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SaveOnBrew Exclusive Interview: Sun King Brewing Co-Founder Clay Robinson

02.26.2013 13:06 PM

Sun King Brewery was started by Clay Robinson and Dave Colt in 2009 -- and is now the third-largestCraft Beer producer in the state. They make three year-round beers and two new seasonal brews each month.

All year, you can find:

  • Sunlight Cream Ale (smooth, crisp, malty) - Silver Medal Winner @ 2010 World Beer Cup
  • Wee Mac Brown Ale (toffee, hazelnut) - Gold Medal Winner @2010 Indiana Brewers' Cup
  • Osiris Pale Ale (west coast hops)

Other times of the year, you may be able to find Sun King's hefeweizen, doppelbock, black IPA, maibock, fruit beer, marzen, Irish stout, oatmeal stout, lager, Belgian-style ales, rye IPA, bourbon barrel-aged, coffee cream ale, raspberry stout, or anything else that strikes the brewers' fancy. These specialty beers have earned dozens of medals at teh Great American Beer Festival, World Beer Cup, and AmeriCAN Canned Beer Festival. You can find Sun King beers at over 500 bars, restaurants and liquor stores in Indiana.

SaveOnBrew:How did your passion for beer ignite?

Clay Robinson: When I was in college, I worked at an English Pub and after every shift you could have a shift beer! During my regular college life, all that was available was cheap yellow beer, so the opportunity to choose from eight drafts and over 50 bottles of import/craft beer was a welcome change. Every shift I would try a different beer and it really broadened my horizons!

SOB: What experiences were most valuable in learning and perfecting your craft?

CR: I believe that all experiences are valuable. It’s just as important to learn from your mistakes as it is from your successes. I have had the opportunity to know and brew with a lot of really talented brewers and I try to glean something from every one of them.

SOB: Tell us how your favorite beer came together.

CR: My favorite beer is our Osiris. It’s the beer that Dave and I designed and brew because it’s what we want to drink! We started a conversation years ago about how to really make hops shine in a beer. The original batch was solid, but not quite where we wanted it, so over time we continued that conversation and I think Osiris does a great job of showcasing both Cascade and Nugget hops -- without overwhelming your palate.

SOB: What was the last beer you had that really impressed you – and what characteristics made it so intriguing?

CR: During the GABF we visited Crooked Stave and I was really impressed with their line up. They have a few beers that are blended with Kombucha that really took me by surprise. I have experimented with Kombucha at home and often thought about trying to work it into a sour beer program, so it was awesome to taste my thoughts!

SOB: You recently decided to package your beer in cans. We agree that cans are a superior vessel, but what do you say to people who insist that there is a 'tinny' or 'cheap' taste to canned beers?

CR:'Canned beer taste' is all in people’s heads! If you are picking up a metallic flavor, odds are that it’s part of a pre-conceived notion. Cans have a food grade liner that keeps the beer from coming in contact with the beer, period. I generally reference a great article by Bon Apetite Magazine where they did blind taste tests and 9 out of 10 people chose the canned variety of the beer in question.

SOB: What would you say are the most common mistakes people make in brewing?

CR:Too many ingredients. People love to throw everything they’ve got at a beer. They think, 'If two hop varieties are good, then obviously 5 varieties are better!' I learned early on that simplicity could offer clean, crisp flavors. That’s not to say that there isn’t room for complexity; it’s just that you need to make sure the flavors complement each other, rather than muddy things.

SOB: How would you describe the life of a brewer?

CR: Cleaning... scrubbing... and then more cleaning.

SOB: What would people be most surprised to learn about the secret world of beer brewing?

CR: We don’t really just drink beer all day!

SOB:What's the beer scene of Indianapolis like?

CR: Indy has a thriving craft beer scene! There have been a number of breweries open in the past few years and even more on the horizon. We have a lot of great craft beer bars/restaurants and a lot of places that have been increasing their number of taps in order to carry more variety.

SOB: What are the biggest challenges and rewards in operating a microbrewery?

CR: Every day has a new surprise! I thought opening a brewery was difficult, but in reality, managing a growing brewery has even more challenges. I think the best part is that, at the end of the day, there is always a beer waiting for you at the end of the day.

SOB: What’s next for you guys?

CR: We’re getting ready to start releasing ‘The King’s Reserve’ -- which is a series of small batch bourbon barrel-aged and sour beers. We’ve got more tanks coming in between now and summer to keep up with demand. We’re also planning an addition to our building sometime next year that will allow us to continue to grow.

For more information, visit www.SunKingBrewing.com or follow the company on Facebook.

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