State Fair prepares to pop cork on alcohol sales

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Officials are working on plans to promote and serve Indiana beer and wine in the Grand Hall at this summer’s state fair under a law the General Assembly passed earlier this year.

The goal is in part to show Hoosiers how large the beer and wine industries are in Indiana as well as teach Hoosiers about how alcohol is created, said state fair spokesman Andy Klotz.

“Indiana is the home to the first successful commercial winery in the country—and our industry is growing every year,” said Jeanette Merritt, marketing director for Indiana Wine Grape Council. “We add at least five to eight wineries per year in the state.”

The beer and wine exhibition will be in the Grand Hall, which will be the only place people can purchase alcohol at the fair, Klotz said. He said the fair is still working through the legalities of offering national brand beer and wine as well.

Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, who has been pushing the change for years, said alcohol won’t become a distraction.

“It’s not going to interfere with 16,000 plus kids that participate in the fair through 4-H and FFA,” Leising said. “I think some people were worried. ‘Oh gee, what are we doing? Are we ruining a venue in Indiana that was intended for kids?’ But I think it will be very secure and isolated.”

Klotz said that not all the logistics and details have been worked out yet. However, a few specifics have been decided:

— Alcohol will only be available in an area restricted to those 21 years and older, and security will be on site.

— There will be a limit on the number of drinks per person.

— Alcohol will be available from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Proponents of the law say Hoosiers have been asking for years for the ability to purchase alcohol at the fair. And in fact, it used to be legal.

State officials banned alcohol at the fair back in the 1940s after vendors ran out of paper cups and patrons left glass bottles broken all over the grounds, Leising said. Instead of eliminating glass bottles, the legislature banned alcohol, she said.

“It seemed to me that we should not be short changing the people that are into microbreweries and vineyard business,” Leising said. “To better enable them to fully display their product, it only made sense to me to move away from the state law.”

And proponents say that makes sense with the fair’s overall agricultural theme.

“People don’t associate wine and grapes with agriculture in Indiana,” Merritt said. “I do think [the fair] will bring attention to the wine industry in the state.”



  • Comment to Lee
    Lee, Have you ever been to a Catholic Summer Fest? Almost all of them have a Beer Garden and I see many families enjoying a glass of beer or wine and they are not falling down drunk as you seem to think happens. Get real!!
  • What's the big deal?
    I attended the Festival of the Lakes a couple of years ago in Hammond, IN and the concept of the Beer Garden worked well there. The area was sectioned off outside, and adjacent to the main stage where concerts were. Upon exiting the Beer Garden, most of the food and game vendors were placed closest to the garden with rides placed on the other side of those vendors. Local police officers were there patrolling the area and no one got out of control from what I could see, even after having multiple drinks. Alcohol is served at family restaurants and clearly other festivals here in the state and there haven't been any problems. Spending time worrying and guarding from every little thing that could go wrong is not the way to go about life. This is just one of many state laws that should have been reviewed decades ago.
  • Excellent Idea
    The fair is for EVERYONE, not just families with kids, sorry. There is no reason visitors shouldn't have the option to responsibly consume alcoholic beverages, should they choose. As has been pointed out, the wine and craft brewing industries of Indiana are growing at a considerable rate. As one the very few State Fairs in the entire country that does not allow the sale of alcohol, I say its high time for a change.
  • State fair, not state park
    That should say state fair, not state park. Sorry.
  • No problems elsewhere
    I don't understand all those who think serving alcohol will ruin a family friendly environment. Cedar Point/Kings Island both server alcohol. Three out of four theme parks at Disney World serve alcohol. Heck, there's a drinking game at Epcot called drinking around the world. Universal Studios theme parks sell alcohol. And I believe I read every state park except Indiana (until this year) sells alcohol. It seems the thought in this state is if anyone consumes alcohol, they must be a drunkard.
    • Alcohol will NOT ruin the fair
      Before people rush to condemn this proposition they should let it play out. I grew up attending the MN State Fair where one of the main attractions is the BEER GARDEN. When I attended it was a simple building with tables strewn all around, cordoned off with portable stanchions and chain ropes. Access was monitored, adults were carded and if you were not of age you could not enter unless accompanied by an adult. Sure there was the occasional person who overindulged and I'm sure some underage folks were able to take advantage of the system. That happens everywhere. However, there were procedures in place to deal with these circumstances. Are people actually willing to argue that fair officials and law enforcement aren't smart enough to manage this? When properly managed a feature like this can be an asset, especially if the goal of promoting Indiana breweries and wineries is realized. Everyone just needs to relax and not be so afraid of change and improvement.
    • Protect you from what Lee?
      I could not help but nearly spit my water across the desk when I read the "2 beer max for the day", or "police everywhere with breathalyzers to protect us from the drunkards". Who do you associate with that acts like this after having a few beers, because I have never seen this before. Let's put it in context Lee, have you ever gone to a restaurant that also serves beer/wine with your family? Did that restaurant have a "2 beer limit" with diner? If not, were you and your family accosted by crazy drunkards? Was the parking lot an inevitable demolition derby filled with boozed-up crazies behind the wheel? Swing by my driveway after work, enjoy a few beers, and watch my insanity is somehow contained and my kids somehow play safely nearby as I imbibe on the drink.
    • what value to families
      One would hope that this would not happen. The last thing the State Fair needs is drunks wandering around and driving around the fairgrounds. If this happens,perhaps on entry instituting a 2 beer maximum for the entire day. Families don't need to see other drunk at the state fair nor attracting those who just want to drink to get drunk. If this happens, should have breatalizers with the police all over the place to protect those who do not drink, but just want to have a good family day at the State Fair. I think the negatives outweigh any revenues or positives. The values of the state fair as a family activity are eroded and become like going to a bar.
      • Bad Idea
        BAD idea. There will be regrets after the fair is over. I'm not anti-alcohol, just convinced that we don't need it at the fair. What lobby pushed this with Sen. Jean Leising

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