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A visit to Sun King Brewery (Indianapolis, IN)

My craft beer hobby has been an embarrassment of riches lately, with trips to Sun King, Flat 12, a Craft Beer Party, etc. As a result, a few things I’ve meant to share with my fellow beer geeks have been neglected, one of which is the road trip to Indianapolis that Jeremy (Fiddler’s Hearth) and I went on the week before The Beer Is Good at Fiddler’s Hearth.

The road trip consisted of three brewery stops, starting with Sun King, then Flat 12, and finally Barley Island. Our visit to both Sun King and Flat 12 was incredible, so I plan to do two separate posts on them to cover each in detail. The mission was to drive from South Bend to Indy to pick up kegs of Sun King beer to have on tap at Fiddler’s Hearth. Once we had the kegs, we intended to make a very quick trip to Flat 12 before heading home. We planned to spend about a half hour at each brewery… it didn’t exactly work out that way.

Opening in 2009, Sun King is the first full-scale production brewery in Indianapolis since the Indianapolis Brewing Company closed in 1948. In just a couple of years, they have become the 3rd largest brewery in Indiana while rocking the 2011 Great American Beer Festival by bringing home 8 medals for their beer! For those of you keeping score at home, that’s placing in nearly 20% of every category!

So anyway, we expected to taste a few of their beers and bring back two kegs for the pub. Upon arrival and finding our way into the tasting room, our dreams of drinking a full pint of refreshing brew after the long drive were smashed. Apparently, and I knew this but had forgotten, full pints cannot be sold in a brewery without food also being available. This meant that we were tasting their lineup in shot glass sized cups, one at a time. While waiting for our pours to be brought over to us, we watched as a new 90 barrel fermenter and a bright tank were installed. It’s always fun to witness a brewery expanding right before our eyes!

We sipped and discussed each of the beers available, starting with their house beers which consisted of Sunlight (Cream Ale, 5.3%), Wee Mac (Scottish Ale, 5.3%), Bitter Druid (ESB, 5.8%) and Osiris (Pale Ale, 5.6%). The only Sun King beer I had experienced prior to this visit was Osiris, when it was on tap at “The Pub” in Granger, IN. What I began to notice about their lineup was that each beer was solid, flavorful and refreshing. I wasn’t blown away with any of these four, but instead I was impressed with how drinkable each one was. These beers had zero pretension, they won’t coat your mouth like motor oil, nor will they burn off your taste buds. In my opinion, these four are perfect for socializing, drinking with friends and enjoying good beer without snobbery. Trying to convert a Bud-Miller-Coors zombie into a Craft Beer drinker? Have them try Sunlight or Osiris, and watch as they realize that there is so much more to beer than the “fizzy yellow stuff” they’ve been accustomed to.

Next up was their season/specialty lineup, which typically gets my attention at most breweries. Available at the time we were there was Colt’s 444 (Malt Liquor, 6%), Rathskeller (Amber, 5%) and El Gallo Negro (Black IPA, 7%). Colt’s 444 was the first malt liquor I’ve ever had from a craft brewery, and first of its kind since a bottle of Olde English about 10 years ago; I was surprised at how good it was! Colt’s 444 was a refreshing lager with a thin, sweet corn body. Not something I would typically go for, but I liked it. After the shot of malt liquor was the Rathskeller Amber. Although I didn’t take specific notes on any of the beers, I remember this being a very good, caramelly sweet amber, a beer I hope to see on tap around South Bend in the future.

Last up, or so I thought at the time, was El Gallo Negro. Black IPAs are quickly becoming one of my favorite styles, which unfortunately can be hit or miss. A few of the best representations that I’ve tasted include Anger from Greenbush, Hop in the Dark from Deschutes and 15th Anniversary from Stone… add El Gallo Negro to that list! The Black Rooster has great hop aroma, combined with a very nice roasted malt backbone, ending with a bitter slap in the face. Jeremy agreed that we should bring a keg of this back to Fiddler’s Hearth…

We were done within a half hour, decided to get the invoice for what ended up being 5 kegs (we went there for 2) and move along to our next stop, until Debby (Office Manager, rockstar) realized Jeremy was from a restaurant, and we were planning a huge craft beer bash just 3 days later… What started out as a good time began snowballing into one of the coolest experiences I’ve had while exploring this hobby! When I asked if they had anything they would like us to pass out to patrons for the party while Sun King beer was on tap, they generously supplied us with tons of stuff!

While they were pulling the schwag bags together for us, Jeremy and I were hanging out with guys involved in Sun King sales, Eric and Dustin. These guys represent the brewery well with their passion for beer and great hospitality. With CanFest in Reno quickly approaching, the brewery was preparing some of their brew for the event, one of which they cracked open for us to try; Jungle Room. Jungle Room (Imperial IPA, 10%) is a twist on their Grapefruit Jungle, with guava, peach and grapefruit notes. This totally hop-forward beer was nothing short of incredible! There are only a handful of beers I would drive further than an hour for, this is one of them.

After a larger pour of our brew of choice (more El Gallo Negro for me), Dustin set out to give us a tour of their brewery. If I didn’t know any better, I would say this brewery has been open for at least 5 years based on how large and efficient their operation is. With an eye toward expansion, Dustin talked about increasing the footprint of their brewery, along with continuing to pump out more amazing craft beer. Of course I had to ask, when will we see Sun King is South Bend? According to Eric, every time discussions around branching out come up, it seems like another local burst in demand for their beer occurs. Instead of spreading themselves too thin, they have opted to continue to supply those that helped get them to this point, the Indianapolis market. Although this is a bummer for South Bend, I certainly applaud their loyalty, and still hold out hope for their beer further north.

So what started as a quick trip to Sun King to pick up two kegs, turned into a great experience hanging out with the employees of the brewery, tasting amazing beer and bringing back five kegs for the patrons of Fiddler’s Hearth. We appreciate the hospitality we were shown while there, along with the great schwag for the event and the tasty specialty brews they poured for us. Consider Jeremy and I the newest in a long list of fans!

By the way, if you’re interested in trying beer from Sun King, check out Fiddler’s Hearth while it’s still flowing, because once it’s out, it’s out… or until our next road trip!

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