Sun King brewmasters on their roots, plans for Fishers outpost

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If the chips had fallen a little differently, Sun King Brewing Co. might not be the state’s No. 2 craft brewer, adding a second production facility in Fishers.

Co-founders Clay Robinson and Dave Colt could have stuck with their original plan for a brew pub, for example, toiling in relative obscurity to produce house beer for an upscale neighborhood hangout like The Local Eatery & Pub in Westfield.

Or once they decided on a brewery (thankfully the partners rejected the name Robinson’s dad suggested: Clay & Dave’s), they could have chosen a different location—cheap space in a warehouse by the airport, perhaps, or one of the series of undersized buildings they considered before finding its current headquarters in downtown Indy.

What if they hadn’t run out of money during build-out, ditching plans for a small tasting room in favor of more crowd-friendly space amid the hustle and bustle of brewery operations?

“We might not be here today, talking to you about Sun King,” Robinson said this week as he and Colt shared their success story at a public event organized by Hamilton County Leadership Academy. (Full disclosure: I attended for free as a 2014 HCLA grad.)

Founded in mid-2009, still-growing Sun King in August announced plans to add capacity by building a second brewery and more-expansive tasting room in Fishers. What started as a $6 million project approached $20 million before cooler heads prevailed.

With costs settling into the $10 million range, Sun King expects to complete the project in two phases. A small-batch pilot brewery, brewpub-style tap room and outdoor event space are expected to come online next year, the founders said.

An expected July opening date has been pushed back to fall, when they hope to be able to launch the Fishers brewery with an Oktoberfest-style party.

The partners say they’ve received mostly positive feedback on the expansion, though the downtown staff took some convincing.

They were drawn to Fishers by town leaders’ vision for the community—and the property itself. Sun King acquired an undeveloped 14-acre parcel east of Interstate 69 between 96th Street and 106th Street, where it will have plenty of room to grow.

Plans call for changing the name of Park Central Drive to Sunlight Drive in honor of the brewer’s popular Sunlight Cream Ale.

Sun King aims to become Indiana’s beer, the partners said.

Other interesting tidbits from Colt and Robinson:

— Both men said they've loved beer since their first tastes at the age of 5. Colt's was a dark beer popular in the South Bend area. Robinson's was cheap American swill. (Sorry, I don't remember which ones. I didn't take notes since I was pretending to be a regular person at the breakfast event.)

— They met when Colt was bar manager and assistant brewer at the erstwhile Circle V Brewing Co. in Castleton, where Robinson—who was studying rhetoric and business at Wabash College—would buy kegs of beer he'd sell from the back of his VW van at Phish concerts. They reconnected years later when they worked at rival microbrewery/restaurants downtown.

— Robinson took a three-year hiatus from professional brewing from 2002 to 2005. During the break, he produced a home-brewing instructional video called BeerJuggs. He'll be talking about that experience at next week's inaugural Fail Fest, a Nov. 19 event organized by Launch Fishers to celebrate the role failure plays in innovation.

— The Sun King partners have a knack for producing barrel-aged beer, twice winning both gold and silver awards in its category at the annual Great American Beer Festival awards

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