The Commonwealth of Massachusetts - Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission
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Alcoholic beverages retail licenses are distinguished by where a patron may consume the beverages purchased, i.e. off the premises or the on premises. Off-premises licenses include package stores, convenience stores and supermarkets. There are 5 types of on-premises alcoholic beverages licenses: restaurants, clubs (or veterans club), hotels, taverns, and general on premises.

Retail alcoholic beverages licenses fall into five categories: all alcoholic beverages licenses, wine and malt beverages licenses, wine beverages licenses, malt beverage licenses, and wine and malt with cordials and liqueurs beverages licenses. These licenses may be issued seasonally or annually.

Licensing Procedure

The first step in the licensing process is the granting of an application by the Local Licensing Authorities (the “LLA”). The second step is approval by the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (the “ABCC”). If the ABCC approves the license, the LLA issues the license. An applicant for an alcoholic beverages license may not operate a licensed premise until the LLA issues a license. If the application is for a transfer of the license, the licensee is still liable and responsible for the operation of the premises until the license transfer is approved. Moreover, an applicant who operates licensed premises before final approval of a transfer by both the LLA and the ABCC may create serious ramifications for both the buyer and the seller. Operation without a license may be considered evidence of that applicant’s unfitness for a license. It may also lead to revocation of an existing license. In certain circumstances, it opens both the buyer and the seller to possible criminal liability.

Pursuant to M.G.L. c. 138, §15A and 16B, LLA's and the ABCC are required to follow the procedures outlined below each time an application for the sale of alcoholic beverages is filed.

1. The LLA must note the date and hour an application for an alcoholic beverages license is filed.
2. The LLA must publish an advertisement, if their regulations require, within 10 days of the application being filed.
3. A hearing on the application shall not be held sooner than ten (10) days after advertising the hearing.
4. The LLA must act on an application within thirty (30) days after it is filed.
5. If the LLA grants the license, the application shall be forwarded to the ABCC no later than three (3) days following such approval.
6. When the ABCC receives an application that has been approved by the LLA, an investigator will be assigned. The investigator will investigate the proposed licensed premises, as well as the proposed applicant and the source(s) of financing for the transaction. Parties to an application must respond promptly to investigators’ inquiries. Failure to do so will result in a delay of the approval and may result in a denial of the application.
7. When the ABCC receives the application it is immediately forwarded to the Department of Revenue (“DOR”) and the Division of Unemployment Assistance (“DUA”). Both agencies will research the issue of any outstanding tax obligations of both the buyer and the seller for all types of taxes, including sales, meals, withholding, corporate excise, room occupancy, personal income taxes, unemployment insurance, and employer fair share contributions. The ABCC will not approve a license transfer until DOR and DUA attest that the parties have no outstanding tax liabilities to the Commonwealth. The parties are responsible for resolving all tax questions.
8. Once the LLA receives the ABCC’s approval of an application, it must issue the license within seven (7) days.


Quota System

The Massachusetts Liquor Control Act places a quota or limit on the number of alcoholic beverages licenses a city or town can issue. The quota is based on the population of the community as determined by the most recent federal census.

On-Premises License (M.G.L. c. 138, §12)
Each city or town may grant one on-premises all alcoholic license for each unit of 1,000 persons (or fraction thereof) with a minimum of 14. An additional all-alcoholic beverages license may be granted for each population unit of 10,000 (or fraction thereof) over the first 25,000. One wine and malt license may be granted for each unit of 5,000 persons (or fraction thereof) with a minimum of 5.

Veteran's Club License
The local licensing authority may grant an all-alcoholic beverages license, outside the quota system, subject to ABCC approval, to any corporation whose members are war veterans which owns, hires or leases a building, or space in a building, for the use and accommodation of a post of any war veterans' organization incorporated by the Congress of the United States, to sell to members of that post only, and, subject to local licensing authorities, to guests introduced by such members and to no others.

Off-Premises (M.G.L. c. 138, §15)
Each city or town may issue one off-premises (Section 15) all-alcoholic beverages license for each unit of 5,000 persons (or fraction thereof) with a minimum of 2. One wine and malt license may be granted for each unit of 5,000 persons (or fraction thereof) with a minimum of 5.

Seasonal Licenses
The LLA may issue as many seasonal on-premises alcoholic beverages licenses as it deems to be in the public interest that are effective April 1st to January 15th or any portion thereof.

The LLA may issue a limited number of seasonal off-premises alcoholic beverages licenses based on an estimate of the temporary increase in resident population for the upcoming season as of July 10th. The LLA must set the estimate before March 1st of the calendar year, at a special meeting described in detail by M.G.L. c. 138, §17. The LLA must submit the estimate to the Commission prior to April 1st.

The LLA may issue off-premises seasonal licenses based on that estimate at the rate of one license for each 5,000 persons (or fraction thereof) and can be issued effective April 1st to November 30th until January 15th, or any portion thereof, as set by the LLA. Franklin and Berkshire counties may issue winter seasonal licenses and estimate before October 15th the temporary increased resident population as of the following February 10th. Such licenses are effective from December 1st to April 1st.


Local Licensing Authorities (the “LLA”) must be aware that applicants for a new on-premises alcoholic beverages license are required to submit a valid fire safety certification issued by the building inspector and the head of the fire department for the city, town or district in which the premises is located, or their license will not be issued. Thereafter, existing licensees are required to complete and sign an annual renewal form by November 30th of each calendar year. A valid certificate of inspection signed by the building inspector and the head of the fire department for the city, town or district in which the premises is located must be filed with the LLA. If an existing licensee does not submit a signed annual renewal form by November 30th, the license will expire on December 31st of that calendar year. The LLA IS REQUIRED to forward to the ABCC for EACH LICENSEE an attestation, on the renewal application, that the authority is in possession of the required fire safety certification.


In order for an individual to transport and deliver alcoholic beverages lawfully, they must apply for and receive an ABCC transportation (delivery) permit for each vehicle transporting and delivering the alcoholic beverages. The operators must carry either the permit or a certified copy of it when transporting the alcoholic beverages.

Transportation Permit for Retail Licensees
Persons who have an off-premises alcoholic beverages license (M.G.L. c. 138, §15) are required to obtain a transportation permit to deliver alcoholic beverages to customers and “pick up” alcoholic beverages from authorized suppliers inside Massachusetts.

Persons who have an on-premises alcoholic beverages license (M.G.L. c. 138, §12) are required to obtain a transportation permit to “pick up” alcoholic beverages from authorized suppliers inside Massachusetts. On-premises licensees may never deliver alcoholic beverages outside of the licensed premises.

Individuals in charge of an ABCC permitted vehicle shall carry an invoice or sales slip stating the:

    1. names and addresses of the purchaser and seller,
    2. the date and the amount of the purchase, and
    3. an itemization of the number of the various kinds of containers and the kinds, quantities and brands of alcoholic beverages or alcohol.



A farmer-winery (§19B), a farmer-brewery ( §19C), and a farmer-distillery ( §19E) may each sell for on premises consumption wines, malt beverages and spirits produced by the winery, brewery or distillery, as the case may be, in accordance with section 12 of the Massachusetts Liquor Control Act. For each of these kinds of license, section 12 creates a pouring permit that is issued outside of the population-based quota of licenses.

The application forms for a new or original §12 license should be filled out and filed with the local board, who will process the application as it would any other application for a new license under §12 and, if granted by the local board, submitted to the ABCC for its approval.

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Local Licensing Authority Forms



Contact Licensing Division Contact Information

Ryan Melville
Supervisor of Licensing
Ext 718 -
Deron Egbuche
Ext 723 -
Hurshel Langham
Ext 719 -
Sabrina Luc
Ext 721 -
Ivy Maiorino
Ext 721 -
Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission