Regulation of the Day 230: The Temperature of Beer

The state of Indiana regulates the temperature at which convenience stores may sell beer. Specifically, they must sell it at room temperature. Cold beer is forbidden. The law, unique to Indiana, is presumably motivated by temperance concerns. People can’t buy beer on the spur of the moment and it drink it cold right away. They have to take it home and refrigerate it first. Instead of instant gratification, people have to plan ahead. This promotes more responsible drinking habits, the thinking goes.

Then again, the law exempts wine sales. Any Indianan who wants to can buy a chilled bottle of wine from the local 7-11 and drink it immediately. Instead of keeping people sober, the law amounts in practice to discrimination against beer. Wine producers might not mind that so much, but nearly everyone else does.

Even so, a push to overturn the law in the legislature failed earlier this year. That’s why three convenience store chains are suing to overturn the law. The case is currently moving through federal court. An employee of one chain told WISH, a local television station:

“Thorton’s has not built a convenience store in Indiana since 2006,” said David Bridgers of Thorton’s convenience stores, “for the sole reason of its antiquated alcohol laws.”

So not only does Indiana’s warm beer law fail to promote temperance, it is directly hampering job creation in the state.

The plaintiffs also argue that Indiana’s room-temperature beer law is unconstitutional, violating the equal protection clause in two ways. One, the law only applies to convenience stores. Grocery stores and other types of retailers may sell cold beer. Different retailers shouldn’t be treated differently, they argue. Two, wine should not have an artificial competitive advantage over beer. Government’s job is to ensure that they compete as equals on level ground, not to tilt that ground unequally.

Scot Imus of the IPCA, a trade association for convenience stores, told a trade publication that “We are confident that the court will agree with us that it is not the job of government to pick winners and losers in the marketplace.”

Most Indianans are hoping he’s right.