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General Assembly

State Fair might offer beer, spirits

Idea sold as path to growth

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

State law specifically prohibits alcohol sales at the State Fair, although alcohol is sold on the state fairgrounds at events 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 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 older – akin to a beer garden.

There are 82 craft breweries and 73 wineries in Indiana.

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

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

Hoye said out-of-state breweries and wineries might be included in the future.

She told the House Public Policy Committee that the State Fair allowed alcohol until 1946 when, during Labor Day weekend, vendors ran out of cups and served alcohol in glass bottles instead. Piles of glass littered the grounds, and legislators later banned alcohol at the fair.

Hoye said the second-most asked question at the fair is, “Where can I find a beer?” She conceded that it is a potential source of revenue that could help attract 20-somethings who otherwise might not attend the fair.

She also said some Hoosiers have used Facebook and email to express concern about the plan.

“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, noting that the fair commission and State Fair board responsibly handle selling alcohol on the fairgrounds 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 locked out of showcasing their products at the fair.

Marc Carmichael of the Indiana Beverage Alliance warned against putting language in the measure that would limit the fair to selling only Indiana-made wine and beer. He also cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibits states from restricting out-of-state producers.

nkelly@jg.net

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