The three-tier system is utilized in the United States as a system for the distribution of alcohol from the producer through the consumer. The system originated after the repeal of prohibition in 1933 as a means to regulate, control and tax the alcohol industry. The federal government allowed each state to set its own regulations by repealing the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) and as a result, alcohol laws and the nature of the three-tier system can vary from state to state.

The basic premise of the system is that producers can sell their product only to wholesale distributors, who in turn can sell only to retailers. Only retailers can sell to consumers.

            1 – Importer/Producer

            2 – Distributor

            3 – Retailer

Producers include brewers, winemakers, distillers and importers.

There are several exceptions however. A brewpub for example is simultaneously a producer and a retailer. Wineries sell bottles of their wine on-site to customers. As time passes, the lines between the three tiers have blurred and overlap from Producer to Distributor, and Producer to Retailer occurs more frequently.

In some areas, the states and/or individual counties have become alcohol beverage control jurisdictions. In these areas, the government operate all of the distribution tier and sometimes the retailing tier as well, rather than private entities.


Who can I buy alcoholic beverages from? Why do I have to buy from a distributor?

Retail License Holders and the Regulation of Alcoholic Beverages in Maryland are organized in a three-tier system.

In Maryland, the first two tiers of the three-tier system used to regulate alcoholic beverages – manufacturing and wholesaling – are regulated by the Comptroller. The third tier – retailing – is regulated by local boards of license commissioners.

Retail license holders (tier three of the three-tier system), MUST purchase from a Wholesaler (Distributor). The four most common types of retail license are: Class A, Class B, Class C, and Class D.

Below is a link to an Interactive Alcoholic Beverages Database Query. To perform a search, see on the left-hand side there is the category License Type. Select the type of Wholesaler from the following options in the drop-down menu accessible in the center column:

W1 - Wholesalers Class 1 Beer, Wine, and Liquor
W2 - Wholesalers Class 2 Wine and Liquor
W3 - Wholesalers Class 3 Beer and Wine
W4 - Wholesalers Class 4 Beer
W5 - Wholesalers Class 5 Wine
W6 - Limited Wine Wholesalers Class 6
W7 - Wholesalers Class and Limited Beer License
W8 - Liquor

Select the location address State: MD and the License Status: Active Only then select for Page Size: Show 100 per page, and then click search. 




The database of this website is provided as a general information and reference tool for licensees, trade associations, and others. This database is not to be considered an official or up to date listing of all wholesalers. Please verify that the distributors you select have distribution rights in Kent County, Maryland.


Kent Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement -  Inspector's Office
Bonnie S. Pearsall, Inspector
PH: 443-282-5785  | FAX: 410-778-7482 | Email: KATE@kentgov.org
400 High Street, Chestertown MD 21620