Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

Opinion

July 3, 2014

Homegrown spirits return to state fair

INDIANAPOLIS – Mark Webb is counting on patrons of the Indiana State Fair to be better behaved this summer than they were in 1946, when a celebratory post-war crowd almost trashed the place.

The bad behavior of beer drinkers 68 years ago is what led the General Assembly to ban alcohol sales during the fair, with legislation signed into law by Gov. Ralph Gates in 1947.

Beer vendors apparently underestimated demand as the fair returned after a hiatus for World War II. They ran out of cups and had to sell beer by the bottle. The fairgrounds were soon covered with empty and broken bottles, imperiling fair-goers and livestock.

It must have been a bad scene. The 1947 legislation banning alcohol was numbered Senate Bill 1 – an indicator that it was top priority for legislators.

The General Assembly rolled back that law earlier this year, after craft brewers and artisan wine-makers convinced lawmakers that the punishment didn’t fit the crime.

“It was like swatting a fly with a sledgehammer,” said Webb, lobbyist for the Brewers Guild of Indiana.

Now Indiana is no longer just one of two states – North Carolina being the other – that ban alcohol at the state fair.

How did beer- and wine-makers convince Indiana legislators – who’ve barely budged on bans of retail sales of alcohol on Sundays and cold beer in grocery stores – to repeal the old state fair blue law? They convinced them that Indiana’s vineyards and microbreweries could claim the same bragging rights as other agricultural interests without opening the door to alcohol abuse.

Legislators and fair officials were careful to craft language that limits alcohol sales and boosts the Indiana products as an agritourism attraction.

“Indiana is creating a lot of high-quality wine, beer and spirits, and using a lot of Indiana agricultural products in the process,” said Rep. Ed Clere, a New Albany Republican.

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