Editor's Note: In today's edition of our brewer interview series, we're chatting with Clay Robinson, one of the brewers and co-owners at Indianapolis' Sun King Brewing Co. Clay and brewer/owner Dave Colt opened Sun King in downtown Indy in July 2009. Last year Sun King made serious waves at GABF when they walked away with eight medals, four of which were gold. Take it away, Clay.
Full Name: Clay Robinson
Title: Brewer / Owner / Vice President / Public Relations / Marketing / Media Director / Archivist / Equipment Acquisitions / Delivery Guy / Glorified Janitor / Head of Craft Department at Sun King Brewing Co.
Location: Indianapolis, IN
How and why did you get started in brewing?
Both Dave and I started brewing professionally by happenstance. We both worked in the restaurant business and ended up working at brew pubs in Indy—Dave at Circle V, which closed in 1999, and myself at Rock Bottom. We were given the opportunity to work in the brewery and learn the trade and needless to say, we were immediately hooked!
Did you learn to brew before you worked at Rock Bottom?
I learned on the job. Before my first brewing job, I didn't realize that brewing beer was a job that someone like myself could have.
At what point did you and Dave know you wanted to open your own brewery?
While we were working together at the Ram we started a conversation about what we would do if we could open our own brewery. It was a broad-ranging, long-running, theoretical dialogue about what we both loved and hated about previous jobs, what type of culture we would want to create: beers, art, music and more.
Along the way, we were each approached by business people who thought it would be great to open a brewery, but neither of us saw eye to eye with those individuals. We realized that if we helped them open their brewery that in five years we would be right back in the same position, doing something we loved for some jerk we didn't get along with. So we decided to band together and make our vision a reality.
You all turned a lot of heads last year at GABF when you walked away from the awards ceremony with 8 medals. What was that like?
Overwhelming! So many of the things that have happened to us since we started this journey have been amazing, but 8 GABF medals was ridiculous. We gained a lot of street cred that day and we celebrated like it was our job. It a shame that such a wonderful feeling/celebration was followed by such an intense hangover...
Was canning always part of the Sun King plan?
Dave and I both had can collections as teenagers and knew from our years of conversations/planning that if we ever put our beer in a small package it would be cans. We believe that cans are a superior vessel for transporting craft beer because they lock out sunlight and oxygen, plus there are a lot of environmental factors that make them appealing and they can go places that bottles can't (like big oval race tracks where cars go fast and turn left).
Do you all have plans to expand beyond central Indiana?
Every time that we increase capacity the good people of central Indiana drink it up! Our goal was to be Indianapolis' brewery and we are still working hard to claim that title. We're on track to do 16,000 to 18,000 barrels this year without expanding our distribution footprint. Our motto is Fresh•Local•Beer and we feel like beer is best when fresh, so we would like to sell as much as we can as close to home as possible. One day we might have the capacity to service the entire state or even bleed out to surrounding states, but for the time being we plan to keep doing what we're doing.
What else should we look forward to from Sun King?
We are ramping up our barrel aging and sour programs with several thousand square feet dedicated to both.
How would you describe your brewing style?
When Dave and I started brewing together in 2005, we realized that we saw eye to eye on a lot of things, but I don't really know how to describe our style...We are certainly meticulous and we strive to make our house beers as consistent as possible while indulging our creative sides with a constant array of seasonal/specialty beers.
Where do you find inspiration for new beers?
Sometimes they come out of amusing conversations we have around the brewery. Sometimes they come to Dave in a flash of inspiration. Sometimes they are inspired by a new malt, hop, yeast strain, or local ingredient that we want to experiment with.
If you're not drinking Sun King, what's in your glass?
I have a great affinity for canned beers and we trade beers with other canning breweries quite often. Lately I've been drinking Dale's Pale Ale, Deviant Dale's, and Big Swell (not surprisingly, I like the hops).