Lebanon Reporter

March 29, 2014

Will beer, wine at state fair be win-win-win?

Lebanon Reporter

---- — During the most recent legislative session, lawmakers removed a 67-year ban on alcohol sales at the Indiana State Fair, and Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill into law; it will take effect July 1.I have mixed feelings about that; so I started digging into how it will work, and asking other people how they feel about it. Turns out, some of my Facebook friends have the same questions and concerns.

The move was cited as an opportunity for Indiana-based breweries and wineries to showcase their products. I’m glad someone’s lobbying for those businesses — the Hoosier state has many wineries and breweries making excellent products, and that number continues to grow. According to a news release from the office of Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis), who co-authored the bill, Indiana has 82 breweries and more than 80 wineries.

Both the wine and craft beer industries have organizations that promote them: the Indiana Wine Grape Council and the Brewers Guild of Indiana. Each has a slew of adult events and promotions. Are state fairgoers — a traditionally family-oriented bunch — the best audience for their products?Of the Facebook friends who responded to my request for feedback on the issue, the vast majority wondered why alcohol would be served at a family-oriented event — especially, as Karen pointed out, when there are so many other places to drink.

Beth asked, “When did the state fair stop being about the kids??”Lisa agreed, “...it’s about the children not a place for people to drink!!!”Ashton, in her 20s and not yet a parent, said: “The state fair is a place for young people to show pride in the work they have done, a place for families to enjoy and learn. Are we wanting to teach our kids that we just can’t have a good time without alcohol?”But Indiana State Fair Public and Media Relations Director Andy Klotz said, “We can’t ignore the beer and wine industry at the fair anymore. They deserve to tell their story like all other ag producers.”Fair enough. While the Indiana State Fair is progressive and avoids a major country bumpkin image, it is a showcase for Indiana agriculture as well as 4-H youth.

Klotz said the microbrew and wine industries are excited the General Assembly lifted the ban and are eager to be represented at the fair.

Several of my friends mentioned that even though most kids are exposed to people drinking alcohol, it’s generally in a more controlled setting — at a restaurant with their parents or maybe at a wedding reception.“I can’t imagine seeing adults drink alcohol at the state fair will have any more negative influence than the other ways they are exposed to alcohol,” Steve commented. “That said, there’s something about alcohol at a family event like the state fair that bothers me.”Marybeth commented: “Kids can’t drink. Parents should go elsewhere to do so.”Klotz pointed out that many family-focused venues, such as Disneyland, serve alcohol.“Being family-friendly is our hallmark, and we’ll continue to keep it that way,” he stressed.

According to Klotz, the North Carolina State Fair now is the lone state-fair holdout on serving alcoholic beverages. In Indiana, he said, there have been requests annually for many years by fairgoers who want to buy alcohol at the fair. Now, he said, those who want it can purchase it. Exactly how that’s going to work is still up in the air. Klotz said there will be a lot of planning to make sure it’s done right. One thing that’s certain so far, though, is that there will be only one place on the grounds for people to buy and drink alcohol. There are no specifics yet as far as what that area will look like or if it’ll be open for the duration of the fair or just part of it.“We’re going to have a beer and wine exhibition area,” Klotz said. “There will be one area on the fairgrounds this year. You must be 21 to enter, and alcohol will not be allowed outside the area.”That should alleviate a few worries. Hannah, a former 4-H’er and now a 4-H parent, had this to say:“I understand that Indiana has some fabulous wineries and breweries, and the chance to showcase them is a great one. And what a better place to do it ... but I don’t really like the idea of all the food vendors selling alcohol and people leaving trashed.”And let’s not forget the potential vomit and brouhahas. Drunk driving, fights, child neglect and kidnapping, and just plain annoying drunks were some concerns listed, not to mention increased costs and liability.

Cyndi said: “Who’s gonna be liable when a drunk assaults, harasses, or hurts someone? Surely responsible drinkers can wait until they are back home.”One of my friends has been a carnival worker off and on for many years. She put it into perspective this way:“In one respect, having a beer garden is safer than walking around with booze in a cup all night long, which happens frequently at fairs and festivals. If someone is drunk and wants to cause trouble, it is usually on the midway. If people want to believe there is no booze at the fair, they are badly mistaken. It has been there forever, so why not have it in a safe vicinity?“Do I think it should be allowed? No, but since it’s already out there why not have a safe place to do it? I would much rather know where most of the drinking is being done.”At the Iowa State Fair, according to Tracy, alcohol is available at a few places throughout the fairgrounds, and people can drink it while they walk around.“There are probably incidents that arise, but it’s never anything newsworthy,” she said, adding that the Iowa fair is considered one of the best.

Once the Indiana State Fair Commission has details mapped out, Klotz said, the plan must be approved by the Indiana State Fair Legislative Advisory Committee and, ultimately, the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission.“Whatever plan we decide on will be well-vetted and approved,” he said.

Although there’s been a ban on alcohol at the state fair since 1946, it’s been permissible to sell it at other events held at the fairgrounds, so Klotz doesn’t anticipate a huge increase in expenses or a difference in the way they do business.“We have a liquor license and sell alcohol at many other events, so nothing will really change,” he said. “We will incur some costs to make this a nice, comfortable, appropriate area because we haven’t had one before ... There might be a slight bump in security for that area.”Klotz said the beer and wine sales also have potential to add revenue to the fair’s bottom line. That’s certainly a plus, but I have to wonder if it’s even going to be worth it to the wine and beer vendors.

It seems to me it’d be more beneficial to promote Indiana wines and craft beers outside the state.

Klotz said there are out-of-state fairgoers, but the percentage is slim; 60 percent are from Central Indiana. How many of them will not be familiar with Indiana-made beer and wine?Like many of my Facebook friends, I have mixed feelings. I love the Indiana State Fair; I’ve attended from the time I was still being pushed in a stroller; I was involved annually as a 10-year 4-H’er; and I want it to continue to thrive.

By the same token, I love that Indiana is building a reputation for craft beer and wine. It creates value-added ag and tourism opportunities, and I want to see both industries continue to blossom. Since it’s a done deal, I hope fairgoers who choose to drink will be safe and courteous and that this partnership among the three entities serves to make them all stronger.

Andrea McCann is managing editor of the Zionsville Times Sentinel.