Why are there So Many Different Types of PLCB Licenses and Permits?


In those rare, quiet moments when you’re able to sit for a moment to think about your business, have you ever wondered how many license and permit types there are under the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s (PLCB) authority? Well, don’t. Just don’t go down that road. The landscape is labyrinthine, teeming with large, overarching groups of predominant license types, with smaller licenses hanging out back. Peeking around the corner are permits for special situations and - if you don’t know you need them - they could easily be overlooked. It’s no wonder there are law firms with specialized teams led by attorneys with decades of experience dedicated to liquor license issues, and entire brokerages specializing in the complexities of liquor license transactions. You actually might just need a law degree or decades of experience in the PA alcohol business to understand this stuff. So, why? Why is the landscape so busy?

The Past Meets Present
The reason for the convoluted scene is (oddly) pretty clear - the Constitution just doesn’t talk about regulating alcohol. So, it’s up to the states to decide. Over the decades, times change, quite simply. Just like Philadelphia is a city with a rich, layered history with buildings and roads from the 17th century, 19th century row-houses, and slick modern mixed-use properties, so is the Liquor Code. It builds on itself, stripping things out and replacing them, adding new things as the world changes.

If you really want to dig into it, the PLCB put out a good resource, Summary of Act 39 of 2016 (Including Information Relevant to Licensees). This document is 25 single-spaced pages - with a useful hyperlinked table of contents at the beginning - referencing every change to the Liquor Code passed in 2016, which you probably already know was the most sweeping reform to Pennsylvania alcohol legislation since Prohibition. It included huge changes to almost every aspect of alcohol production, distribution, transportation, service, and sales. The Summary of Act 39 document mentioned above also includes every license type that has been affected by the new laws, so it contains information about many different license types in one place, which is hard to find.

Everything Must Be Accounted For
Per the PLCB: “The mission of the PLCB is to responsibly sell wine and spirits as a retailer and wholesaler, regulate Pennsylvania's alcohol industry, promote alcohol education and social responsibility and maximize financial returns for the benefit of all Pennsylvanians. The PLCB regulates the manufacture, importation, sale, distribution and disposition of liquor, alcohol, and malt or brewed beverages in the commonwealth.” So, PA is one of seventeen states in the union that manages alcohol this way. However, since 2016 there have been some additional modifications, e.g. some manufacturers (with the appropriate Limited Winery, Brewery, or Distillery license) may also sell directly to the public, and cross-sell other independent Pennsylvania brands. Limited Wineries may also ship to consumers directly (under a certain volume, and for personal use) provided they have a Direct Wine Shipper license (DWS).

Basically, there are a couple major license types divided into either retail or wholesale, including Restaurant (R), Eating Place (E), Hotel (H), Distributor (D), and Importing Distributor (ID). Now, there are also literally dozens of other permit types - one for every possible venue of sale or service; from Airport Restaurant (AR) to Off-Track Wagering Restaurant (OWR), Municipal Golf Course (GR), Privately Owned Public Golf Course (PGR), and on and on - down to retirement communities, brewpubs, etc. If you want to transport or store alcohol, a bailee-for-hire and/or transport-for-hire license also may be needed (it depends on how and why you’re storing and/or transporting the alcohol). Additionally there are permits needed for different types of operations, such as the Wine Expanded Permit (WEP) that may be used for wine-to-go sales and on-premise events like tastings. Sunday sales, hours of operation, discount pricing, square footage, seating and silverware are also regulated. Essentially - there’s nothing the PLCB hasn’t thought of to control the consumption of alcohol. If you’re in the alcohol service and sales business - everything has to be accounted for.

All Things Great and Small
There is of course, still freedom to be found among the rules and regulations. There are zero licenses or permits needed for BYOB, brewing, distilling, or fermenting your own alcohol at home which you can bring to contests, tastings, etc. - as long as you’re not selling it. So, as Americans we’re still free to drink; which is the important thing. It’s just the big picture that’s got to have some rules. Public safety and the Commonwealth’s public funds are great examples. If alcohol weren’t heavily regulated, it would pose a huge risk to consumers, in terms of the actual health & safety of the product itself, safety in public spaces (like roadways!), and occupational safety for those working in the industry. Pennsylvania also puts the taxes and fees they receive from business into public programs and works. So, the money PA spends on alcohol goes back into keeping PA a safe, well-maintained place to live and work.

When you own or operate an alcohol service and sales business in Pennsylvania, it can seem intimidating to stay within the confines of all the different legalities, especially when there are so many things to know and remember. But as long as you’re operating your establishment in compliance with the law, making sure your staff has appropriate RAMP training, and looking out for the safety of your guests and the public at large, you’re doing the right thing - that’s the big picture. All the details great and small that make up the busy landscape of the alcohol marketplace are outlined in black and white (even if there are a ton of them), and you do have the freedom to continue to concentrate on your own little corner of that marketplace. Cheers!

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