Meet Cory King, the brains behind Side Project Brewing
In 2013, BeerAdvocate named Side Project Brewery one of the top five breweries to watch. Last December, Draft magazine called Side Project’s Saison du Blé one of the top 25 beers in the world. Then, this January, craft beer website RateBeer named Side Project one of the 100 best breweries in the world. It’s time you met Cory King, the brains behind the unparalleled beers made right here in River City.
From homebrewer to professional
Cory King, 31, had zero professional brewing experience before he was hired as a brewer for Perennial Artisan Ales in 2011. That fact shouldn’t surprise fans of craft beer, in part because King brewed at home, a hobby he picked up from his brother-in-law. “Homebrewers are some of the most forward-thinking,” said Mike Sweeney, creator and founder of beer website STL Hops and craft beer manager for Lohr Distributing. “They are pushing the envelope, as far as the brewing scene goes. Some (beers) they come up with are the most unique things you’ll try.”
Caring for beer at The Side Project Cellar
Cory and Karen King cut no corners when it comes to making and serving beer right. At The Side Project Cellar, their 50-seat beer, whiskey and wine tasting room in Maplewood, each of the 24 draft lines can be programmed to three different temperatures. “When you have an Imperial stout served at the same temperature as Bud Light, you’re missing so many things,” explained Cory King. “We’ll never be a high volume account, but there may be other breweries going, ‘I want them to have this special keg because I know it’s going to be treated right.’” The beer cellar has UV-film on the windows so that light cannot strike the bottles, and those bottles are stored at a proper cellar temperature for proper aging. A lambic is presented in a traditional lambic basket, keeping the bottle tilted on its side so that the yeast doesn’t cloud the glass. These might seem to be minor details, but to the Kings, they are essential. “We put all this care and time into making beer and often when it’s served, there’s no care,” said Cory King. “I don’t cut corners on my beer, so I won’t cut corners on serving it.”
King’s top beer books
Wild Brews: Beer Beyond the Influence of Brewer’s Yeast by Jeff Sparrow
Farmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition by Phil Markowski
Brew Chem 101: The Basics of Homebrewing Chemistry by Lee W. Janson
Side Project in a snapshot
Unlike the Belgian-inspired and experimental beers that Cory King brews for Perennial, his Side Project beers historically have been barrel-aged saisons and sour/wild ales. “Sour beers have been around forever, but as far as American producers, they’re in their infancy. Name another Missouri sour beer? If you did, it’s a special release and it’s once a year,” King said. Side Project brews are more traditional in style and use few ingredients – usually just water, malt, yeast, hops and fruit. “Most of my brewery is focused around the yeast, bacteria, the fermentation side of it and my wild culture,” he explained.
“Wild culture” refers to wild yeast and bacteria – strains harvested and grown outside of a lab. King’s main saison culture started with the standards, like Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus, but it’s been dosed with Missouri wild species he captured from his father’s land in Puxico, a small town in southeast Missouri. “I created a house flavor that is Side Project that’s not replicable by anybody else,” he said. “You can’t just go to a lab and buy what I have.”
Because King’s culture is always growing and changing, he cannot duplicate a brew. “Most breweries put all these ingredients in, and they get the exact same thing every time. I don’t.” He likened his work to that of a winemaker. “It’s up to me to be more of a blender,” he said.
Then there’s the art of aging beer. Every Side Project brew hangs out in oak barrels for months, even years. “I love the nuances oak can add to a beer when done right,” said King, who is also “director of oak” for Perennial. More than 500 barrels – some filled with Perennial brews, the rest with Side Project suds – take up space in two aging rooms at Perennial. These barrels once held rye, bourbon, rum or wines such as pinot noir, chambourcin, vignoles, Norton and chardonnay, the last being the predominant wood King uses for aging Side Project beers. “I like the challenge of putting everything in oak,” he said.
“He represents, in my mind, the next generation of brewers who are going to carry forth the passion. ... He has staying power, a mature sensibility of beer.” – Erika Rietz, founder and editor-in-chief, Draft magazine
Ascending the throne
Cory King is hired as brewer at Perennial Artisan Ales.
“I stalked Phil (Wymore). I read an article about Phil opening a Belgian and barrel-aging brewery. I met Phil and (his wife and Perennial co-founder) Emily, and I was the first hire.” – Cory King
Perennial Heart of Gold earns silver medal in Other Strong Beer category at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in the brewery’s first year.
“It was a great honor. I had the fortune of being with breweries that have won awards at GABF. To have that happen for my brewery … it was really gratifying. And it was a little bit of a relief to have that monkey off your back. You think: If we never win a medal again, at least we got one.” – Phil Wymore, co-founder and brewmaster, Perennial Artisan Ales
Perennial Barrel-aged Abraxas earns a silver medal in Experimental category at Festival of Wood and Barrel-aged Beers (FoBAB) in Chicago.
Perennial Abraxas garners 100 points in initial BeerAdvocate review.
“That was such important news. We had this local brewery that helped to put St. Louis, as far as craft beer goes, on the map.” – Mike Sweeney, creator and founder, STL Hops and craft beer manager, Lohr Distributing
Perennial Barrel-aged Abraxas is released.
“It was the first time we experienced the lines and hysteria and beer geekiness. We weren’t expecting it. People were like, ‘What’s the limit on it?’ We were like, ‘Why would we have a limit?’ We didn’t expect any of that.” – King
Side Project Brewing announced. King brews using Perennial equipment and space.
Release of first Side Project beers (Saison du Fermier, Brett Project No. 1 and The Origin)
“Saison du Fermier is a phenomenal beer. I share a lot of my beer, but it’s getting difficult to share that. That’s the one we keep for Irene (Wan, his fiancee) and myself.” – Sweeney
Side Project Fuzzy, an American wild ale fermented in chardonnay barrels with Missouri white peaches, earns gold in Wild Beer (Acidic) category at FoBAB.
Perennial Barrel-aged Abraxas earns gold in Experimental category at FoBAB.
BeerAdvocate names Side Project a brewery to watch .
Draft magazine names Perennial and Side Project among 25 breweries to watch.
“The business model is interesting. He’s the head brewer at Perennial, working within the space at Perennial. Phil had a feeling Cory was a talented brewer. He showed him the ropes on how to run a brewery and has been supportive of Side Project. It’s a win-win situation and a credit to both of them for coming up with the arrangement.” – Erika Rietz, founder and editor-in-chief, Draft magazine
Draft magazine calls Side Project Saison du Blé Batch 2 one of the best 25 beers in the world in 2014.
“We blind tasted it. I won’t forget the winelike notes – it’s aged in chardonnay barrels – or the citrus. The way the Brett was expressing itself was wonderfully harmonious. It was a way to work with barrels that wasn’t heavy-handed.” – Rietz
RateBeer names Side Project one of the 100 best breweries in the world.
“Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River, Tomme Arthur from Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey out of San Diego. Even some of the guys who do sours and funky beers. Cantillon’s Jean-Pierre Van Roy. Cory is doing beers that are of that same quality and caliber. … He is on pace to be one of the most sought-after brewers in the country.” - Mike Sweeney, creator and founder, beer website STL Hops and craft beer manager, Lohr Distributing
“He had a really great background. He was already entrenched in this industry: an award-winning homebrewer, bar manager at iTAP Soulard. A great educational background, too (B.S. in chemistry, MBA). He struck me as the type looking at this thing at all angles. He has just a great character, a good work ethic – I thought that he would be a good person to work with on a day-to-day basis. - Phil Wymore, co-founder and brewmaster, Perennial Artisan Ales
1: Ranking of Side Project Saison du Fermier among all saisons in the world on BeerAdvocate (it has held this spot for more than one year)
5: Ranking of Perennial Barrel-aged Abraxas among all beers in the world on BeerAdvocate
26: Ranking of Perennial Barrel-aged Abraxas among all beers in the world on RateBeer
62: Ranking of Side Project Fuzzy among all beers in the world on BeerAdvocate
87: Ranking of Side Project Saison du Fermier among all beers in the world on BeerAdvocate
Get these beers while they last at The Side Project Cellar.
Side Project Foedre Beer
Sour blonde ale aged in a French Oak foedre
Side Project La Bière de Fantaisie (Collaboration with Off Color Brewing)
Blend of puncheon-fermented saisons with Missouri wild yeast
Side Project Grisette Batch No. 2
Wine barrel-aged farmhouse ale with Brettanomyces
To Karen, the queen
I try to tell you this all the time, but you are always too humble to accept it, so I figured that typing it out might help. Thank you for all that you have done for Side Project.
You quietly helped, supported and pushed me to get our business off the ground while you were unable to publicly announce your involvement with it. Because of that, all too often, people miss just how important you are to me and our tiny family-owned and -run businesses.
You were the first to jump into the beer industry, starting as the Missouri sales rep for Goose Island. Because of your love for your job, your passion and your enthusiasm, you quickly convinced me to reevaluate my career path. I started focusing more on the beer industry and realized that I wanted to be a brewer.
When you moved on to Deschutes, you supported our family while I kept spending money to grow Side Project. Days and nights were long, tough and hard, but you were always there, helping and supporting.
Now we have two businesses, and your role at The Side Project Cellar has become the most important part because The Cellar is the face of our brewery. You don’t bat an eye at managing, operating and owning that place. You hired an amazing staff, and you have done much to further beer in St. Louis and the Midwest with your professionalism, integrity and care for what we love – beer.
Without you, I would have grown exhausted a long time ago, and The Side Project Cellar wouldn’t exist. You do everything except brew with me. You are what keeps Side Project and The Side Project Cellar moving forward. You are a brewery consultant, a small business owner, a tasting room manager, a label editor, a boss, a partner and my business teammate.
Thank you for everything, wife.
Hopes & dreams
“To make a little more beer, but I don’t ever want to be a slave to demand.”
“To experiment with more barrel types.”
“To make more spontaneously fermented beer, the true wild stuff inspired by the lambics and the Gueuzes of Belgium.”
“Five to 10 acres of land near Defiance, Missouri and the Katy Trail. I want to do all my spontaneous fermentation beers out there and have a barrel-aging facility there and live there. We’d love to find enough land to buy that we could put our barrel warehouse and our house on.”
“To slow down and relax.”
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