In New Jersey, the sale and handling of alcohol is overseen by the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). The Director of the ABC is responsible for upholding the state’s liquor laws and imposing penalties for violations, which include suspension or revocation of the liquor license. The Division considers a liquor license to be a privilege, not a right, meaning it is subject to forfeiture for any violation of New Jersey’s alcoholic beverage control laws.
Liquor licenses are grouped into three main privilege classes: manufacturing, wholesale, and retail. Manufacturer’s licenses are grouped as Class A, and include licenses such as Plenary Brewery, Farm Winery, Instructional Winemaking Facility, and Craft Distillery. Class A licenses allow for the brewing of alcoholic beverages in a facility legally designated for that purpose, and for the selling of those beverages in and out of the state. Certain licenses are needed for specific actions, such as offering beverage samples to visitors, and operating certain numbers of off-premises sales rooms. Each license has its own specific fee, under which a licensee is granted a limited number of privileges. For instance, a Plenary Brewery License permits the brewing of any malt alcoholic beverage in unlimited quantities for the purpose of selling at beer festivals and to wholesalers in and out of New Jersey. On the other hand, a Limited Brewery license only allows for the brewing of 300,000 barrels per year, and limits the selling of beer off-premises for consumption to no more than 15.5 gallons.
It’s important to differentiate between the manufacturing of alcohol for mass distribution and consumption from home brewing for private consumption. A manufacturing liquor license is not required for individuals of legal drinking age to brew beer and wine on their own property for personal or family use. This confusion arises from the fact that until January 2012, New Jersey residents were required to obtain a state permit for brewing beer and wine in their homes. This regulation was found to be excessive, since home brewing is done in fairly limited quantities for the sole purpose of personal consumption. Enforcing such permits would be difficult as well, since it would require the Division of ABC to routinely check people’s homes. However, a permit and license are two separate things, and a liquor license was never required for the purpose of home brewing.
In addition to understanding the different types of manufacturing licenses, there are also individual municipal laws to be taken into consideration. Although the State’s Division of ABC is given general authority over alcohol regulations, New Jersey operates under a “home rule” policy for the sale and consumption of alcohol. This means that each municipality has its own Alcohol Beverage Control Board for the regulation of alcohol manufacturing, selling and consumption within its own borders. Another factor to consider is that New Jersey issues a limited number of new liquor licenses per municipality each year. For example, one new plenary consumption license can be issued per year to each municipality for every 3,000 new residents.
However, each municipality has the right to place further restrictions on these numbers, and even to deny certain applications that are deemed to go against public interest. Some municipalities require applicants to present their case at a public hearing before approving a liquor license application. Even once an applicant has obtained a license, the municipality may continue to require annual public hearings in order to approve renewals. Although rare, certain municipalities have opted to be “dry towns”, meaning they do not allow for the sale of any alcoholic beverages, nor do they issue liquor licenses for bars and restaurants. Within the past few years, it has become commonplace for New Jersey municipalities to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from liquor license auctions.
Since the existing laws make it difficult to obtain a new manufacturing liquor license, most applicants attempt to purchase an existing license. Information about liquor licenses available for purchase can be provided by the appropriate municipal Alcohol Beverage Control Board. If a private deal can be negotiated between the owner and the applicant, they would then proceed to file a person-to-person transfer application with the Board. Applications for the transfer of liquor licenses can be obtained by calling the State’s ABC Licensing Bureau at (609) 984-1954, or downloading a form from the Division of ABC’s website.
Liquor license applications are complicated, requiring numerous forms, detailed financial information, and multiple fees. The transfer application alone is 12 pages long, and is required to be submitted in triplicate. Applicants must also pass a background check and submit fingerprint reports. The requirements are even more complex if the license is needed for a major entity, such as a corporation. In that case, background checks and financial information may be required from all the officers, directors and shareholders. Upon submitting the application, the applicant must announce the intended transfer twice, one week apart from each other, in order to give the public a chance to voice any objections.
Due to these overwhelming requirements and confusing legal disclosures, many applicants seek assistance from a lawyer experienced in alcohol regulations. A lawyer can also assist you in completing the required supporting documentation, such as the Affidavit of Publication, and a detailed sketch with photos of the proposed area for licensing. Lawyers can also help prevent an application from getting rejected by making sure the applicant is in full compliance with municipal regulations. If a public hearing is required in order to award or renew a license, legal advice is strongly recommended, especially if it involves a violation of the State or local ABC laws.
If you have questions about obtaining a manufacturing liquor license in New Jersey, please call the experienced ABC lawyers of Villani & DeLuca. We invite you to schedule a consultation with Jeffrey A. Warsh, Esq., a former staff attorney for the NJ Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Mr. Warsh is a current member of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Advisory Counsel, and has a long history of resolving cases involving violations of New Jersey’s ABC laws. With over 20 years of experience representing clients in the public and private sector, Mr. Warsh has the knowledge to assist you with every aspect of New Jersey’s liquor licensing process. Please call (732) 965-3350 to speak with a Liquor Manufacturing License Attorney today.