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Proposal to allow alcohol sales at fair still on tap

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Following heavy debate, the sale of alcohol at the Indiana State Fair continues to be a possibility.

People on both sides of the issue, including those on the State Fair Commission, Indiana alcohol producers, and those opposed to the change, discussed a tentative plan Wednesday on how the State Fair would sell its first alcoholic beverages since the 1940s. Indiana is one of only two states that prohibits alcohol sales at its state fair.

Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, the bill's author, said he intentionally gave the State Fair Commission complete control in developing a plan that would suit both sides.

“(This change) may be controversial,” Merritt said. “There are no instructions for the State Fair Commission because I trust them to create a plan that is very tight, regulated, and one that will promote Indiana products. There is a good plan being crafted there.”

Cindy Hoye, executive director of the State Fair Commission, told the committee the fair would follow the “Disney Model.” She said this model creates “a very safe environment and doesn’t shout ‘come have alcohol.’”

The intention of the commission, Hoye said, is to have an Indiana wine and beer exhibition. Fairgoers would be able to sample and drink the beverages. They would also be able to see how the Indiana microbrewery and winery industry affects the state’s economy.

“It would be a very transparent plan,” Hoye said. “We are not locked into anything presented. We need to flush out the right plan.”

Senate Public Policy Committee Chairman, Ron Alting, said he supports the addition of alcoholic beverages at the fair, but expressed his concern about craft brew’s alcohol content.

Alting said the average microbeer has twice the alcohol than a typical beer and he believes this fact should be something the commission considers when making its final plan. He warned the commission if they did not consider the alcohol content of the beverages being sold, there could be a lot of drunken people at the fair. This would have an effect on the desired “family-friendly environment” many fairgoers appreciate.

Clay Robinson, an owner of one of Indiana’s largest microbreweries, Sun King, and president of the Indiana Brewers Guild, addressed Alting’s concern and said regulating what beers could be sold should not be a problem.

“You can completely monitor (the sales) so that you’re not selling beers that are 8- or 9-percent [alcohol],” Robinson said. “You can make sure you don’t over-serve people. I’m looking at (this as) more of an opportunity to display products and a way for people to sample beers. You’re going to move a lot of people in and out, so limits are a great idea.”

While those in favor of the bill say alcohol sales can be controlled and will not negatively affect the fair environment, those opposed, including the not-for-profit Drug Free Marion County worry about a “slippery slope” and the message the community receives if alcohol is allowed at the fair.

Randy Miller, executive director of Drug Free Marion County, said there are consequences that come with serving alcohol.

“Other state fairs that sell alcohol have reported issues of DUIs, public intoxication and disorderly conduct,” Miller said. “Ten percent of the alcohol sales at the Texas State Fair are to underaged customers.”

Mark Webb, a representative for the Indiana Brewer’s Guild, said Indiana microbrewers just want an opportunity to showcase their products.

“It’s a great opportunity for Indiana products to be showcased in an event attended by more than 1 million people annually,” Webb said. “This would result in increased attendance at the fair. People will stay longer and spend more money. It’s a win-win situation.”

The bill awaits further discussion in the Senate.

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  • Texas State Fair
    I challenge Randy Miller's statement that ten percent of the alcohol sales at the Texas State Fair are to underage customers. Unless there is no enforcement at all, that number has to be grossly overestimated. If there was even minimal enforcement, and the number was truly that high, making arrests for underage drinking would be easy; come on, one out of ten purchases to underage customers?
  • Here's "a very transparent plan":
    1) People who go to the fair who want to drink beer should buy it from 2) people who make beer and want to sell it at the fair. Then, 3) people who go to the fair and don't want to drink beer shouldn't buy it and 4) lawmakers should do their job and focus on legislation that helps our children and/or our economy.
  • No Alcohol
    Where is the money coming from to push this? I'll let you guess. The whole thing stinks. There is no need to serve alcohol at the fair. Please contact the State Fair Board and tell them to back off!
  • Mischaracterized
    I was a homebrewer for many years and am quite familiar with the craft beer industry, not only in Indiana, but nationwide. There are a couple of points which should be emphasized here. First, most people who enjoy craft beer do so for the quality, not the quantity. The reason you(rarely)see an inebriate in a pub brewery is because people aren't in there trying to get drunk. Second, craft beer is comparatively expensive at $5-7 per pint. Drunks gravitate toward cheap sources of alcohol and prefer quantity over quality, which explains the advent of the Jaegerbomb. My prediction is that sooner or later, my favorite, the India Pale Ale will be available on a stick, deep fried and dipped in chocolate, as State fair tradition mandates.
  • One more before I ride the tilt-a-whirl
    We have a great state fair, that to me, looks very well attended. I go every year with my 4 children, and it is a very family friendly environment. I can't see where adding beer sales would add any benefit to the "fairgoing experience". I could see an exhibit allowing small sampling, in order to help tell the story of our local "craft" beer industry, but anything beyond that is a mistake. Now that there is a "craft" brewery every 1.2 miles in Indy, if you want craft beer, stop on your way home from the fair and pick up a growler.
  • Who do these people think they are?
    So Randy Miller thinks he knows what's best for me regarding where and when I drink a beer? And though Ron Alting thinks its OK that I have a cold one sometimes, he's concerned about what kind of beer I can have? Maybe these guys can follow me around next time I go out to eat - I'm not sure I can control myself if they aren't there!

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