Sun King Brewing Company is an Indianapolis-based craft brewery, founded in 2009 by Dave Colt and Clay Robinson. It’s the first full-scale production brewery in Indy since the Indianapolis Brewing Company closed its doors in 1948. Over the years the brewery has grown into the second-largest beer brewer in the state of Indiana and has earned multiple medals at the Indiana Brewers Cup, Great American Beer Festival®, and World Beer Cup® competitions. However, aside from all the accolades, at the core, Sun King stands on its three foundational pillars: beer, people and community.
Co-founder and CEO of Sun King, Clay Robinson was able to elaborate on these pillars, beginning with the beer. Sun King is successful in producing award-winning and innovative brews, and they have thoughtfully integrated sustainable practices into the brewing and packaging process. Robinson explained, “we have always tried to keep an eye toward sustainability as we built Sun King, from fairly standard industry practices like donating all of our spent grain to local farmers to more thoughtful and impactful choices surrounding packaging our beer in cans and utilizing a new style of ‘Eco-Keg’ that cuts the weight of each keg by 30 percent, both of which help cut down on the fuel that is necessary to move beer around.”
Aluminum cans have skyrocketed in popularity with both craft beer and wine, as well as with ready-to-drink cocktails. There are many reasons why cans are beneficial for beer production and shipping. The biggest enemies of beer are light, heat and oxygen. Aluminum cans block 100 percent of harmful UV rays, while an amber (brown) beer bottle only blocks 99 percent. The cans also provide an airtight seal, while there are more errors possible with sealing glass bottles. Furthermore, a six-pack of 12oz bottles weighs more than a 6 pack of 12oz cans, and thus more fuel is required to transport a heavier load. Cans of beer are smaller, and easier to stack–making it easier and more efficient to ship.
Sun King empowers their staff to help contribute to making its brewery more sustainable. Robinson shared, “several years ago, one of our team members thought it would be a good idea to buy an old soda vending machine and put them in so our staff could enjoy their shift beers from something that would have otherwise been destroyed.”
He went on to add, “we also employ a full-time chef that makes lunch for our 50+ full-time team and over the past few years have implemented programs like leftovers on Friday so we have less waste, as well as issuing a reusable lunchroom-style tray, bowl and silverware for everyone instead of using disposable wares.”
These practices add up to create a fun, inviting culture for the team. Robinson encourages innovation and welcomes new ideas from his staff “because they are the ones most familiar with the jobs they’re doing.”
Craft breweries have varying levels of community involvement. When Robinson and his partner, Dave Colt were building Sun King, Robinson explained “we both felt strongly that a brewery can be a positive force in the community, so we have always approached the concept with a ‘How can we help and what can we do to help make our community a better place to live, work and play?’ attitude.” The company has fully embraced this. Sun King works with over 500 local non-profit and community organizations. The organizations can use the taproom space to host fundraisers and events to raise awareness for causes. Robinson explains, “we offer space in our taprooms for organizations to host meetings and events, as well as offer give-back programs through our taprooms throughout the year.”
When asked what his favorite community event has been, Robinson shares, “one of my best and favorite examples of this is a local Catholic school, St. Thomas Aquinas, who hosts an annual Sausage Fest where they sell 100 kegs of beer over the course of a weekend in order to make over $50,000 to help fund their school’s operations.”
The three pillars Sun King Brewing Company set out to build upon beer, people, and community, have remained their true north. Robinson said, “we try to constantly learn, grow and work to be better, so while there are often challenges, it is always worthwhile, and we become a better operation for it.”