Sun King Brewery, located in Indianapolis, Indiana
I have so many strong attachments to Indiana that I sometimes forget I’m not actually a Hoosier. My firstborn was born there and I received a degree from Indiana Wesleyan, oh and I work a lot with the world’s very best diesel manufacturer that happens to be located in Southern Indiana. With that pedigree, I just feel like I’m still a part of that state despite my home back in the Motor City . At a minimum, I’m certainly rooting for Indiana and their flourishing craft beer industry. It’s no secret, there’s a lot to root for.
Everyone seems to know about Three Floyd’s, which deserves their solid reputation, but there is just so much more to appreciate. As a member of the Sommbeer team I felt an obligation to show the rest of the world all that Indiana has to offer for beer. What better place to start my beer journey through Indiana then with Indianapolis brewers I reasoned. Sun King was on my list and when I received their invitation (thanks Beth Belange!) I jumped at the chance. I learned a lot that day about Sun King and their beer but what really stood out was just how much passion they have for their community and State.
I left my meeting to get back home one Thursday afternoon and jumped in my rental car. The Sun King address was plugged into my wazer account and I was soon looking for my beer destination. Some of these breweries tucked into the back industrial streets of large cities can be non-descript. Not Sun King. When you pull into their parking lot, the elaborate colors, banners and open seating area just scream – Welcome to our brewery! Please come in ! If I was new to craftbeer, I would not be intimidated to enter this establishment. Welcoming craft beer fans with an emphasis on all types both veterans and newbies was a common theme at Sun King.
When I walked in I was immediately greeted by Stephen Aspling, the Tasting Room Manager. Stephen was busy but welcoming and he in turn introduced me to Steven Franklin. Steven has been on the team for over 2 1/2 years. He gives tours of the brewery often and is so good at it that he teaches other employees how to give tours. Steven explained that when a brewery “student” is fully trained and ready to “graduate” they give a tour of the brewery to the head brewer. Now that would be intimidating.
Factoid: Sun King will never distribute outside of Indiana. They are committed to the state of Indiana alone.
The brewery has grown rapidly. They grew from one building and a 7 barrel capacity to a 3 building campus and 30 barrels. Steven and I walked outside to see one of their “beer towers”. This thing was big enough to offer shade from the afternoon sun.
Factoid: The employee that inked "Tom Brady Sux" on the bottom of thousands of Sun King cans, still works at the brewery.
We walked the brewery and I was confronted with a production schedule. For a moment I thought I was back home in a Detroit factory. Nope, these guys are serious about their operation. Team members and production schedules are tracked and managed for all to see.
Factoid: The Sun King operations team has 70 employees and 5 lead brewers.
Steven explained about the process to brew lagers (2 weeks) and ales (4-6 weeks). Beer warms up naturally when it ferments. Too much heat is not good for the yeast so they use an elaborate glycol based cooling system. The glycol never touches the beer of course, rather it circulates outside the tanks to transfer the heat way.
When fermentation is complete, some amazing things happen. The spent grain is given away to farmers (free) and the yeast is collected for re-use (smart). It’s clear that the Sun King team respects their community. From an environmental standpoint they even took steps to reduce fuel consumed by the trucks that distribute their beer. Take a look a the kegs in this picture and you will notice that the top and bottom colored flanges are made from plastic to reduce weight.
The beer is then sent through some amazing looking equipment for filtering. An apparatus called the “Bright Beer” filter spins the beer at 6,000 rpm for clarification purposes. At each step in the process, their lab technicians inspect the beer to…. wait they have a lab? Seriously, a brewery of this size with a lab team is impressive.
My tour was nearing an end but Steven had something special in mind. He asked if I wanted to see their barrel aging. Yes! He explained that the operation existed in a separate building by a brewer, Andrew Hood, that works by himself. The place was a little eccentric I will admit with a carnival horse at the front door to greet us. Oh and the brewers office space is located in an abandoned elevator shaft.
It sounds like prison talk. He broke a rule, had to be removed from population and now works in isolation. He is still breaking rules, making Sun Kings barrel aged beer. The operation has an impressive aging cellar and a dedicated bottling line. This is a serious venture for the brewery and I can’t wait to try some.
I ended my tour with one of their beers of course. It’s called “Diddy Muckle” and it’s really good (glad I could finally try one of their barrel aged beers). While sipping my beer I noticed the drinking area is in the middle of the brewery. I’d love to come back here on a Saturday afternoon. Actually a Friday would be even better as growler fills are an incredible value @ $6 !
Thanks Sun King for the visit and the beer. Thanks Indy and Indiana for supporting this wonderful collection of breweries.
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