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“We all want to brag about Indiana beers and wines,” said Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis. “This allows the state fair to grow.”

Indiana may lift prohibition against alcohol at state fair

INDIANAPOLIS – Beer, wine and spirits might be coming to the Indiana State Fair under a bill heard Wednesday that would repeal a long-time alcohol ban.

State law specifically prohibits alcohol sales during the Indiana State Fair, although alcohol is sold on the state fairgrounds at various events during the rest of the year.

“We all want to brag about Indiana beers and wines,” said Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis. “This allows the state fair to grow.”

The bill is a straight repeal of the prohibition. It sets no limitations or rules regarding the sale of alcohol.

Instead the Indiana State Fair Commission would be in charge of creating a program for the alcohol, including location, hours and more.

A committee vote is expected next week. Senate Bill 339 already passed the Senate by a vote of 33-13.

Cindy Hoye, executive director of the state fair commission, said the fair would focus on the agricultural link to Indiana wine, beer and spirits in an exposition limited to those 21 and over – akin to a beer garden.

There are 82 craft breweries in Indiana and 73 wineries.

Alcohol would have to be consumed in the confined area, meaning it could not be carried around the fair.

“We will never sell it like corn dogs,” she said, noting other state fairs do. Indiana is one of only two state fairs that doesn’t offer alcohol.

Hoye said it is possible in the future that other breweries and wineries from out-of-state would be included.

She told the House Public Policy Committee that the state fair had alcohol until 1946 when over Labor Day weekend the vendors ran out of cups and served it in glass bottles instead. Piles of glass littered the grounds and legislators banned it.

Hoye noted the second most asked question at the fair is ‘Where can I find a beer?’ and conceded it is a potential revenue driver that could also attract Hoosiers in their 20s that don’t attend the fair.

She also said some Hoosiers have expressed concern about the plan via Facebook and email.

“They are concerned it would jeopardize the integrity of the state fair and ruin the family experience,” Hoye said.

She opposed putting specifics in the bill, nothing the state fair commission and state fair board responsibly handle selling alcohol on the fairgrounds during the rest of the year.

Matt Bell, on behalf of Big Red Liquors, testified against the bill, saying the state legislature should set limits on things such as hours, advertising and more – not the appointed fair commission.

But a number of people testified in support, saying Indiana breweries and wineries are currently locked out of showcasing their products at the fair.

Marc Carmichael, of the Indiana Beverage Alliance, warned against specifically putting language in the law limiting the fair to selling Indiana wine and beer. He noted a U.S. Supreme Court decision that said states can’t discriminate against out-of-state producers.

nkelly@jg.net

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