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.”


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