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February 21, 2013

TAPPING A RESOURCE: State may loosen rules for microdistilleries; bill could help Huber’s

NEW ALBANY — The Indiana General Assembly isn’t ready to let Hoosiers buy booze at a grocery store on Sundays, but lawmakers may be willing to loosen up the state’s tight alcohol laws for artisans who craft beer, wine and spirits. 

Legislation to allow Sunday sales of carryout alcohol from retail stores died in the House last week. But several other alcohol-related bills are making their way through the legislature, all aimed at helping small entrepreneurs capitalize on the growing demand for “locally grown” drink.

They include a bill that would allow farm wineries to sell their products directly to retailers and a bill that would let the makers of craft beers sell their products at farmers markets and trade shows. There’s also legislation aimed at relaxing Indiana liquor laws to allow the creation of microdistilleries that would specialize in producing small batches of bourbons, whiskey, vodkas and gins. 

Following the model of farm wineries and microbreweries that have sprung up around the state, visitors to the microdistilleries would be able to sample the product or buy it by the glass or bottle. 

Backers of the bill see it a tool for tourism and economic development, and cite the success of neighboring states that allow small distilleries to sell their product on site. In Indiana, the handful of distilleries that now exist can only produce hard liquor for wholesale distribution to retailers. 

“This is an industry whose potential for growth is greatly limited by statute here in Indiana,” said Rep. Ed Clere, a New Albany Republican who authored what’s known as the “artisan distillery” bill.

Clere’s legislation passed out of the House with a big margin of votes, after it cleared the House public policy committee where the Sunday alcohol-sales bill died last week. 

The committee’s conservative Republican chairman, Rep. Bill Davis of Jay County, had blocked Clere’s bill in past sessions by refusing to hold a hearing on it. This time around, Davis let the bill get through, even though he voted against it.

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