- Sun King employees past (Owen Thompson, left; Ross Bercot, center) and present (assistant brewer Jon Clampitt) enjoy canned brews at Sun King's inaugural CANvitational in 2013.
Sun King's chant of "Yes we can" has had a double meaning for Indiana's vibrant craft beer industry over the past five years.
Yes, they've led the way for craft beer in cans, making a bold decision in 2010 to eschew glass bottles.
And yes, when they officially brewed their first batch on July 1, 2009, they became the city's first full-scale production brewery since 1948.
They weren't the first modern-era Hoosier craft brewery — we number them the twenty-fifth to open in the state. But they did buck a certain trend.
Following the signature opening of Broad Ripple Brewpub in 1990, the tendency in the state was toward founding brewpubs, not craft breweries.
But that trend changed post-Sun King, and Indiana now has 89 craft breweries.
READ: A 2010 cover story on Sun King's first year of operations
Not that Sun King's leadership — co-founders/brewers Dave Colt and Clay Robinson with co-owners Omar Robinson, Andy Fagg and Steve Koers — has neglected those who came before them.
"We're standing on the shoulders of John Hill," says Colt, referring to the founder of Broad Ripple Brewpub, who set a precedent for neighborhood-building, philanthropy, distinctive branding and camaraderie across the craft industry.
Following Broad Ripple Brewpub's lead, Sun King was founded with a commitment to consistent quality, a well-thought-out business plan and a mission statement addressing the greater good. Their motto, Fresh•Local•Beer, sums up those key tenets quite nicely.
"We set out to make Indianapolis a destination place," says Robinson. "So if people like our beer when we share at a brewers event elsewhere, I invite them to come here, visit our museums, stay at our hotels. When visitors see what we have to offer they are impressed. We work with community partners to help bring visibility to them."
- Stephen Simonetto
- Sun King co-founders and brewers Dave Colt (left) and Clay Robinson celebrate a NUVO Best of Indy win in 2010.
Sun King's website lists some 200 of those community partners, including Broadway in Indianapolis (for whom they've created brews inspired by shows like Jersey Boys and The Addams Family), the Indianapolis Museum of Art (remember their Matisse-inspired Biere de Fauve?) and the Indianapolis Indians (Victory Field's Popcorn Pilsner uses popcorn from craft makers Just Pop In).
With the inaugural CANvitational in September 2013, Sun King took another giant step forward from their bold 2010 decision to be among a handful of craft brewers to can, not bottle. Over 30 breweries came from across the U.S. to share their canned brews on Georgia Street. CANvitational 2014 is on Sept. 20.
READ: A 2010 feature on Sun King's decision to join the "beer can revolution"
And in 2011, Sun King did something no other brewery had done before, winning eight medals at the Great American Beer Festival, including four Gold, three Silver, one Bronze. To date Sun King has earned 19 medals from the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup, in addition to honors at the Indiana State Fair Brewers Cup Competitions.
Sun King initially set achievable goals, made sure they had sufficient funding to function and grow, and tested every decision against their mission. "Everything we do has to fit for who we are," summarizes Robinson.
Over five years Sun King has created 100 jobs, expanded its plant and contributed significantly to the economy of greater Indianapolis and the state. "If you want to be a community leader, you've got to support those who share your vision," points out Robinson. "Sun King is proud to continually work with hundreds of organizations that help achieve our mission of enriching Hoosier lives one pint at a time."