Cory King personifies where craft brewing is moving – barrel-aging, blends, yeast strains, and small batches focused on craft rather than sales. This has led to his “gypsy” brewery, Side Project, to become well respected and its creations highly sought after. Ever affable, Cory agreed to answer some of our questions.
ABV Chicago: How did Cory King come to work for Perennial and start Side Project?
Cory King: I have been in the industry since I was 18 – waiting tables, then bartending, then I was a wine rep at a big distributor, became the craft beer manager at another distributor and I had a short stint as the manager of a big STL beer bar. While managing the beer bar, I knew that I wanted to get into brewing professionally. I had been homebrewing at that time for 6 years and I started looking for St. Louis based brewing jobs. Fortunately, this was right before the explosion of new STL breweries several years ago. One day, I was reading an article and it mentioned the former cellar manager from Goose, who was at that time the head brewer at Half Acre, was moving to STL to open a brewery that focused on Belgian-inspired beers and barrel-aging. This was Phil Wymore. I immediately hunted him down online and started stalking him. Luckily, he hired me with no professional brewing experience and that is how I started at Perennial.
Phil could tell after a year or so that I had the drive to maybe eventually leave Perennial and do my own thing. Most bosses would take that and start phasing out their employee and start moving someone in to take over that role, but not Phil. He came up with the idea of me just starting my brewery inside of Perennial by leasing space, equipment and infrastructure from them. It works perfectly! It allowed me to almost immediately start brewing for my brewery, there weren’t all of the licensing hoops to jump through regarding a build-out, I helped by leasing the equipment when it would otherwise just be sitting dormant… Everything worked and thus the name Side Project just seemed fitting.
At Perennial, I already get to brew awesome beers, but my passion really started to grow for our wood and barrel aging program. Because of this, I knew that I only wanted to focus on these beers at Side Project, so, so far, every beer at SP has been either barrel-fermented and/or aged… I just brew the beers I want to drink…
ABV Chicago: How do you think your chemistry degree has affected your brewing technique?
Cory King: I think that my chemistry degree has helped a lot as I continue to grow as a brewer, learning more of the intricacies, and really studying the craft. Without my degree, a lot of the concepts, processes and chemistry of what actually happens throughout the brew would all by a foreign language. Instead, most of it is just review, so I can easily pick it back up and see how and what I can use from it to better myself.
ABV Chicago: What inspired you to start aging beers in wine barrels with various yeast strains (such as brettanomyces and lactobicillus)?
Cory King: Simply put, those are the beers that I most enjoy drinking, so I was determined to be a great producer of those styles and types of beers.
ABV Chicago: Where do you get the ingredients and bacteria for Side Project’s beers?
Cory King: My raw brewing ingredients some from one of the main malt suppliers. Things like fruit for my beers has been about 95% locally sourced so far. Almost all of it has come from the state of Missouri with the rest coming from some Michigan blueberries that I bought… All of my wild yeast and bacteria comes from Missouri – either St. Louis or from my hometown of Puxico Missouri. I do also use lab grade yeast a bacteria from the big suppliers and I have about 13 unique, isolated Brett strains in our very small lab at Perennial…
ABV Chicago: Where does the idea for a beer like Fuzzy come from?
Cory King: I had never really had a great, or for that matter, any, White Peach beer. I wanted to use Missouri oak barrels with Missouri grown fruit and some Missouri yeast and bacteria to create a beer. Fuzzy was born. I took a keg to FOBAB and it did very well, so I knew that I would have to eventually bottle the beer from then on. I love it and couldn’t be happier with it.
ABV Chicago: Was the decision to go with Rittenhouse Rye barrels for Barrel-Aged Abraxas a conscious one and did you have any idea how it would turn out?
Cory King: The decision to go with those barrels was a conscious one. Both Phil and I love rye whiskeys and when we were placing our first order for spirits barrels, our broker mentioned that he had a small stash of Rye barrels. We immediately jumped on them and now it’s the only barrel that we age BA Abraxas in – so far. We loved the base beer, so we had a good starting point, but you can never ‘guarantee’ how anything is going to turn out after a year in a barrel.
ABV Chicago: Given the recent “boom” in craft beer (both in consumption and creation), is there anything that discourages you or makes you nervous from a business perspective?
Cory King: Yeah, the “boom” is so tremendous and is growing so fast that quality can often take a back seat. There is a lot of bad, infected, off-flavor-ridden beer out there. Especially with sours…
ABV Chicago: Both Side Project and Perennial are involved in many collaborations with other breweries. What do you gain, both from a brewing perspective and a personal one, from collaborating?
Cory King: Honestly, the collabs that we have been in thus far, have really just been for fun. It’s a fun thing to do, to share a brew day or idea or ingredients with someone that you respect in this industry. The collaboration day isn’t really about learning, its about fun. However, these people that we do collab with, are the first that we and they share info with, so it is a 2 way road in that regard.
ABV Chicago: What are Side Project’s plans for 2014 and beyond? I heard news of a tap room.
Cory King: Yep, a tap room sometime this year ;). Also, just got in our first Foeder and plans to just try to make more beer.
A big thanks to Cory for taking the time out of his hectic schedule to answer these questions. Look for our take on some of Side Project’s offerings shortly!