Road Trip: St Louis Edition
Back on July 15th I shared with you my thoughts on five of the six St Louis breweries I visited in June. The brewery that was left out was intentionally omitted because this brewery was a bucket list brewery for me, and I wanted to go deeper into it. I give you Side Project Brewing.
The Location: Maplewood
Side Project has two locations, the brewery and Side Project Cellar. The Cellar is located about a quarter of a mile away from the brewery in the Maplewood neighborhood, about 10 minutes from downtown St Louis. The tagline for Maplewood is very fitting and can be found right on the City of Maplewood website: “Somewhere between Mayberry and Metropolis is Maplewood.” In addition to Side Project, Maplewood is also home to Schlafly Bottleworks and some very highly rated restaurants such as Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, Maya Cafe, and more. For a complete list of top Dining and Nightlife locations in Maplewood, checkout the link here.
When you make it to Side Project, be prepared for an experience that is almost more winery like than many of the breweries you have visited. Both the Brewery and the Cellar are small locations, especially when compared to what we are accustomed to in Texas. Unlike Texas, they can sell for off-premise consumption. So, as with everything else, breweries seem to be bigger in Texas, but bigger isn’t always better.
Cory King, along with his wife Karen are the founders and owners of Side Project Brewing. Cory’s first love was wine, in fact he worked for a wine distributor for a time. Knowing that Missouri grape wouldn’t allow him to produce a quality product, that idea didn’t go anywhere. At the same time, Cory’s brother-in-law got him into homebrewing. Long story short, Cory got his first job at a brewery as the brewer for Perennial Artisan Ales. One of the most famous Perennial beers is Abraxas, one of Cory’s homebrew recipes.
While there the owner of Perennial approached Cory and asked about his desire to start his own brewery. Eventually, the concept was established and Cory was brewing for Perennial during the day, and renting space from Perennial to start brewing for his side project at night. From there, Side Project was born. One factor that allowed this arrangement to work was the fact that Side Project is a 100% barrel aged brewery, so they weren’t motivated by cranking out beer as soon as possible, instead of releasing the beers slowly at bottle release events at Perennial. This arrangement allowed Side Project to get off the ground and establish their brand before they outgrew the shared space at Perennial.
Side Project Cellar
Side Project’s first location was actually their Cellar (excluding the space they rented at Perennial). This gave fans a location to taste and buy their beers on a regular basis. The Cellar not only serves Side Project beers, but they also serve Shared Brewing beers (more info on that in a minute), some very unique beers from around the world, whiskey, and wine. The tap and bottle lists are also far more expansive at the Cellar. While the Brewery is open only on Saturday and Sunday, the Cellar is open Tuesday thru Saturday. Below is an example of the tap list you might find at the Cellar.
As I said before, Side Project is a 100% barrel aged brewery. While Side Project has produced some very highly rated barrel aged imperial stouts, the focus is on a very traditional Belgian style Saison. The Side Project saisons are tart and many of them incorporate local Missouri fruit. The beer that put Side Project on the map was Fuzzy, a Missouri Wild Ale that was aged on Missouri peaches and aged in Chardonnay barrels. I got to try Fuzzy during my visit, thanks to the generosity of some very kind strangers that I met, and I acquired a bottle the next day via a trade.
Side Project is brewing some of the best beers in the country, especially if you like saisons and wild beers, and was probably the best brewery visits I have ever experienced. To be fair, they are brewing my favorite styles of beers. But one of the most unique things about the Side Project is actually that Cory and Karen King took the generosity that was afforded to them by Perennial and are taking it to the next level.
Two of the brewers at Side Project expressed interest in one day having their own breweries. So Cory and Karen decided that they could create a mutually beneficial venture that would facilitate the dreams of their employees, thus, Shared Brewing was born. Now many of their employees have created beers of their own, sold under the Shared brand at both the Brewery and the Cellar. The beers that are under the Shared Brewing label do not follow the barrel aged tradition of Side Project. The beers brewed under the Shared Brewing brand would make pretty killer brewery in and of themselves. Don’t believe me? See the list here.
Side Project Brewing (the brewery)
The brewery location is right around the corner from the Cellar, located on the main street that runs through Maplewood, Manchester Rd. Parking on-site is sufficient for non-bottle release days. When I was there for the Raspe release the entire parking lot was closed, providing space for the line of customers waiting patiently for the chance to secure bottles of the raspberry goodness. If you go to the brewery for a bottle release, check their website for directions on the best place to park. Behind the brewery, there are rows of picnic tables that are covered and shaded, so even on a sunny day sitting outside is comfortable.
Inside the brewery is also comfortable. Again, even though I was there for a bottle release, many people came and went and the combination of the indoor and outdoor seating provided plenty of room. I was fairly surprised because the brewery taproom didn’t look that big. Between the brewhouse and the insane amount of foeders and barrels, it was actually pretty difficult to get one picture that showed everything. Hopefully, the pictures below will give you a good idea of the brewhouse.
Normally at a brewery I try to taste more than three or four beers, especially if flights are an option. Here flights weren’t really an option, partly because many of the pours are small, so sampling 5 Side Project and a few Shared beers in two days was actually not bad. But with beers that have as much complexity and flavor, you don’t need a lot at any one time.
Normally I would list my favorite beer, the most unique or surprising beer, and my least favorite beer, but not here. Instead, I think its better I list the beers I tasted and some notes.
Raspe – This beer has a ton of red raspberries, and it is awesome! It was very pleasantly tart, and still a little sweet, with a very appropriate amount of oak and funk.
Raspberry Biere du Pays – Biere du Pays is Side Project’s classic saison with wild Missouri yeast. The raspberry and the tartness from the wild yeast and bacteria are light. This would be a good introduction to fruited tart beers.
Abricot du Fermier (blend #3) – I definitely liked this beer a lot. I really enjoy apricot white wine and oak, so it was going to be hard for me to not enjoy. The beer was also more juicy than I expected.
Marietta Ave. (Blend #3) – Marietta Ave is a Farmhouse Pale Ale aged in French Oak and Belgian yeast and Brettanomyces (brett). This is a very fine beer. A lot of floral and earthy notes. The brett was not overpowering. There are some beers that can stand up to a lot of brett, but I personally do not feel this is one of them. Good thing it was so well balanced.
Fuzzy (Blend #3) – This was absolutely my favorite Side Project beer and probably my favorite sour beer with stone fruit. Not only do you get plenty of peach, but you also get notes of apricot. Batch #3 is a beer that has been blended with beers that are up to four years old, making it truly a one of a kind beer. If you visit Side Project and they still have bottles, do NOT pass it up. It’s definitely worth the $25 at the Cellar!
Final Thoughts on Side Project
Ask almost anyone that knows me, I hate when things are oversold. I will normally tell you my favorite movie is pretty good. If you ask me for my true opinion on food or music, I will give it, but I try not to influence yours, especially if you haven’t yet experienced it. My wife hates this about me, by the way, because in her opinion you should be super excited about something to fully experience it. With Side Project though, I just can’t hold back.
Side Project was a bucket list brewery for me and it absolutely lived up to my expectations. If you told me I could only visit five breweries before I die, I struggle with that list, but the struggle would have been with the other four breweries to include on the list. I was actually trying to plan my next trip to Side Project before I had even left the first time. So with all that gushing over my experience out of the way, let me close with this… Side Project is pretty good.
If you have questions that are not addressed in the article, feel free to email me at Peter@HoustonBeerScene.com or hit us up on Facebook or Twitter.