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Monday, March 10, 2008

Grape Vodka, Anyone?

When my family moved from Virginia to Indiana and I began teaching at Notre Dame, we knew that living in the Midwest would present a cultural change from the D.C. area.  We learned of one unanticipated adjustment on a Sunday afternoon when my family was grocery shopping.  We wheeled the cart up to the cashier, loaded with vegetables, fruit, cereal, and an innocent-looking bottle of red wine for dinner.  The teenaged cashier looked at us in shock and informed us that, of course, we could not buy wine on Sunday.  Chastened, my husband returned the bottle to the wine section of the grocery store and we learned our lesson.

Indiana has a variety of temperance-era laws restricting the sale of alcohol.  You cannot buy it on Christmas, Sundays, or election days before the polls close.  You cannot buy it between 3:00 A.M. and 7:00 A.M.  You also cannot buy hard alcohol (but can buy beer and wine) at grocery stores that do not have a pharmacy.  Indiana recently enacted daylight savings time, though, and on the day when the time "sprung forward" a few days ago, sales were allowed until 4:00 A.M.

It turns out that around 19 states have so-called "blue laws" that prohibit alcohol sales on Sunday, although advocacy groups estimate that such laws result in lost annual tax revenue of over $36 million in some states.  Alcohol-control laws vary widely from state to state, ranging from Kansas, which only legalized alcohol in 1948, to Louisiana, where I grew up with drive-through daiquiri stores.

The topic of alcohol in Indiana actually has a fascinating history, which intertwines with the Civil War, the early roots of the political parties, splits between religious denominations, fights between the "wets" and the "drys," and the Ku Klux Klan. Indeed, the Prohibition Party had conventions in Indiana until 1959, was on the ballot until 1968 (when it gained .22% of the vote), and had headquarters in Indiana until 1971.

While the temperance laws still exist, views on the topic may be coming full circle.  Capitalizing on the microbrew boom, microdistilleries have been developing in the Midwest and some liquor laws are being relaxed.  An article in the Times featured the owner of a distillery in southern Indiana who helped draft an Indiana law that allowed the operation of artisanal distilleries.  As he reports, "I can’t make whiskey, but can make anything that would come from raw ingredients for wine. I’m experimenting with grape vodka now."  The man’s distillery and winery attract 500,000 tourists annually.

I haven’t heard of any movement in Indiana to repeal the temperance laws.  Maybe that’s just as well, because I’m in no hurry to buy grape vodka on Sunday or any other day.

Posted by Amy Barrett on March 10, 2008 at 10:05 PM | Permalink


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Bootleggers and Baptists! One of my favorite anecdotes in this regard comes from Willie Morris, who grew up in Mississippi and became editor of Harper's magazine in the 1960s. In his autobiography, he writes: Mississippi was a dry state, one of the last in America, but its dryness was merely academic, a gesture to the preachers and the churches. My father would say that the only difference between Mississippi and its neighbor Tennessee, which was wet, was that in Tennessee a man could not buy liquor on Sunday. The Mississippi bootleggers, who theoretically operated "grocery stores," with ten or twelve cans of sardines and a few boxes of crackers for sale, stayed open at all hours, and would sell to anyone regardless of age or race. My father could work himself into a mild frenzy talking about this state of affairs; Mississippi, he would say, was the poorest state in the union, and in some ways the worst, and here it was depriving itself of tax money because the people who listened to the preachers did not have the common sense to understand what was going on.

Every so often there would be a vote to determine whether liquor should be made legal. Then, for weeks before, the town would be filled with feverish campaign activity. People would quote the old saying, "As long as the people of Mississippi can stagger to the polls, they'll vote dry." A handful of people would come right and say that liquor should be made legal, so that the bootleggers and the sheriffs would not be able to make all the money, and because the state legislature's "black-market tax" on whiskey, a pittance of a tax that actually contradicted the state constitution, was a shameful deceit. But these voices were few, and most of the campaigning was done by the preachers and the church groups. In their sermons the preachers would talk about the dangers of alcoholism, and the shame of all the liquor ads along the highways in Tennessee and Louisiana, and the temptations this offered the young people. Two or three weeks before the vote, the churches would hand out bumper stickers to put on cars; in big red letters they said, "For the sake of my family, vote dry."An older boy, the son of one of the most prosperous bootleggers, drove around town in a new Buick, with three of those bumper stickers plastered on front and back: "For the sake of my family, vote dry."

Posted by: Stuart Buck | Mar 12, 2008 10:23:02 AM

Also: DiVine is made from locally-grown grapes.

For more information:


Posted by: S. Duvernay | Mar 11, 2008 4:53:06 PM

Don't be too quick to judge your liquor based on its unconventional origins. DiVine Vodka was selected Chicago Magazine's "Best Vodka" in 2007, besting Belvedere, Grey Goose and Ketel One.

Distilled and bottled an easy Sunday drive from South Bend at The Round Barn Winery southwest Michigan, DiVine is (I'm told) a favorite in the local community.

Posted by: S. Duvernay | Mar 11, 2008 4:49:03 PM

In Massachusetts, if you sell alcohol, you can only have three outlets. Hence, the big retailers like Shaw's or Costco can only have it in three stores. As a result, there is a thriving industry of small beer and wine shops.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Mar 11, 2008 3:59:57 PM

And then there's Pennsylvania where I grew up -- you can only buy wine at State-operated stores. You can imagine what the selection is like!

Posted by: Amy | Mar 11, 2008 3:49:36 PM

Tennessee is even nuttier: You can buy beer, but not wine, in grocery stores. Liquor stores can sell only wine and hard liquor -- and "only" means "only": no non-alcoholic mixers, no corkscrews, no beer, no wineglasses, nothing. Liquor stores are closed on Sundays, but you can buy beer: at the grocery stores and restaurants after noon

This is also true of New York (or at least it was when I was growing up and as recently as 10 years ago when I last lived there). When I went away to college (in Maryland) I was stunned to find beer sold in liquor stores, and even more stunned to find liquor sold in drug stores.

Posted by: eric | Mar 11, 2008 1:47:04 PM

Tennessee is even nuttier: You can buy beer, but not wine, in grocery stores. Liquor stores can sell only wine and hard liquor -- and "only" means "only": no non-alcoholic mixers, no corkscrews, no beer, no wineglasses, nothing. Liquor stores are closed on Sundays, but you can buy beer: at the grocery stores and restaurants after noon, but at the football stadium after 11 AM. You can buy also buy wine (by the drink or th bottle) and hard liquor (by the drink) from restaurants after 11 AM. And you can only own one liquor store in the state. And Jack Daniels is made in a dry county, so they can't give tastings -- although a few years ago they got a special legislative dispensation to sell bottles at the distillery, but only bottles that cannot be found in liquor stores (so they label them differently). There's more -- but isn't that enough? Most of it is due to the joint efforts of the liquor wholesalers (there are 3 in the whole state) and various anti-alcohol religious fundamentalists.

Posted by: Suzanna Sherry | Mar 11, 2008 12:29:04 PM

Another odd one - Hoosiers can go out to bars on Sunday, but not purchase in a store to take home. Soooo...I can start all the bar fights I want and drive drunk, but none of that "drinking wine over dinner at home" stuff.

Posted by: Jonathan | Mar 11, 2008 8:37:32 AM

Another Indiana fact. You cannot buy cold beer in a grocery store. To get it cold, you have to go to a liquor store.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Mar 11, 2008 5:02:11 AM

Amy . . . another Indiana rule that bugs me is the "no kids in bars, even with their parents" rule. This plus the Sunday no-sale laws . . . sounds like the beginning of a party platform. . . .

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Mar 10, 2008 10:28:53 PM

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