Beer, alcohol sales added to the State Fair

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A fruity drink may be the featured food at this year's Indiana State Fair, but it's the alcoholic drinks getting all the attention.

A 67-year ban on alcohol sales is coming to an end, but there will still be strict regulations on alcohol consumption at the fair. Beer and alcohol sales and consumption will only be permitted inside the Indiana Beer and Wine Exhibition at the Grand Hall on Main Street just west of the Grandstand, which will have a capacity of 500 people.

Even with the restrictions, opponents are concerned about the impact alcohol will have on the family atmosphere. Fair officials said they are well aware of those concerns, which is why they're enforcing strict rules and regulations on where alcohol can be consumed and how much each person can have.

"People will come and they'll get carded right away. You must be 21 to enter [the exhibition]," explained Andy Klotz with the Fair. "You'll get a wristband if you do plan to get a drink...and there will be a three drink limit."

Each drink will cost $5.00. Beer will be served in 12 ounces cups and wine in five ounce cups. Beer and wine tastings will also be allowed with smaller sizes. Because of those smaller sizes, multiple tastings will count as a single "drink" toward each patron's three drink maximum.

The Indiana Beer and Wine Exhibition will feature craft beer and wine from 40+ Indiana breweries and wineries with different ones featured on different days. The Triton Brewing Company in Lawrence plans to supply the fair with 40 kegs of two of its most popular craft beers.

"We're thrilled," said Triton co-founder David Waldman. "It's exciting. It's a statewide crowd."

Triton opened three years ago. Waldman said being at the Fair will help promote the growing craft beer industry as well as individual breweries like his.

"The easiest way to get our product in front of a retailer is when a customer that shops there comes in and requests our beer," Waldman explained. "So here, we'll have all these customers who should got back to their communities and request products that are really locally-owned and made."

But not everyone's thrilled with the Beer and Wine Exhibition. Nancy Miller has a concession stand that sells turkey and chicken. She's anti-alcohol and doesn't look forward to having her stand next to the Grand Hall.

"Ninety-nine percent of shootings involve drinking or drugs," said Miller. "All you see are problems. It's the reaction of people, how they react when drinking."

Klotz said maintaining a family atmosphere is paramount for organizers.

"We're wanting to have a controlled and safe environment," said Klotz, noting they will have "security people inside and at the door" with "all servers trained and able to cut off anyone who's had their limit."

Because this will be the first year allowing alcohol of any kind, Klotz said organizers will ask for a lot of feedback to make sure it's a good experience and to make next year's fair better.

Organizers also hope beer and wine will eventually be a revenue generator but Klotz said, "We really don't know what to expect at this point because this is so experimental. We have expenses to set up the exhibit, but those are one-time, so we'll have a better idea going into future fairs."

The last time Indiana allowed alcohol sales at its state fair was in 1946. Vendors ran out of cups and turned to bottled beer and fairgoers left behind a mess, according to Klotz, so lawmakers said, "No more."

Last year, Indiana and North Carolina were the only two states that had no alcoholic sales at their state fair. Now, North Carolina is the only one.