (or Venmo accounts) at any point.

Illinois requires the state to license distributors and that businesses only buy from licensed distributors. Here is more information to make sure your distribution is reputable.

You can also get a BASSET license for your company, which will allow you to train your staff yourself instead of outsourcing to another training company.

Can I get a one-day liquor license in Illinois?

Yes, if you’re a nonprofit organization. If you’re organizing a for-profit event, you’ll need to already have a state liquor license to sell alcohol.

Note: If you’re hosting a private event, like a wedding or a party, you do not need to get a liquor license to serve alcohol at the event, as long as it’s not for sale. Any catering service you may hire should already have a liquor license.

How much does an Illinois liquor license cost?

Your license fee depends on what kind of license you want and what kind of alcohol you’ll be serving.

A retailer liquor license cost varies depending on the license classifications:

  • General retailer: $750
  • Brew Pub: $1,500
  • Caterer: $500
  • Wine Maker: $500

A special use permit is $100 for a one-day event or $150 for multi-day events. You’ll need to hold a retailer liquor license already to apply unless you are hosting a nonprofit event.

A homebrewer’s special event permit is $25 and is required if you plan to sample your homemade brews to the public.

A BASSET training license is $350 and must be renewed annually.

While getting an Illinois liquor license can be a rather complicated process, it’s an absolute must to make sure you’re keeping your patrons, staff, and community safe. To keep your business safe from any unforeseen mishaps, having small business insurance is an absolute must. That’s where Huckleberry has you covered.

At Huckleberry, we offer you quality small business insurance at a fraction of the cost of most legacy insurance companies, including liquor liability and restaurant and bar insurance. While you make sure your community is drinking responsibly, we’ll take care of the rest.

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