After a 70-year dry spell, visitors take to state fair's new beer and wine exhibition

After a 70-year dry spell, visitors take to state fair's new beer and wine exhibition
Katie Souders pours samples at the Beer and Wine Exhibition at the Indiana State Fair. Taylor Irby/ BSU Journalism at the Fair
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On Sunday afternoon, roughly 60 adults lined the sidewalk in front of Grand Hall at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. They waited patiently for 1 p.m. to hit and doors to open for tasting in the Beer and Wine Exhibition.

They had been waiting seven decades. Indiana banned alcohol after the 1946 fair, when Indiana vendors ran out of plastic cups and visitors trashed the grounds with glass bottles, making it unsafe for people to walk. Until this year, Indiana was one of just two states (the other being North Carolina) not selling alcohol at its fair. It took approval from Gov. Mike Pence and the legislature to bring beer and wine back.

“We had to get it passed, and that took a lot of work,” said Indiana State Fair program and exhibits manager, Ashleigh Burakiewicz. Organizers wrestled with how to stage the event safely, limit drinking, cap the percentage of alcohol in drinks served and most importantly, preserve the fair's family atmosphere.

Now in its first year, the exhibition showcases local microbreweries and wineries and has drawn more than 10,000 visitors.

And that exposure is wonderful, said Kimberly Doty, owner of French Lick Winery. The fair itself has taken care of the hard work for them by buying their product and serving it for them, so they can enjoy talking to people.

Customers who came through the exhibit said they loved the idea of having a beer and wine tasting. There was a little confusion when they first entered about how the process works—a system of wristbands and sample cups—but as they explored, they understood.

“It's great,” said exhibit patron Gary Knight of Greenwood. “It's great to promote local breweries,”—of which there are nearly 90 in the state.

Denny Newman, the exhibit's operations manager of the exhibit, said public reaction has been phenomenal, from both patrons and participants. Even the bartenders said it's been a great experience—crazy, fast-paced days for them, but a relaxing getaway from Midway chaos for visitors.

Lauren Hughes is a writer for BSU Journalism at the Fair, a Ball State University immersive-learning project placing 25 student journalists at the heart of the Midway to tell the weird and wonderful stories of the 2014 Indiana State Fair.