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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Indiana's Goofy Cold Beer Law Lives On

When you look out on the beer landscape, you see a lot of crazy shit. Some states have relaxed their laws and made it easier for small breweries to do business. But there are other states where the laws remain as antiquated as ever. Like Indiana.

It turns out the Hoosier state is one of the few places in the country where you cannot buy cold beer in grocery and convenience stores. That's right. If you want cold beer to go in Indiana, you have to buy it in a liquor store. Beer bought in standard stores is not chilled.

This policy has been a thorn in the behind of the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, which has lobbied for years to get the law changed. Frustration reached the point where they filed suit against the state in May 2013, claiming the law to be discriminatory because it allows cold beer sales in some stores and not in others.

The retailers did not win. This past Monday, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Indiana's goofy law. A three-judge panel unanimously ruled that the state has broad authority to design regulatory systems for alcohol distribution. In siding with the state, the panel said retailers would have to demonstrate that Indiana's cold-beer regulatory scheme treats members differently for no rational reason related to the state's legitimate interest. 

What "state interest" are we talking about? Funny you should ask..or wonder. Indiana's goofy law is fear-driven. Indiana officials are afraid that relaxing it would result in many more outlets selling cold beer, thus making it easier for minors to buy beer and more difficult to enforce the law.

This is a little hard to fathom, actually. Most states have some pretty simple laws on the books requiring store owners to check ID before selling alcohol to anyone who looks to be under a certain age. They obviously have that in Indiana, but they evidently feel retailers must be closely watched to make sure they enforce the law. And the state just doesn't have the manpower.

But, hey, Indiana isn't the only state with bizarre laws. Much of the old South is still fighting the Civil War while maintaining bizarre alcohol laws written long ago. Closer to home, Utah and Colorado have some rather odd laws regarding the sale of beer that clocks in above a certain ABV. This is what you get when you put the states in charge of regulating alcohol inside their borders.

Here in Oregon, our laws are pretty soft, but it hasn't always been so. For 50 years following Prohibition, we had a bizarre law that made it illegal to sell unpasteurized beer in stores. You could sell it in restaurants and bars, but not in stores. The law was ruled unconstitutional in 1985, around the same time brewpubs became legal.

I do not know how or if Indiana's goofy law affects craft beer or beer in general. They've got 100 or so craft breweries, so they're doing reasonably well in that department. But I have to believe allowing the sale of cold beer in all stores makes sense. It's been fairly successful elsewhere.

The only thing they have to fear is fear itself. And the bogeyman.

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