By Brian Howey
INDIANAPOLIS — If I’m gonna go to the Amazon, I’m going to pack and pack tight, take a first aid kit, mosquito netting, a hammock, a Sears poncho, rations, trail mix, potable water and … cold beer.
As the General Assembly’s Alcohol Code Revision Commission met recently, mayors from Indianapolis and Fishers, along with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, were dreaming of Amazon’s HQ2, a $5 billion, 50,000 employee, high-wage gem. Analysis from the New York Times and others place Indiana in the mix along with dozens of other cities until “quality of life” and “mass transit” come into play.
With this plum capturing site selector fantasy, Indiana is plunging into a debate about where carryout cold beer can be sold and whether it should be available Sundays beyond Big Woods, Upland, Mad Anthony and dozens of other craft breweries springing up across the state. In 49 other states and the District of Columbia, the temperature of beer sales is unregulated. Indiana is the only state that bans retail beer, wine and liquor sales Sundays.
The decision on where to locate Amazon’s second headquarters will be made at the current HQ in Seattle (a city with a departing gay mayor), located in a state with liberal alcohol laws, legalized recreational marijuana, and the sprawling and admired King County Metro Transit. Heed that corporate mindset.
Amazon is literally, by the hour and day, changing the retail face of America with its vast online sales that include four large warehouse operations — one called a “fulfillment center” — here in Indiana. It is experimenting with drone deliveries of its products.
The site selectors and human resource managers will at some point get beyond Indiana’s forte of centralized location, ample real estate, low taxes and cost of living, a critically acclaimed international airport, workforce, research and development (tee up IU, Purdue, Notre Dame and Rose-Hulman), legacy (native and transplanted Hoosiers invented the automobile, airplane, TV, 2 percent milk, the Hoagy, tomato juice and subsequently the Bloody Mary) and concentrate on such quality of life.
We are a state where fruit-based beverages can be sold cold in convenience stores, but malt/barley based brews go out the door warm. “Our stores can sell Angry Orchard cold but we must sell Reds Apple Ale warm,” said Matt Norris of the Indiana Petroleum Marketers. “There may be a difference in how the products are made, but the vast majority of consumers see them as interchangeable.”
Patrick Tamm of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers posits that cold beer is a “dangerous product” that only the liquor stores are responsible enough to sell.
Can you say “nanny state?”
The fascinating contrast between alcohol being a “dangerous product” and the work of a separate legislative study committee that wants to allow anyone to walk on the streets with a loaded handgun without licensure is the obvious moose on the table. At some point during the 2018 session, legislators could be faced with preventing convenience stores from selling cold beer, while they vote to eliminate handgun permits.
As one observer noted: “Say what you will about the ill effects of alcohol on health and drunk driving, a loaded handgun has the power to do a lot more damage a whole lot quicker.”
Some observers in the lobby believe there will be changes, most likely Sunday sales, as signaled by State Sen. Ron Alting earlier this summer to the Lafayette Journal & Courier. But the pound of flesh exacted could well be cold beer sales relegated to liquor stores, and not Ricker’s, Thornton’s or the growing fleet of Amazon drones.
Here’s how the American Conservative observes our straddling the centuries, with C. Jarrett Dieterle citing the “missed opportunity to reform the state’s infamous ‘cold beer law’” while underscoring “the cronyist forces Indiana reformers are up against” when the General Assembly and Gov. Eric Holcomb clamped down on Ricker’s which found a loophole to sell cold beer along with its convenience store tacos and burritos.
Dieterle continues, “Although nearly every state has outdated and arcane alcohol laws, Indiana’s cold beer law stands out as one of the most bizarre.”
According to an Associated Press analysis, liquor-store interests have contributed more than $750,000 to Indiana lawmakers since 2010, underscoring the power they were able to exert in the state capitol. Dieterle notes: one lawmaker even stated that voting to revoke Ricker’s ability to sell cold beer ‘goes against every grain in my free market body,’ but then turned around and voted for the legislation anyway.
He concludes: “Rather than spending their time defending anachronistic laws and targeting convenience stores that want to sell cold beer, Indiana should fix its booze laws. After all, no one likes warm beer.”
Except, perhaps, the Brits, but George Rogers Clark took care of them a couple centuries ago.
Forbes Magazine observes of 20th century alcohol codes: “Most are unjustified relics. Too often, the motivation to put and keep many of these restrictions in place has nothing to do with public health or safety concerns. Instead the ultimate purpose is to protect politically well-connected stakeholders from competition. In the process, these protectionist regulations also inhibit industry expansion and economic growth.”
Like cold beer here in the age of Amazon, when all the retails rules are changing.
Brian Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at howeypolitics.com. Find him on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.