12 questions with the owners of Sun King Brewing

Clay and Dave in front of a mural

Clay (left) + Dave (right) at their downtown location. | Photo by INDYtoday team

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This piece is part of our Q+A series. Do you know someone we should interview? Nominate them at hello@theindytoday.com.

In honor of Drink Up Week, we took some time to chat with Dave Colt + Clay Robinson, proud co-owners of one of Indy’s most ubiquitous breweries, Sun King Brewing. We also got to sample the Caramel Corn Beer they’ve created for the Indiana State Fair, which had just the right amount of sweetness. The brewery has locations in Indy, Fishers, Carmel, Kokomo, Mishawaka, the airport, and… Sarasota, FL. More on that later.

You have a lot of different flavor combinations that are intriguing. How do you come up with those ideas?

Dave: The ideas and thoughts come from all different angles. Sometimes out of the ether. Sometimes you have a conversation with your local state fair and they want you to make a beer.

Tell me more about that. Have you collaborated with them in the past?

Clay: Yeah, they kind of hit us up and were like, “Hey, we’re thinking about the fact that the State Fair can sell beer. We really want to drive buzz around it and you guys clearly make a vast variety of things.” I remember the day Dave came to me and said, “Let’s make a beer with popcorn.” So we made a beer called Popcorn Pilsner. And then later he comes in and wants to make a beer that tastes like chocolate cake. And I’m like, “Are you crazy? You’re crazy.” So we’ve done a lot of fun things.

If Indy were a beer, which would it be and why?

Clay: It would be the Sunlight Cream Ale. It’s the official beer of Indianapolis. It’s our most medaled beer. [...] We designed it for this time of year in July and August. It was our first summer seasonal and it sold so well and people loved it so much that we decided to make it all the time. Now we’ve converted it into an orange vanilla version, we’ve got strawberry lemonade, watermelon, tropical punch… we’re trying to give it a little more life with some lively new flavors.

Which three Hoosiers (living or dead) would you like to see walk up to your bar?

Clay: On a weird old-school level I would like for James Whitcomb Riley to come hang out and have a beer.

Dave: I would continue with the written word and go with Kurt Vonnegut.

Clay: Honestly, David Letterman. Dave, if you’re listening or reading this, please come and visit. Oh, add Bob Ross to the list.

Dave: Knute Rockne, coach at Notre Dame. He was in Indiana for a long period of time and was a very influential person in my life, being from South Bend. And Madam C.J. Walker, the first female millionaire.

Dave: Sunlight Cream Ale is our number one seller.

Clay: Our brewery staff drinks Pachanga like water when they’re done with work. And honestly, our Pachangarita because when people see it they’re like, “What? A margarita with Pachanga in it? And you make your own tequila? How is this a thing?”

What’s a favorite event you’ve hosted in the past and what do you have coming up?

Clay: We used to do an event called the CANvitational back before canning beer was a thing that everybody did. We invited our friends from breweries around the country and brought in around 30 different breweries to share beers that weren’t available in Indiana.

Dave: Secondary to that is probably GenCon because we host a beer garden out on Georgia Street and man, is that a lot of fun.

How did you decide to open a location in Florida?

Dave: Florida started, very simply because our VP of Sales moved here from Florida with his wife and she made it one entire Indiana winter before she said, “Joe, I love you, but I’m moving back to Florida.”

Clay: He’d lived in Sarasota for 20 years prior to this and it’s like, “You’re in Florida. We’ve done some events down there. People seem to like our beer. Wait a second, go back to that origin story. We’re Sun King in the Sunshine State. Well yeah, let’s sell some beer.” That was four years ago this week.

Congrats again on all the awards you’ve been winning, even just in 2022. What’s the key to your success?

Dave: Love. Making everything with love.

Clay: Love, true love…

Dave: All of our tanks in Fishers are named after “The Princess Bride.” But I would say that we are fiercely collaborative and we’re doggedly in pursuit of excellence on that front. We have an amazing team of folks who are dedicated and work really hard to make the best beer that we can make.

Clay: When we got our original investors we said, “You’re not going to see a dime for a very long time,” because we’re going to put every cent that comes into the business back into this business in the form of better equipment to make better beer, better technologies, a lab, all of these different things. When money comes in, we’re going to spend it because we want to run the best brewery we can. Dave and I have talked about authenticity. We genuinely love what we do and our people love what we do. Our pursuit is true and genuine and we love this.

What would you say is your favorite beer you’ve ever brewed?

Clay: Dave and I designed Osiris as the beer that we would want to drink every day.

I’m going to do a head-to-head with two of your beers. Sunlight vs. Wee Mac — go.

Dave: Sunlight.

Clay: Sunlight. Wee Mac is one of our more underrated beers. There are a lot of people who really love it and if you’re a malty beer fan you dig it. It’s really good to marinate things in and toss in barbecue sauces — it’s a really great food beer.

Convince a friend to move to Indy in 15 words or less.

Clay: Fun, walkable, bikeable, affordable, great people, Sun King beer.

What do you think Indy will be known for in the next 10 years?

Clay: I genuinely hope that it’s known for the open accessibility of our downtown area. People who would visit for the CANvitational would say, “It’s so clean here. You can walk everywhere. Your brewery is a 15-minute walk from downtown. And between all the different stadiums and things going on… Indianapolis is awesome. You take people to Indy and they take a ride from the airport to downtown and they don’t have to get in a car again if they don’t want to. They can walk everywhere, we have breweries within walking distance. Having kids in this city? We’ve got the Children’s Museum, White River State Park, all the different museums — take your kids to the Eiteljorg and learn about Native American history… we’ve got IMAXs, football, baseball, basketball, we’re about to have a big soccer stadium downtown. We’re this weird Midwestern hidden gem.

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