Southeast Missouri State University alumnus Cory King has always had an entrepreneurial spirit.
That spirit led him to a career in the brewery industry and to create Side Project Brewing, a Maplewood, Missouri, company recently lauded as one of the best in the world.
RateBeer.com, an international beer-review website, recognized Side Project as 2019’s No. 2 brewer in the world. Pop culture digital publication “Paste Magazine” ranked Side Project Brewing the No. 7 best brewery of the decade, based on “beer game” strength, consistency, areas of innovation and importance to the local beer community or larger craft beer sphere.
At Southeast, King earned a Bachelor of Science in chemistry in 2005 and a Master of Business Administration in financial management in 2007. King said the academic, leadership and community experiences he had at Southeast helped prepare him for his flourishing business and success.
“I feel as though the social experiences while in college are just as valuable as the education,” said King, who in addition to staying connected to the friends he met while at Southeast, has also hired two other Southeast alumni to work at Side Project with him. “I held leadership roles in my fraternity while there. I learned self-responsibility and accountability. I met so many people from all over the world, and I forced myself to make a ton of new friends. Being from a smaller town, the amount of growth I went through in my five years there is why I am successful today.”
On getting started in brewing
While in graduate school at Southeast, I started bartending at The Royal N’Orleans (previously of Cape Girardeau, Missouri) and our mature clientele was mostly interested in wine, scotch and our imported beers. I actually fell in love with wine first, spending time traveling around the country and learning about the process and the regions. I even applied to be an assistant winemaker at Chaumette Vineyards and Winery (Ste. Genevieve, Missouri) — I didn’t get the job. I wanted to pursue a career in producing wine but wasn’t ready to relocate to an area that would make the most sense, like California, Oregon or Washington.
Around this time, I met my now brother-in-law and he was getting into homebrewing. Once I learned that, unlike wine, in beer making every brewer has access to the same ingredients — so it’s up to the brewer to produce the best beer possible — I was hooked. We brewed at home for years before I started applying to be a brewer in St. Louis (Missouri). When I was younger, I started my first business at 15, mowing yards. I had a very successful run with this, and later, I had an online business in which I flipped cars. I have always had a little entrepreneurial ambition, hence my reason to eventually leave my first brewing job and start my own.
On the success of Side Project Brewing
At first, Side Project was just me and my wife Karen. I brewed, blended and bottled everything myself. It was physically demanding and required a lot of sweat equity as we grew. Now, with 12 employees, I am more of an operational manager. I still involve myself in every blend, I write almost all of our recipes and I help in the cellar when needed, but I spend a majority of my time with procurement and growth plans and ideas — a lot more computer time now than I really care for!
In January of 2016, we were named the eighth best brewery in the world for 2015. That was a huge step for us, we were now on lists that were shared all over the world. It put us literally on the map. We have a following from all over the world and this has really fueled our success. Being named the second best in the world for 2019 wasn’t a bad day either!
These recognitions haven’t changed us. I’m a relatively focused person, and these accolades are super humbling and really shines more of a light on the staff that we have hired to help expand our vision. Our business model is unlike anyone else in the country (all oak-aged beers, no distribution, expensive), and these recognitions did help me accept that even though we are unlike anyone else, we are doing something right — very right.
On what excites him about the brewing industry
I love the blend of art and science. My degree is in chemistry; the science, the math, those are just things I get. Brewing is a lot of that. I never thought I would be able to apply things that challenge and interest me into something as rewarding as a beer. The industry is also exploding and is full of a ton of great, ambitious people. It makes the challenges easier when the community around brewing is so open and inviting.
Side Project did start another “side project,” which we named Shared Brewing. It’s almost a collective, we “share” profits with our brewing team. All too often, the chef in the kitchen is the talent, even though they don’t own the restaurant; I wanted our “chefs” to have a part in our success, so Shared was created. The brewers have a lot of creative freedom with Shared, and we now can IPAs and an assortment of other styles by giving them full design, naming and recipe freedom to make beers that they want to enjoy.
On the future goals for his brewery
My goal is to grow Side Project into a sustainable company with a lineage. Either we cultivate and educate our children on this business and one day hand it down to them or we create an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) or some other way for our employees to one day own Side Project. I don’t want Side Project to die when I plan on retiring. I want to know that our work will continue to provide jobs and have fun brewing beautiful beers.
On advice for current Southeast students
Take it all in now. Tomorrow is tomorrow and it will come, but today is the day to do what you want, to learn, to make friends, to discover yourself, to figure out what drives you and to understand where you want to go. At no other time in your life will you be surrounded by such a hungry, inspiring, uninhibited group of people; learn from them, enjoy their company and make friendships that will last a lifetime.