House Bill 1298 – What You Can Do To Aid in Its Passage and Help Indiana Craft Beverages

House Bill 1298 – What You Can Do To Aid in Its Passage and Help Indiana Craft Beverages

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

We haven’t said much about alcohol legislation in Indiana recently. The Sunday sales law was pretty much the last big thing to come down the pike besides the establishment of Indiana Rye Whiskey last year, but there is a bill now under consideration that is important for breweries, wineries, and especially artisan distillers. What’s in the bill is important, but what’s more important is that you, the Indiana craft beverage fan, can do something to increase its chances of passage.

HB1298 started in the Indiana House of Representatives a few weeks ago, and has already passed through committee and in the House itself.  It’s now being debated in the Senate, but even if it passes, you know that won’t be the end of it. So what does HB1298 offer to Indiana craft producers and drinkers?

Hard Truth Distillery worked hard to get legislation passed in 2021 that defined a true Indiana rye Whiskey. image credit: Hard Truth Distilling

There were several provisions in the original bill, some of which have already been removed to become their own bill in the future. Basically, one provision states that breweries/wineries/distilleries would be allowed to freely sample and sell their products at farmers’ markets (with some volume limits for samples). As of today, if a craft producer wants to display, sample, sell their products, they must request one of their 45 trade show/exposition/festival permits. Current Indiana law only allows a producer 45 days a year to do public tastings/sales outside their taproom/tasting room.

Many producers like to participate in farmers’ markets, but this limits the other kinds of shows they can do. The new legislation, if passed, would allow unlimited participation in farmers’ markets, thus allowing them to use their 45 exposition permits for different kinds of events. This is important to the craft beverage industry because so much of what they have to sell is based on two things, 1) taste, and 2) ability to interact with the consumer and get their story known.

The second major provision of the current legislation is to reduce the 18 month waiting period for an artisan distiller to open their own tasting room to six months. Craft brewers and holders of farmhouse winery permits (for wine, cider, and mead) have been allowed for a long time to open a taproom/tasting room as soon as they were permitted, but up until a few years ago, distillers HAD to sell their product in distribution for 3 years before they could open a tasting room. That period was reduced to 18 months a couple of years ago, but still, it hinders the growth of a brand significantly to ONLY be able to sell in package stores and through a distributor to bars.

Like stated above, it’s different if you own a small brewers permit first. If you are a craft brewer with a taproom or brewpub and then decide to get a distiller’s permit, you can open a tasting room immediately, no waiting. That’s one of the reasons you see so many breweries and wineries in Indiana opening distilleries (Chesterton Brewery/Duneland Distillery, Quaff On! Brewing/Hard Truth Distilling, Donum Dei Brewstillery, Black Circle Brewing, 18th Street Brewing & 18th Street Distillery, Windy Ridge Winery, Huber Winery/Starlight Distillery, Cedar Creek Brewery, Winery & Distillery, Mad Paddle Brewstillery, Monkey Hollow Winery, etc).

Moondrops Distillery is now selling product in distribution. image credit: Moon Drops Distillery

I learned about this legislation through Mark Taylor, co-owner/head distiller at Moon Drops Distillery in Fortville. Moon Drops opened in 2021, but are not scheduled to be open a taproom until December of this year. That’s 18 months of missed opportunities to develop a clientele, to make regulars. Many businesses have a hard time surviving this period, and even if they can, it hinders growth for years. I asked Mark about the legislation and he had some additional information:

What was the third provision of the bill, the one that has been removed? The craft manufacturers hospitality permit would allow craft distillers to have a duel license for trade shows in the industry, I believe this part is being pulled and put into a different bill.

Did you have anything to do with drafting the legislation? I did not have a hand in drafting the legislation other than answering questions from members that were drafting the bill.

Is this the first time this has been proposed? There was another bill in last year’s session HB1396 that would have eliminated the waiting period for distilleries completely. The bill looked very promising to pass and was squashed last minute with the only reason given as “making sure that artisan distillers aren’t making dangerous or bad products or having bad practices.” That’s a ridiculous argument because the product is still allowed to be sold through a distributor for those 18 months, and no other craft beverage industry has to follow this waiting period. This was a very big upset for us as we were excited to potentially have the opportunity to open a room that can help share our product with the consumers as well as generate needed revenue for a starting business. Senator Alting had concerns with alleviating the waiting periods previously. When we heard that there was an opportunity for this to be decreased again we had to do something to get involved.

What kinds of things can Indiana craft beverage drinkers do to aid in passage of this legislation? The biggest thing that craft beverage fans can due is reach out the house of representatives and their local state senators to help pass this bill. Encourage them that the industry is providing needed jobs in the community as well has helping draw visitors to our great state. We’ve been able to create amazing legislation in craft distilling with Indiana Rye Whiskey passing last year in the hopes we can generate tourism throughout the state similar to the Kentucky bourbon trail.

We need to contact people at the statehouse to increase pressure to pass HB1296. image credit: Indiana Statehouse

Indiana has some amazing roots in distilling and we’re grateful to have the opportunity to continue that history. The biggest things that people can say to legislators is that Indiana should open up the opportunity for equal treatment for all craft alcohol manufacturers. This will further build the amazing community of craft beverage manufactures throughout the state.

What is the timetable for the bill now? The bill is currently going to be voted on next week in the senate.

The bill that passes the senate (IF it passes the senate) will most definitely be different from the bill that passed the house. As such, it will need to go to conference committee to iron out the differences. And since the conference committee bill will be different from the bill that passed either chamber, both the house and the senate will need to vote on it again. If it passes all that, then it will go to the governor’s desk for his signature.

What this all boils down to is that there is time for you (all of you) to make your feelings now and to encourage your particular legislators to support the bill. You can reach out to your representative, your senator, the governor, or the sponsors of the bill, Rep. Ben Smaltz and Rep. Edward Clere.

Duneland Distillery is having soft opens now (mid-January), because Chesterton Brewing already has a small brewers permit – they don’t have to wait 18 months. image credit: Duneland Distillery

Mark Taylor of Moon Drops states that Sen. Ron Alting is an important vote in the balance for this bill, so it couldn’t hurt to reach out to his office as well. According to a website called FollowTheMoney.com, State Sen. Alting receives more donations from alcohol distributors than any other sitting state Senator – this might suggest why he needs to hear from all of us about this legislation. Use the suggestions for things to say in Mark’s answers above when you do contact legislators, or talk about how and why you feel this legislation is important to further the craft beverage industry in Indiana.

You can find the names and contacts for your state legislators at http://iga.in.gov/legislative/find-legislators/, while Sen. Alting’s contact information is Senator.Alting@iga.in.gov, 317-232-9400 (Senate switchboard). Alternatively, you can call the Indiana House of Representatives switchboard at 317-262-9600.

Moving forward to make Indiana law more amenable is important to the entire craft industry, which is in turn important to countless people on the state. By 2020 numbers, Indiana craft breweries alone account for more than 1.7 billion dollars in economic impact and over 8000 jobs (direct, many more when counting secondary work).

As Mark said to me, “Indiana has a storied history in distilling, to be part of the future is amazing. These rules don’t need to just be changed for the sake of Moon Drops Distillery, but for any distillery to come in the future. As for the Moon Drops Family, we want nothing more than to show you our thanks by opening the doors to our amazing facility.”

1Comment
  • Gayle Brandt
    Posted at 14:43h, 24 January Reply

    I say pass the bill

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