NABC vs. Floyd County Health Department Hearing is July 25

louisville beer - NABC vs health department

Anti-Floyd County Health Department poster, anyone?

Roger Baylor reports over at his blog that in the New Albanian Brewing vs. Floyd County Health Department saga, a hearing is set for the department to hear Baylor’s appeal of a temporary food permit citation forced on him and other vendors back in June.

Forcing beer vendors to obtain a temporary food permit, Baylor says, was unprecedented; in addition, alcohol is not governed by local departments of health in Indiana. (See: State of Indiana Food Handling Certification Rule.)

In the latest turn of events, the department of health set a hearing for Thursday, July 25, at 5:30 p.m., but did not alert Baylor by mail, as required. In his blog post, Baylor says he found out by way of his attorney.

This tactic flies in the face of the appeals process, according to the department’s own policies. Baylor posted these two passages from said appeals policy:

“Upon the Health Officer’s receipt of such request, the Hearing Board shall hear the matter in an open hearing after at least five-days’ written notice of the time, place and nature thereof.”

and

“The notice of the hearing date shall be served upon the operator requesting the review by delivering such notice to the address of the bed and breakfast establishment, retail food establishment or temporary food establishment listed on the permit application or by facsimile or to such other address (if within Floyd County), as the operator shall designate in the letter of request to the Health Officer. Such delivery may be made by leaving the notice at the required address or by regular U.S. Mail.”

You know, it’s pretty sickening to watch a government agency at any level pull this kind of crap. This has all the elements of a good old-fashioned pissing match, with one major problem: One party is clearly right, and the other is clearly wrong. So, what’s the health department’s motivation now? Is it the $20 they’ll get from Baylor for every food permit he is forced to obtain? Or is simply another strong-armed cover up?

Baylor also reports that his request for records of previous permit citations has not been fulfilled, which suggests the health department knows its sudden governance over beer-pouring is unprecedented and, in fact, flat-out unsupported by any sort of law. But god forbid they admit that in an open forum.

Assuming Baylor’s appeal will be unceremoniously denied, file this one under “You Can’t Fight City Hall.” It doesn’t matter if you’re right and they’re wrong.

More on Indiana’s Fight Over Dry Sundays

louisville beer - no given sundayIn a recent post, I lamented the continued inability to purchase beer in Indiana on Sundays. I haven’t lived in Indiana in years, but I continue to feel my former Hoosier brethren’s pain when they want to buy a six-pack on any given Sunday. It simply can’t happen without bouncing across state lines.

NPR chimed in this week with an article that takes a similar stance to mine, focusing on the fact that it’s actually the liquor store owners who want Indiana to remain dry on Sunday, as well as wanting to keep cold alcohol sales exclusive to liquor stores. The liquor stores’ position is that Sunday is such a busy shopping day anyway that shoppers would simply by-pass their stores and simply pick up their beer at Wal-Mart or Kroger. Eventually, it would put these small operations out of business, since packaged beer sales are among their top revenue drivers.

Meanwhile, convenience store owners, who have filed a federal lawsuit after legislation to change the liquor laws failed yet again (it didn’t even make it to committee vote), are calling foul.

“You don’t have choice. You don’t have competition,” Scott Imus, who heads the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, told NPR. “We’ve done extensive price surveys at liquor stores and find that they add either $1 to $2 on a case of beer, on cold or warm. I mean, Subway doesn’t charge more to heat my sandwich.”

After I posted my thoughts on the matter, Todd Antz, who owns and operates the Keg Liquors in Clarksville and New Albany, sent me a private e-mail to set a few things straight on behalf of liquor store owners. Basically, changing the state’s liquor laws, he fears, would threaten to make Indiana liquor stores extinct, which is reasonable fear to have for a small business owner.

First off, he noted that this year’s legislation did not make it to a vote because there was so little support among lawmakers behind the proposed changes. “They did not want to embarrass the bill writers by having their bill slammed so badly,” Antz noted. “Happens all the time.”

While the Indianapolis Post editorial I referenced in my previous post called it out as special interest leverage behind the old laws staying intact, Antz said that notion “could not be further from the truth.”

He explains, “We do have a good working relationship with several members, but you have to remember that we are fighting the pockets of companies like Kroger, Wal-Mart, oil companies, Meijer, etc. Their pockets are insanely deeper than ours. They also do a heck of a marketing job, making it seem like we are the big boys keeping the common guy down from buying a six-pack, when all they are trying to do is kill off the small businesses. Liquor laws have protected us in ways the local grocery stores, pharmacies, and hardware store were not, and look where they are. All gone. It’s a simple power play that has not worked so far for them.”

Antz said the liquor store owners commissioned a study by a Ball State University economist in recent years that showed allowing Sunday sales alone would put 25 percent of the locally owned liquor stores out of business. Cold beer sales would equate to a 50 percent loss of those businesses, Antz said.

“Just the Sunday Sales alone would cost the state over 3,000 jobs,” Antz says.

When I suggested that stores like his, which are heavily involved in the community (see: Fest of Ale) and carry far more variety than a Kroger would ever stock, should be poised to survive the changes, Antz responded:

“As for variety in stock, we might survive the chains getting cold beer and Sunday sales, but it would surely hurt the bottom line. I use most of the money we make selling the domestic stuff to pay for rent, utilities, etc, and the craft products help with the extra things we do in the community. Take away the basics, and it makes life a lot tougher to do the extra stuff, and to simply take the money away from local businesses (you have to be an Indiana resident for 5 years to own a package store) and stick us with only chain alternatives.”

Fair points all. The convenience store trade group seeks declaratory judgment and injunctive relief to overturn the current laws, which have been in place since 1963. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said he will argue that the law reflects the wishes of state lawmakers.

It will be interesting to see how the suit is settled. While it stinks for my Hoosier pals to not be able to buy package liquor on Sunday, I know they also wouldn’t want to see businesses like Antz’s be negatively impacted. Who would?

Maybe Hoosiers should simply go to their local Indiana brewery and pick up a growler, which actually is legal on Sunday. The beer is better than what they’d get at Thornton’s anyway.

Indiana Craft Beer Month at Fireside

fireside bar - louisville beerNeil and Patty Smith run a quaint business in Sellersburg, Ind., called Neil & Patty’s Fireside Bar and Grill. Good food, cozy atmosphere, the works. And thanks to their dauther Lauren Smith, who is the general manager, they also have pretty sweet selection of craft beers as well.

It took me more than halfway through the month to make a visit, but my pal Rob and I stopped in to enjoy conversation about baseball and music, while also knocking back a couple. I decided to try everything on tap, even the stuff I was already familiar with. (Luckily, Fireside is more than happy to pour you a two- or three-ounce sample.)

Here’s a roundup of what’s on tap currently:

New Albanian Tafel Bier: 5% ABV, IBU 12. It’s a super light (for NABC, at least) Belgian style brew, with lots and lots of malts. Lots. A tad nutty, with a nose that has a faint sourness to it. Interesting, to say the least.

Three Floyds Gumballhead: 5.6% ABV, 35 IBU. It had been a while since I’d had Gumballhead, brewed in Munster by Three Floyds. It was less hoppy than I’d remembered with more fruity overtones. What a great summer beer this stuff is.

Bloomington Brewing Company Quarrymen Ale: 5.8% ABV, 34 IBU. This was my favorite tap of the night. I tend to love dry-hopped ales, so this one is right in my wheelhouse. Not too hoppy, but still has a bitter presence, if that makes sense. The fruitiness leans toward citrus. I could have had 10 of these, but sadly, I had to drive home.

Sun King Sunlight Cream Ale: 5.3% ABV, 20 IBU. This smooth and, well, creamy ale ended up being Rob’s favorite. Another high quality choice for summer. It’s easy on the hops, but has a great crisp finish and smooth maltiness. Your mom could drink this one.

Oaken Barrel Indiana Amber: 5.3% ABV, 28 IBU. I was never a big fan of Oaken Barrel beers, but that could be because my ex and I used to go there when we’d visit her mom in Indy. Sigh. I don’t miss those days. But this is nevertheless a solid amber ale with a nice caramel quality to it and little bit of a bite. (If you want bite, though, I’d recommend the Oaken Barrel Superfly IPA.)

Flat 12 Pogue’s Run Porter: 5.5% ABV, 34 IBU. Dark, chocolaty and with a big coffee flavor, this one is probably more of a winter beer for my buds. Regardless, this is really just a great-tasting porter. For you Guinness lovers, imagine a Guinness stout times 100. Different styles, technically, sure, but there’s your reference point.

Daredevil Lift Off IPA: 7% ABV. You gotta like any brewery that touts its “aggressively fun beers,” and this one certainly lives up to that tagline. It’s a West Coast-style IPA (think Sierra Nevada) with lots of American hop bitterness and what I perceived as a physical tingle at the back of the palate. In my notes, I wrote, “Sooo delicious. But be careful.” Oh yeah, and Daredevil has the coolest tap handles in the state, bar none.

Anyway, check out the Indiana brew specials while you can. Also, if you like country fried chicken livers, you should check out my Taste Bud article in LEO. Fireside has some of the best I’ve ever tasted.

No Given Sunday (in Indiana)

louisville beer - no given sundayBack in the late 1990s when I was a reporter and page designer for Louisville Eccentric Observer (now known as LEO Weekly), I had to work every Sunday morning/afternoon in preparation for Tuesday’s deadline. During football season, my routine was to go home afterward and watch football the rest of the day with a six-pack of beer at my side.

But in those days, I lived in Jeffersonville, Ind. This meant making sure I stopped in downtown Louisville to get beer before crossing the river after work, because everyone in the Midwest knows you can’t buy beer on Sunday in Indiana. (Yes, I am one of those who has experienced going to Mike Walsh Liquor & Beer on Market on a Sunday afternoon, and noting that three fourths of the vehicles bore Indiana plates. Shame the Louisville Beer Store wasn’t around back then.)

This year, a bill was proposed in Indiana that would have allowed Sunday alcohol sales at grocery stores and other retail shops, but Rep. Bill Davis, chairman of the House Public Policy Committee, wouldn’t let a committee vote on it. And so, my Hoosier friends will continue to envy me the fact I can, after 1 p.m., buy beer on any given Sunday.

What is particularly annoying, I think, is that Indiana’s continued refusal to allow Sunday sales, along with cold beer sales in grocery stores and convenience stores, has nothing to do with the Sabbath and antiquated ideals, but rather everything to do with the special interests of the package liquor store lobby, which has deep connections with members of the Indiana General Assembly. It isn’t about God; quite simply, the liquor stores are afraid of the competition.

“Allowing Sunday sales would be a slow death,” Raymond Cox, owner of Elite Beverages, told The Indianapolis Star. “Allowing cold beer would put us out of business overnight.”

Here’s what I have to say about that: I live in a Louisville neighborhood that has a Kroger, multiple convenience stores, and a CVS where one can easily buy cold beer and (at the drugstores, at least) wine and liquor, on any given day, including Sunday. And yet, Gary’s Liquors, which is surrounded by these businesses, continues to thrive, even adding a drive-through lane within the last two years.

Are Kentucky and Indiana apples and oranges? I have to believe Gary’s survives by offering a wider selection of craft beers, quality wine and liquor. Unlike at Kroger, Thornton’s or CVS, which typically carry big distributor brands only, I can walk into Gary’s and know I can pick up a six-pack of Falls City or Bluegrass Brewing Company beers. (And really, even with Kroger’s mix-and-match deal, wherein you make your own six-pack of “craft” beers, one of the choices is Landshark. The hell?)

Well, this long-running idiocy (five decades and counting), as you probably have already heard, has prompted a lawsuit. Not sure you can fight a state government leaders who have an agenda, but it will be interesting to see if this gets anywhere. Past efforts have been similarly stifled, although at least they gave Hoosiers a way to get a growler to go on Sundays, so maybe there’s hope for change.

Meantime, my condolences continue to go out to my Indiana friends who may want to enjoy a six-pack on a Sunday evening. Keep on doing your package beer shopping on Saturday, and keep those fingers crossed.