Behind the bar at Lennie’s Restaurant and Brewery in Bloomington is a clear glass wall that gives view to a room full of several large silver brewing vessels. That is where, for almost twenty years, the Bloomington Brewing Company has brewed craft beers to be sold onsite at Lennie’s and distributed to other establishments in Bloomington. And for those nearly two decades, Bloomington Brewing Company — like all other Indiana microbreweries — has been prohibited from selling carryout orders of their beer on Sundays. But that’s about to change.
Effective July first, craft brew producers will join Indiana wineries in becoming the only businesses where Hoosiers will be able to take home their favorite alcoholic beverages on Sundays.
“We’re excited about it. We feel like we have a great potential to make new customers,” said Jeff Mease, CEO of One World Enterprises (of which Lennie’s is a part). Mease views the new exemption as a chance to introduce more customers to locally brewed beer.
“It’s certainly an enviable position to be in to be one of only two places in Bloomington where people can buy beer for carryout on Sundays,” he said.
Indiana is one of only three states that still enforce so-called “Blue Laws” that place limits on Sunday alcohol sales. Since 1982, wineries have been the only alcohol distributors exempted from the law, based on their classification as tourism destinations. For years, organizations such as the Brewers of Indiana Guild have lobbied the Indiana legislature to afford that same privilege to small local breweries. Charles Stanley, marketing operations manager for Bloomington’s Upland Brewing Company, said now that small breweries have been granted that privilege as well, they can anticipate an uptick in Sunday business.
“Brewery road trips are becoming more popular,” he said. “People who will take a weekend and just spend it visiting different breweries will be a lot more likely to do so in Indiana now that they know on Sundays they can take any beer that they’ve really enjoyed home with them. ”
Bloomington Brewing Company’s Mease agrees with that assessment, saying the new exemption will only be a positive for local Indiana economies.
“It’s a really good thing I think, just all around, for tourists, the economics in the community,” Mease said. “The dramatic effect that a dollar spent on beer to buy it from the Bloomington Brewing Company or Upland for that matter compared to buying a bottle of beer from, say, an Anheuser Busch product, brewed in St. Louis. Very little of that money stays in Bloomington. But when people spend a dollar at the Bloomington Brewing Company a dramatic part of that dollar stays in Bloomington. I’d say probably five to seven times the amount of that dollar stays in the area.”
Mease said that, while the new legislation does make the market for Sunday sales a bit more crowded, he doesn’t think owners of Indiana wineries should worry about any negative economic impact. Butler Winery Owner Jim Butler agrees.
“I don’t really see that it will have any impact on the wineries,” Butler said. “The beer people and wine people are somewhat different people. But I appreciate that they are doing a craft product locally produced and we support that.”
But there is still some opposition that exists to the extension of carryout Sunday sales to microbreweries. On March 24, the Indianapolis Star ran an editorial opposing the new exemption on the basis that extending alcohol sales to brewpubs gives individuals more opportunities to drink and in so doing, increases the threat of drunk-driving accidents. Lennie’s Owner and Chairwoman of the Indiana Restaurants Association, Lennie Busch, sees things differently.
I just really don’t see that,” Busch said. “The thing is that extending Sunday sales to microbreweries is for carryout only. So actually, they won’t have to sit in a bar and drink it and get in their car and drive somewhere. They can actually come to our place or Upland, pick up a growler or two, take it home, watch the football game whatever and stay at home. I mean, in some ways its probably better because on Sundays you have no choice but to go to a bar and drink. You have to get in your car and walk. You have no other option right now.”
Whether the new exemption for microbreweries is the beginning of a legislative shift toward to an all-out repeal of the prohibition of Sunday alcohol sales remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: this summer, both Indiana breweries and beer fanatics alike will raise their glasses to the latest change in the law.