INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana State Fair kicked off its 17-day run on Friday with a menu that includes alcohol for the first time in nearly 70 years, although there are limits on how much fairgoers can drink.
A state law that took effect in July opened the door to the first beer and wine sales at the fair since 1946, when fairgoers littered the fairgrounds with discarded and smashed beer bottles after vendors ran out of paper cups. State lawmakers angered by that episode banned alcohol at the fair the following year.
Until the ban was lifted, Indiana was one of only two states — along with North Carolina — which barred state fair alcohol sales.
The first fairgoer to have a drink was 67-year-old Ed Swafford, of the eastern Indiana town of Liberty. He tried a Bavarian-style ale and declared it tasty.
Swafford said he's not a big beer drinker, but he wanted to be first just for the novelty of it.
"I drink one or two beers a week so this will hold me for a while," he said as he finished off his ale.
Only beer and wine is available and it must be consumed inside the fairgrounds' Grand Hall in an exhibition space that features some of Indiana's craft beers and wines. The drinks cost $5 per cup or $5 for four tokens good for samples of beer or wine. Fairgoers are limited to three beers or three glasses of wine apiece, or up to 36 ounces of beer or 15 ounces of wine.
The Indiana Beer and Wine Exhibition will be open from 1-9 p.m. daily.
About three dozen people were waiting to get into the Indiana Beer and Wine Exhibition when it opened Friday.
Mark Burke, a 34-year-old from Noblesville who drank three beers, predicted that the beer and wine space will be popular.
"The way they're policing it, with everyone's got three servings and that's it and keeping it in here, I think that's great. But it's also going to be great exposure for all the local brewers and wineries," he said.
The featured breweries and wineries will change daily.
State Fair spokesman Andy Klotz said fair staff will be keeping watch on drinkers in the hall to make sure the three-drink limit is observed to prevent incidents of public drunkenness. Fair officials will be seeking feedback from fairgoers to determine if the fair's approach to alcohol sales might need to be tweaked in coming years, he said.
"We're just making sure the family atmosphere is preserved out here because that's the most important thing to us," Klotz said. "We don't really expect it's going to be a big issue, but we've got people and procedures in place."