Indy’s Racing Craft Beer Scene

By Sarah Jaquay

Like car engines, Indianapolis ideas seem to go from zero to 60 mph in a matter of seconds. So it’s not surprising suds fans are taking notice of Indy’s booming craft beer scene. Beer buffs who visited the “Circle City” just a few years ago might not speak of it in the reverent tones reserved for places like Boulder, Colorado; Portland, Oregon or Grand Rapids, Michigan. But that’s so last decade. Today, the Indy metro area has about three dozen breweries with eight more slated to open this year. Here’s a look at the brewery that started the boom and a relative newcomer.

In 2009, Sun King Brewing Company blew the lid off the cans they’re famous for and opened Indy’s first full-scale production brewery since Indianapolis Brewing Company closed its doors in 1948. Today, Sun King is one of the state’s fastest growing breweries and has a massive tasting room located in the heart of the Cole-Noble District, known for its mix of Georgian, Federal and Art Deco style buildings.

“I’m a hophead,” says co-founder Dave Cole. And his penchant is evident in Sun King’s Grapefruit Jungle IPA – a summer selection that’s aggressively hopped and bursting with passionfruit, apricot and grapefruit flavors.

Sun King’s Sunlight Cream Ale is their biggest seller. Cream ales are rooted in the history of American brewing and are staging a comeback; top-fermented, they undergo an extended period of cold-conditioning that gives beer a cleaner flavor (perhaps a predictable reaction to the coriander, cumin, jalapeno and other spices used in brewing these days). Sun King describes Sunlight as their “most approachable beer,” with a smooth malt profile and a crisp, clean finish.

Besides its house taps, Sun King offers three seasonal beers each month. Their large, industrial-chic taproom rocks on the weekends with tapping parties, food trucks and live music. Inexpensive growler fills on Fridays are a hit with the value-driven crowd.

Joining the scene two years later was Triton Brewing, Indy’s “barn-to-foam” brewery. Triton’s warm, inviting taproom was built in a barn once used by the U.S. Army. Triton opened in 2011 across from Fort Harrison State Park, named for President Benjamin Harrison, who hailed from Indianapolis. The park’s a beloved urban oasis and offers hiking and biking trails, a golf course, sledding and canoeing; so Triton’s proximity draws lots of hikers, bikers and runners.

According to operations director Dave Waldman, Triton’s Railsplitter IPA is one of the state’s top selling IPAs. He explains what makes their beers so delicious is the reverse osmosis filtration system used for its water. This system strips away impurities and reduces beer’s main ingredient to hydrogen and oxygen.

“Our goal was to build a taproom that’s like a Starbucks for beer,” Waldman says. The Starbucks analogy is about making Triton a family-friendly destination. (They make their own root beer.) Triton’s menu changes weekly but some favorites are always available such as hot pretzels and root beer floats. Rotating food trucks offer complementary fare and sometimes chefs cook with their beer. After all, what better finish to a day of sledding or hiking than stout-braised beef with a glass of Triton’s Deadeye Stout—big roasted malt nose with hints of coffee and toffee flavors swaddled in oat-like creaminess?

Even a president couldn’t resist.

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