The law is a holdover from the post-Prohibition years when regulators were looking for ways to control the sale of alcohol.
“They had some reason to think people who wanted to drink beer would want the most potent beer they could find,” said Mark Webb, lobbyist for the Indiana Brewers Guild.
The law didn’t mean much when big national brand beers dominated the market, Webb said. The content of popular brands like Miller and Budweiser all hovered around 4 percent.
That’s not true of craft beers brewed by small, independent brewers who vary their ingredients, widely affecting both taste and alcohol content. Unlike in some states, there is no limit on the alcohol level of beer in Indiana.
The number of craft brewers in Indiana has more than doubled since 2010, when the General Assembly allowed micro-breweries to sell beer on Sundays. There are 82 now, with a dozen more in the pipeline, Webb said.
“Our members don’t want to be on the wrong side of the law,” Webb said. “It hasn’t been enforced in years, but who knows what would happen if some prosecutor or excise officer decided to use it to go after some bar owner or brewer?”
It’s not so far-fetched an idea. Last month, the Division of Liquor Licensing Enforcement in Maine decided to enforce a 1937 law banning bars from posting the alcohol content of beer. In response, state legislators vowed to repeal the law.
A spokesman for the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission declined to comment on the state’s prohibition of such advertisements and its lack of enforcement.
Craft beer makers and sellers aren’t complaining. They see the information as a service to customers.
“There’s a huge variance in alcohol content in craft beers,” said Danny Scotten, a Loughmiller’s bartender. “We don’t anyone to be surprised by a high-alcohol beer.”