19 Jan Broad Ripple Barrel House, the newest Stop on the Sun King Brewing Train
Sun King Brewing has been a major player on the Indiana craft beer scene ever since they opened in 2009. Owners Clay Robinson and Dave Colt are fixtures in the Indianapolis brewing community through their individual and combined work at Ram, Rock Bottom, and Circle V, so Sun King’s rapid, but steady growth is a testament to their knowledge of the industry.
There are six Sun King locations at present, all with different feels and meeting different needs (for both the company and the customer). I’ve had the chance to visit all of them, and they truly do give different experiences. The one that has opened most recently is Sun King Taproom at the Indianapolis Airport, located in Concourse B. It has a small footprint as is necessary for those kinds of locations, but there are still 16 taps of Sun King beer and salads/sandwiches as well.
The other locations include the original brewery and taproom on College Ave., at first just for pints but now with food from Nacho by La Margarita as well as an extensive merchandise and package store. There is also Sun King Carmel, a large, more modern looking space where Sun King Spirits are distilled. It is an all ages facility with several local food options and opens up right onto Midtown Plaza.
Sun King Fishers is a small batch brewery even if the brewhouse itself is pretty good size, and has a two story taproom as well as a balcony and outdoor seating. Sun King Fishers Small Batch Brewery has food options from small local restaurants in the Fishers Test Kitchen. Sun King Kokomo is an interesting location. They used to have an affiliation with Tin Man Brewing, first in Evansville and then on their own, and owner Amanda Lewton saw the wisdom in teaming up with Sun King brand in June of 2020.
There is still independent ownership and the beer they make is definitely a Kokomo product, but they have the strength behind them of the Sun King brand and their line of beers (see here for a more in depth story about them). Amanda stresses that “Our goal is to keep the consistency of the other Sun King locations, while still offering unique beers and experiences.”
JD is brewing up a storm in Kokomo with many Kokomo-only offerings in just the last few months (eight on tap right now), meaning that all the locations noted above are making Sun King product except for the airport, understandably. That leaves one location that is slightly different, but only slightly. Sun King Broad Ripple has recently been rebranded as the Sun King Broad Ripple Barrel House. While losing none of the features that make it appealing, the barrel house has gained a particular niche in the Sun King universe.
Sun King Broad Ripple opened in fall 2019, after the original Three Wise Brewing and production brewery shut down. Sun King bought the brewing equipment, which was subsequently sold to someone else. Sun King remodeled the space and brought in a food partner to offer full meals, first a seafood operation called Offshore by Pier 48 which has now been rebranded as The Village Kitchen.
The space opened up by the movement of the brewhouse offered different opportunities – an event space, a bigger restaurant, etc. so what did they do with it? I talked to Sun King spokesperson and Promotions Director Elizabeth Belange about the barrel house idea. She said, “Dave had an epiphany about the space and how our barrel program is so hidden from the general public. As our barrel program continues to grow at the current location, it leaves little room for our Barrel Manager, Andrew Hood, to utilize. So, what better way to showcase our barrel program and give our customers a “behind the scenes” feel.”
Barrels are now visible from floor to nearly the ceiling behind the glass walls at the barrel house, with some room for more further behind the first ones. However, this does not represent the lion’s share of Sun King barrels, which number in the hundreds and are emblematic of the dedication that Sun King has to a varied and extensive barrel aging program. Beth told me, “The majority will stay at our downtown facility. We will slowly fill the barrel house up with more barrels and that will be determined over time and space availability.”
While Beth stated that the Broad Ripple location is defined as a “noncontiguous storage space under their current brewer’s license” I like to think of it as much more. Fermentation and aging is where so much of the magic happens in making beer, and barrel aging often involves a bit of secondary fermentation. Being a space where aging and some fermenting magic is accomplished in barrel, I see the Barrel House as integral to the Sun King program and as an important brewing facility.
Think about it, moving the barrels from downtown to Broad Ripple is going to give them a unique bit of a mixing, and the temperature at Broad Ripple is slightly higher than at the production location and barrel rooms, so this too will lend a unique aging quality for the Barrel House beers – I can’t wait to start drinking them.
What’s more, since Walter and I live close, so we’ll be able to test out more barreled beers from Sun King than most people. I asked Beth if the Broad Ripple location will feature barrel aged beers or have more of them than the other locations. Happily, she said, “Yes, offering a more extensive list of barrel aged beers at the Barrel House is part of the plan, although the core and seasonal Sun King beers will be available as well. With it being so new right now, we are looking to adapt to this model soon.”
Some of the space “behind the glass” will be reserved for future tastings and tour usage, but don’t book one thinking you can get your arms around the barrels for a hug. They’re off limits for touching or amateur sampling right now, but Beth says that, “As we grow into this model we will probably have a couple of touch friendly, peak inside barrels as we have at the downtown barrel aging facility.” Nevertheless, the newly branded Barrel House is a great addition to the Sun King portfolio and you should make the trip soon and often. It’s family friendly, offers noshes and full meals, has a three way license so you can get signature Sun King cocktails too, and also has those Sun King specialties like mixers and adult slushies.
banner image credit: Sam Burton, Sun King Broad Ripple Barrel House