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Taste Test: IM Drinks Sun King on the Job
Inspired by our October feature on Indy’s favorite brewery—and its premier CANvitational fest this Friday—we sampled Sun King’s current lineup, with some help from head brewer Dave Colt.
Reading IM writer-at-large Michael Rubino’s October profile of Sun King cofounders Clay Robinson and Dave Colt made us thirsty—so much so that we rinsed our growlers, headed to the brewery, and asked for fill-ups of all the current offerings. For good measure, we asked Colt, Sun King’s director of brewing operations, to lead the tasting.
Colt’s remarks and some of our tasting notes are compiled here—which technically makes what we did “work” (and means we can expense the beer to boot).
Disagree with our takes? Have an opinion about new Sun King releases not reviewed here? Post your own Sun King tasting notes in the comments section below. Cheers!
Sunlight Cream Ale
alcohol by volume (ABV): 5.3% / international bitterness units (IBU): 20 / house beer, available year-round
Brewery description: Our most approachable beer, Sunlight has a smooth malt profile and a crisp, clean finish.
Brewer’s notes: "Light, creamy, and effervescent, with just a hint of lemon in the finish. Cream ale is sort of a forgotten style of American beer, and we just wanted to have fun with it—kind of have a craft brewer’s take on that style. Sunlight was our first-ever seasonal beer. It sold really, really well. So we decided to make another batch. And then it became one of our house beers."
IM staff notes: “Very light. A crisp, almost fruity finish. Good on a hot day.” / “Mild. For the first time drinking beer, I didn’t make a face. The crinkly face.” / “Give to your friends who don’t think they like craft beer. They will like this and eventually graduate to the bolder stuff.”
ABV: 5.2% / IBU: 24 / official craft beer of the Indianapolis Indians, available through September
Brewery description: This Munich Helles has a balanced malt flavor that finishes with crisp noble hops. The combination makes this beer perfect for a day at the ballpark or a summer cookout.
Brewer’s notes: "It is similar to our Oktoberfest [read below], but it doesn't have quite the same richness, and it’s a little more balanced toward the hops. We use a German hops called Tettnang, which has a little more peppery kind of spiciness. We were thinking with the great foods you get at the Indianapolis Indians game, hot dogs and all that stuff, it would pair really nicely. It wouldn’t be heavy or cloying."
IM staff notes: “Pretty hoppy on the back of tongue. Nice crisp taste. Would go great with a brat and mustard." / “Like the Oktoberfest, this lager resists the temptation to over-malt. Pretty good for a beer variety I don’t drink.” / “Smells like hotdog water. Old-man beer.” “A little bitter, with a dry mouthfeel, but, overall, satisfying.”
Oktoberfest – STAFF PICK!
ABV: 5.75% / IBU: 22 / seasonal, available through first full week of October
Brewery description: Our take on the classic German Oktoberfest has a clean malty start with a slightly spicy hop note and a crisp, dry finish.
Brewer’s notes: "Oktoberfest originated with the wedding nuptials of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria—gosh, I think we’re getting near the 200th anniversary of it. It was such a raging bash, they decided to do it again. And again. And every year since. Oktoberfest beer is made in the springtime and traditionally lagered in the Bavarian Alps over the summer. Our approach is extremely traditional. We got grain from Germany, from a maltster there, and also the hops. We want the beer to be eminently quaffable, and to me that means balance. So you have these really nice bready notes up front, and a little sweetness, and then it dries out a little bit. What this beer is built for is eating food—German food like knockwurst and bratwurst and pretzels. And it’s a beer that you can drink liters of, as you would in Germany (not that I advise or condone that kind of behavior)."
IM staff notes: “Often, [Oktoberfest seasonals] are too sweet or malty. Not this one. Excellent.” / “Supremely well-balanced, just like early fall. Warm during the day and chilly at night.” / “Has a smooth, robust flavor that would pair well with food.” / “Wow. That’s actually good. Why didn’t anyone ever tell me I like beer?”
ABV: 5.3% / IBU: 23 / house beer, available year-round
Brewery description: This Scottish Style Brown has a nice hazelnut character with rich toffee undertones.
Brewer’s notes: "With Wee Mac we were just trying to hit the ball down the center of the fairway for the style. We use a traditional English yeast strain and American hops, but it’s just to lend a little support, so it’s not a complete malt balm. We wanted it be a little nutty and incorporate some toffee notes and things of that nature."
IM staff notes: “This beer has some depth and texture compared to others. Good with food and to use in recipes. Also a bit of coffee on the nose.” / “Chocolatey aftertaste, with caramel tones." / “When I planned to visit [former IM writer and editor Tony] Rehagen in Atlanta, he requested only one thing from Indiana: Wee Mac.”
Osiris Pale Ale – STAFF PICK!
ABV: 5.6% / IBU: 50 / House beer, available year-round
Brewery description: An assertively hopped West Coast–style pale ale. Every aspect of this beer is designed to showcase the hops without overpowering your taste buds.
Brewer’s notes: "Clay [Robinson] and I are both hop heads. And we like to enjoy a beer or two, so we wanted to make a very flavorfully hopped beer that was lower in alcohol content, not like an IPA or a something with super-huge strength. You can have a couple while you're at dinner and feel perfectly safe to drive. But it still delivers a nice refreshing hop punch. We use two quintessential American hops in it, Nugget and Cascades. And it has a little bit of rye malt in it as well, which sort of brings a bran-flake kind of spiciness, over oats or barley. And so instead of having a piney, resiney character, it’s sort of like a blood-orange zest."
IM staff notes: “Like Clay, this is my favorite ‘everyday beer’ that Sun King makes. Hoppy, but not too much for most folks.” / “After tasting all of these other beers, this one really pops. It has a lot of personality. Grassy and herby aroma. Very smooth. Lemongrass?” / “Too assertive. Hops slap your taste buds, waking them with a too-bitter taste.” / “Very floral.” / “Presents a lively, sparkling bouquet on the nose. Generously hopped, but no bitter aftertaste.”
Wet Hopped & Sticky
ABV: 6.6% / IBU: 65 / specialty beer, available into the second week of October
Brewery description: Wet Hopped & Sticky is an IPA brewed with locally raised Chinook and Centennial hops from our friends Neal Danison and Three Hammers Farms. The beer was wet hopped with whole cone fresh hops, showcasing Chinook’s spicy herbal character against the floral citrus character of Centennial.
Brewer’s notes: "During typical hops processing, the cones are picked and then they’re kilned, which means that they are dried to about 10 percent moisture content. And then they’re bailed and pelletized, in most cases. Wet hopping means that you’re taking the hops directly out of the field, completely unprocessed, and they are wet by comparison to traditional hops, because they retain all of their moisture. You get that fresh, green garden, chlorophyll kind of character. It celebrates the hops harvest."
IM staff notes: “IPAs are typically my favorite, but this one is a little skunky and the hop flavor doesn’t ‘pop.’ Nothing terribly objectionable, but not a memorable IPA.” / “I don’t really like hoppy beers—but I like this one. Not overwhelmed by hops, and crisp.” / “Dominates your mouth and taste buds. Snaps you to attention after first drink. Leaves a bitter taste after it’s gone. Feel like I need to wash it down with something else.” / “Stinks. Tastes like a dirty sock. What I imagine a dirty sock would taste like.”
Want more Sun King? Look out for the brewery's upcoming releases: the Royal Brat ESB, a collaboration with Northern Indiana brewery Three Floyds set to debut at Indy's CANvitational fest on September 28; the Moonlight Serenade Porter, coming out next week; a French biere de garde inspired by the IMA's Matisse exhibition, rolling out on October 7; and, in the middle of October, the first in a new quarterly series of IPAs called Fistfull of Hops.
CANvitational, September 28, 1-5 p.m., $50, Georgia Street in downtown Indianapolis, canvitational.com
Read Michael Rubino's strong but nicely balanced feature story on Sun King founders Dave Colt and Clay Robinson.