Why is it so hard to sell cold beer in Indiana?

Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Local beer and liquor laws are a pit of oddities, loopholes, exceptions, and head-scratchers, and Indiana has long claimed two of the strangest. The Hoosier State bans alcohol sales on Sundays and prohibits cold beer sales at grocery or convenience stores.

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Finally, lawmakers seemed close to amending at least one of these arcane laws as the The Alcohol Code Revision Commission met last Friday. Terre Haute, Indiana’s Tribune Star reports the commission voted 8-7 in favor of expanding cold beer sales (under current law, only package liquor stores can refrigerate beer). Though the commission voted in favor of expanding cold beer sales, nothing will change. That’s because the commission needed a majority of its 17 members to vote in favor of it. Two members were absent, so the recommendation will not be passed on to Indiana General Assembly. So, for now, convenience and grocery stores will keep selling you warm beer.

Why are some groups so opposed to cold beer sales in Indiana? Surely the pleasure of an ice-cold can on a hot day is a joy that transcends political boundaries. The answer, though, is a complicated tale of alliances and compromises. Liquor stores have always been able to sell cold beer, an advantage they guard closely. Refrigerating beer doesn’t just make your 30-rack of High Life taste more thirst-quenching, it actually keeps the beer fresher for longer. So when Indiana set up the Alcohol Code Revision Commission to evaluate liquor laws, grocery and convenience stores saw a chance to get in on the cold beer game. Of course, liquor stores were all: “Well, what can you offer us?”

The Indy Star reports that grocery stores then struck a bargain: They’d form an alliance with liquor stores to push for Sunday sales, but grocery stores would give up their bid for cold beer sales in exchange. Convenience stores balked at that and continue to push for cold beer sales.

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As for Indiana’s beer makers, they’re mostly staying out of the fracas.

“There’s nothing we can do to change people’s minds on this, so we’re trying to play nice,” Brewers of Indiana Guild executive director Rob Caputo tells The Takeout. “We’re supportive of cold sales from a quality standpoint. We would ideally like beer to go into a cold truck and ship to a cooler. It’s about longevity of beer and shelf quality.”

Despite the obvious quality benefits of refrigerating beer, the guild hasn’t taken a strong position on the cold beer debate. That’s because its 110 brewery members can sell cold beer (and beer on Sundays) from their taprooms. It’s a perk of their licenses, and an advantage that some breweries might like to protect.

“We’re in that awkward position of if we take sides, we’ll have our own membership complaining. We sent out a survey that’s out right now that gives us an idea of who’s got what position on Sunday sales just to see what the pulse of the group is,” Caputo says.

Until something gives or another compromise encourages liquor stores to budge on cold sales, enjoy your lukewarm brewskis, Indiana. Sunday beer sales, however, may be in your sights.

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Kate Bernot is a freelance writer and a certified beer judge. She was previously managing editor at The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

I can totally support the cold beer sales in grocery stores. There is one portion of it that I’m not happy about with Convenience stores.

In Texas, C-Stores are allowed to sell cold singles in an iced tub in excess of 24oz right by the register. I think this portion of allowance in the law is extremely irresponsible as it only promotes drinking and driving. Typical purchaser usually has a 12 pack in hand and a single(for the drive).

So, Grocery I get completely. Convenience Stores I can go for as well, but only if there is a provision in the law that it must be sold as a package (6/12/24 pack). Not available as a large size single right by the register.

Don’t care about Sundays. just like any other day to me.