It’s the day before Memorial Day and Indianapolis is eerily quiet. What is usually the most important date on the city’s calendar, one steeped in tradition as upwards of 300,000 people jam-pack Indianapolis Motor Speedway to witness the Indianapolis 500, is just another day, one that slipped the minds of many Hoosiers, including Sun King Brewer co-founder Dave Colt.
“I was out mowing the lawn and my neighbor looked at me and goes, ‘I don’t know what to do with myself. Normally, I would be at the track and the race is about to start,’” Colt recalled. “I looked at my watch and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a little after 11 — yeah!’”
Like much of the world’s events over the last three months, “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing” was postponed due to COVID-19 and rescheduled for Aug. 23, marking the first time in its history that the race will not be held at the end of May. With an unprecedented delayed start, it gave Colt and the folks at Sun King Brewery the idea, after years of discussion, to create a limited edition Indy 500-themed beer and the name seemed pretty obvious – and would ultimately prove to be fitting for this upcoming release.
Deeply rooted in Indianapolis, Sun King is the second largest brewery in the state of Indiana and, when it was founded by Colt and Clay Robinson in 2009, was the city’s first full-scale production brewery since Indianapolis Brewing Company closed its doors back in 1948. Today, fresh off of three gold medals and one silver at the Great American Beer Festival, Sun King brews close to 32,000 barrels each year and has become a staple in the ever-growing midwest brewing scene. As with many local Indiana businesses, the Indianapolis 500 is in the blood of the brewery but it falls during a time when Colt is either ramping up production or when Sun King has a lot on its plate.
“It pops up on our calendar every single year and we’re like, ‘OK, you know, we’ll plan something and do it.’ And then, every year, we get caught with kind of an up-tick in business or we’ve got our iron in a bunch of different fires and we’re like, ‘Damnnit, the race is here already!’ This was actually the first time, in a long time, that we were ahead of it, as far as planning is concerned,” Colt admitted.
In the midst of a massive pivot thanks to a statewide quarantine – one that created unusual problems for all breweries to overcome – there was enough time in the schedule to finally create an IndyCar-inspired beer. Colt and his team got to work and the first thing on the agenda was deciding the specific style of the beer. Sure, there were plenty of options for what Sun King’s latest limited release could be but Colt knew it had to be something that drinkers could typically enjoy at the race – a real light, all day sipper.
“The beginning conversation starts with our production leadership team and us sort of kicking around the possibilities of what style of beer we’d like to do and, you know, the guy that’s our lead brewer downtown, at our main facility, is a huge, huge lager fan. He always says every year, or every time something is out there, like ‘Yep, we should make that a lager!’ And I’m like, ‘Ok, settle down, John.’ In this case it made a whole lot of sense to go that direction.”
Originally code-named “Crispy 500” because it’s a crispy boy – a term given to easy drinking lagered beers that go into the fridge’s crisper and are always perfect for any occasion – there was no real testing when it came to creating Delayed Start. Colt and his team have created enough lagers in the past, some of which are award-winning, to know the intricacies of the style. That, plus the fact that COVID-19 hit when Sun King elected to stop producing on its 3.5-barrel pilot system and instead transition to a bigger 15-barrel system at the brewery’s newest location. Rolling with the punches, Colt went ahead and made a 60-barrel batch of Delayed Start.
Boasting a perfectly sessionable 4.0 percent ABV, Delayed Start is just 10 IBUs and features Weyermann German Pilsner Malt and rice. Colt wanted to create a lager that featured a nice, bright malt-richness but also finished very dry, all while focusing on that lighter, much more drinkable, ABV. The German Pils Malt gives it, as Colt describes, the “quintessential multi-lager character” and the rice helps to keep it on the dry side, in the hopes that there’s not much lingering body or mouthfeel.
Once Colt and his team created a fitting race time lager, there was a snag. Fittingly, it was a delayed start – but it didn’t happen once, no it happened a couple of times.
“There was a tiny bit of the can issue but it was also an issue with the design itself,” said Colt. “We had some other projects that, as it seems to do every May, push themselves up in front like our Orange Vanilla Sunlight Cream Ale that’s just taking off like a rocket for us. Some things had to get pushed in front of [Delayed Start] as far as packaging is concerned since this is kind of a one-off, and a fun beer for the brewery to make, but not necessarily supporting — especially during COVID-19 — our grocery and packaging store partners. It got delayed a little bit. And then, during the delay of the delay, somebody at [Indianapolis Motor Speedway] saw the logo and sent us a little note saying, ‘Hey, it’s a little too close to ours.’ So then we have had another delay redesigning the label and we’re waiting for it to get printed and sent our way.”
Thanks to the delays, the lager continued to just sit in the tank, waiting for packaging. That’s not always ideal for certain beer styles but works for lagers, which Colt compares to a pot of chili.
“While you can drink beer when it’s super-fresh, sometimes a little bit of aging, especially for lagers, kind of helps bring the whole thing together — you know, all of the hops and all of that kind of good stuff. Having that extra time, just to make sure there are no, you know, extra compounds or any diacetyl or dissipation of sulfurs and such that’s a byproduct of a lot of lager fermentation. This age, on a beer like this, is no problem.”
In speaking with Colt, he was cautiously optimistic that Delayed Start would be released in pounder cans at some point next week, though it’s safer to say it will be out before the end of June. He also said batches of Grapefruit Jungle, an American IPA in coordination with the brewery’s anniversary, along with Cherry Busey, an award-winning Flander-style Red Ale, and Johan The Barleywine are all coming down the pipeline either later this month or early in July. And as for the current landscape of beer and figuring out how to continue to pivot, Colt is just focusing on the present.
“That’s all you can do, is just — you know, I think Dory said it best, ‘Just keep swimming!’”