All Anita Johnson wants to do is drink a beer with her ribeye at the Indiana State Fair — an Indiana-brewed
beer, that is.
But because of a law that's been in place for years, she
won't get to enjoy Indiana's beer at the state fair, even though the
fairgrounds allows alcohol for most other events throughout the year.
She wants a place to show off all of Indiana's craft beers
and wine to people from all over the country. And that place, she says, is the
Indiana State Fair.
"We have so many microbreweries and brewpubs that are
producing beer here in Indiana," said Johnson, owner of Great Fermentations, a
store in Indianapolis for home-brewers and winemakers. "So we have local
employment, local taxes, and the profits stay local. There's no better place to
showcase those local value-added ag
products than at the Indiana State Fair."
House Bill 1093, currently fermenting in the Indiana
Statehouse, would make Johnson's wish come true, allowing for Indiana beer and
wine sales at the fair, in designated areas.
But the state fair ban isn't alone among Indiana's seemingly
idiosyncratic alcohol laws under review this legislative session. It's also
illegal to sell alcohol on Sundays — except at restaurants, bars, and
sporting events; cold beer can only be purchased at the liquor store, though
there are aisles of warm stuff on sale at your nearby supermarket; and current
law requires everyone to show identification when purchasing alcohol— even 80 year-old grandmas.
Other states in the country have similarly specific alcohol
laws. In Utah, for example, beer with more than 3.2 percent alcohol by weight
cannot be sold. In Pennsylvania, beer can only be sold in beverage outlets by
the case or in taverns; selling beer in grocery stores is illegal.
Unfortunately for Hoosiers, Indiana's alcohol laws are no
less curious. But that could change if any of several new bills pass muster in
the state General Assembly and at the governor's mansion.
"It's time for Indiana to align their laws with the
lifestyle of people today," said State Sen. Phil Boots (R-Crawfordsville). "I
think they should be able to go out and make all the purchases in one day. It's
time for Indiana to come out of the 18th century and get with how people have
decided they want to live."
A cold one in hell
You don't have to be a Democrat or a Republican to enjoy
cold beer. Sen. Boots, a Republican, is doing his best to get Indiana caught up
with the times. For the second straight year he has authored a bill —
Senate Bill 197 — which would allows Sunday alcohol and cold beer sales.
But while some Indiana lawmakers, like Sen. Boots, want more
progressive alcohol laws, they're facing stiff opposition from some major buzzkills.
When it comes to cold beer sales, liquor stores essentially
have a monopoly across the state, and aren't expected to give that up without a
As for Sunday sales, critics like John Livengood,
CEO of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, a trade association group
that represents liquor stores, believe the bill would put liquor stores out of
At present, Sunday is the only day each week when liquor
stores are closed. Mom-and-pop vendors would be forced to either stay open
seven days a week, or cede a regular weekly portion of their revenue: buyers
who stock up early for Sunday consumption.
"We see the Sunday alcohol sale proposal as simply a way for
the big box stores and the convenience stores to try to get a bigger share of
the market at the expense of the package stores," Livengood
said on the association's website. "The package stores would probably go out of
business and 8,000 employees would be put out on the street and out of work. So
we see it as a major survival issue."
But Sen. Boots thinks the liquor store lobby is
"The majority of the people that I've been working for are
not necessarily large businesses," he said. "They're small convenience stores,
small grocery stores. And there's no evidence that indicates that liquor stores
will be damaged or harmed by this legislation at all."
Sen. Boots cited studies in which 11 of the last 12 states
to have allowed Sunday alcohol sales actually saw increased sales at liquor
Indiana is in the minority when it comes to the Sunday ban.
Such so-called "blue laws" —laws at least nominally based on religious standards
— make Indiana one of only three states that allow for Sunday consumption
at bars and restaurants but do not allow purchase for off-site consumption.
The current trend in the U.S. is to repeal laws that make
Sunday sales illegal. Since 2002, 14 states have repealed their blue laws. In
all, 36 states allow Sunday alcohol sales.
The bill to end Indiana's blue law has stalled, for now, in
the Public Policy Committee. The press secretary for Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette), chair of the committee, said the
senator is undecided about whether or not he will hold a hearing for the bill
If not, Hoosiers may have to wait until another session
— if not longer — before the restrictions are loosened.
The Indiana State fair bill is dealing with a legislative
back-and-forth similar to the one seen thus far for the Sunday alcohol bill.
Critics of the state fair bill have been vocal both inside
and outside the Statehouse. The Indianapolis Star's Matthew Tully wrote that
booze at the fair would "tarnish... one of the state's most treasured and
However, craft beer promoters like Johnson, from Great
Fermentations, say they don't understand why the state fair is singled out
among other events — like Colts, Pacers and Indians games.
"This moralistic thing about 'we want to keep it a family
venue' — well that went out a long time ago when they allowed alcohol at
all these other venues," she said.
"It would also protect children more so than these other
municipally-owned venues, where a child can be holding the hand of purchaser of
beer while they buy it and while they consume it," Johnson added. "They
wouldn't be if they were in a beer garden at the Indiana State fair."
For now, it looks as though alcohol sales at the state fair
won't happen this session. House Public Policy Committee Chairman Bill Davis
(R-Portland) said he does not intend to give it a committee hearing.
"Rep. Davis does not believe that House Bill 1093 would add
anything to the state fair," said Tory Flynn, media director for Indiana House
Republicans. "He believes it's a family-friendly event and that it should stay
Some slack for
There is one alcohol-related bill, however, that is getting
attention in the Indiana legislature. But it's to repeal a law from last year
that requires anyone purchasing alcohol to show ID, no matter how old.
Signs indicate that could soon change. Earlier this month,
the Indiana House passed legislation to repeal the law, 90-7. With such a clear
majority in the House, it's likely not to see much resistance in the Senate.
But even if this bill passes in the Senate, supporters of
reform say it seems like Indiana's alcohol laws will remain anachronistic for
the near future.
"We're a little out of sync with the rest of the nation,"
Sen. Boots said. "And it's time for us to move on."