Saturday, December 02, 2017

THE BEER BEAT: The pervasive fog of Hoosier regulatory wars.

On Friday, Indiana Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch was in town. State Representative Ed Clere organized a series of meetings in various locations, each addressing a different core topic.

Ed's been a noteworthy friend to Hoosier fermenters and distillers, and I appreciated his invitation to participate in the lunchtime session at Huber's Orchard, Winery and Distillery in Starlight.

The overarching topic of conversation was the ever-expanding intersection of beverage alcohol production, agriculture and tourism. Examples of places where these pursuits come together are farmers markets, special events and fests, and the floor plan of Huber's.

What is the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission's stance on regulating these activities -- and what will it be tomorrow?

Those are the questions.

Local alcohol makers sick of changing Indiana regulations, by Danielle Grady (Jeffersonville News and Tribune)

STARLIGHT — Rick Otey makes and sells beer, but recently he’s started to feel as if he deals in more dangerous goods.

“Sometimes I tell people, it’s like we produce weapons-grade plutonium,” he said. “That’s how it feels sometimes.”

Otey is upset by the regulations imposed upon Indiana brewers and distillers by the legislature. Those laws are sometimes reinterpreted without warning by the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, which enforces the rules and, in turn, affects Otey’s business.

Otey, along with several other craft brewers, winemakers and distillers voiced their concerns with the ATC to Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch on Friday when she visited Huber’s Orchard and Winery for a tour and lunch.

The commission declined to comment on this story through an email to the News and Tribune.

In the commission's defense, the Indiana's alcoholic beverage code is like an unkempt thicket. Each legislative session, new rules arrive for implementation, but old ones aren't always pruned. Even when intentions are good, there's an understandable necessity to make interpretations, then reinterpretations, then fresh new interpretations atop the previous patchwork.

Obviously, it isn't my job to absolve the ATC from blame for the shifting whims of its political appointees. But the entire regulatory edifice needs tearing down and building back into something rational for the present age, and toward this end, something called the Alcohol Code Revision Commission was created to consider recommendations for improvement.

There was media optimism as recently as November 25.

Alcohol changes yield winners, losers, by Scott L. Miley (CNHi Statehouse Reporter)

INDIANAPOLIS — Nearly 20 recommendations for alcohol-related legislation floated through a three-hour meeting recently of the Indiana General Assembly-created Alcohol Code Revision Commission.

Here is a breakdown of some preliminary drafts facing the panel that meets again on Dec. 1. Included are suggestions of winners and losers if legislation passes the General Assembly.

• Cold beer and Sunday sales: One preliminary draft of legislation allows a package liquor store, grocery store, convenience store or drug store to sell alcohol for carryout on Sundays. Beginning July 1, 2019, convenience stores, drug stores and groceries could sell cold beer.

Who loses: Package liquor stores, though they could be open Sundays, won't be the only outlets selling cold beer, as they are now.

Who wins: Hoosiers who forgot to buy a six-pack for a Sunday Colts game.

In between: In a unique partnership, the Indiana Retail Council (big box groceries) and the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers (package liquor shops) support Sunday sales but not the expansion of cold beer sales ...
A week later ... well, so much for that. In spite of opinion polls indicating overwhelming public support for cold beer everywhere at any time, it appears Indiana will remain the only state regulating beer based on temperature.

Effort to expand cold beer sales fizzles in tight vote by legislative commission, by Tony Cook (Indy Star)

The prospect of getting a cold six-pack at your local grocery store has once again fallen flat.

After a nail-biter vote, a panel working to revise Indiana’s alcohol laws will not recommend allowing pharmacies, grocers and convenience stores to sell cold beer — something that has long been the well-protected province of liquor stores.

The recommendation failed even though the vote was 8-7 in favor. That's because 9 of the 17 members had to vote in favor of the recommendation for it to pass. Two members — Gina-Gail Fletcher and Alex Huskey — were absent.

The tight vote was even more dramatic because one member — Judge William Boklund — switched his vote in the middle of the roll call, joining proponents of cold beer access.

The result was a big blow for consumers who want to be allowed to buy cold beer for carryout at convenience, grocery and drug stores. Right now, only liquor stores are permitted to sell cold beer for carryout in Indiana, with few exceptions.

Missing committee members, invasive lobbyists, back room wheeler-dealers; there's a complete panoply of underachievement to consider.

To me, the worst of it isn't the fix being in. It's that ongoing Sunday sales prohibitions and temperature-based considerations achieve nothing apart from treating adults like children.

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