Side Project Brewing | O.W.K.
It’s been almost (exactly) two years since this extremely limited release from Side Project came out. While many who are familiar with O.W.K still consider it to be the best beer ever produced, perhaps even a larger percentage of people still don’t even know of its existence.
The Side Project
Side Project Brewing, co-founded by Cory and Karen King, opened its Cellar doors in 2014 and its tasting room in 2016, which isn’t very long for a brewery sporting such brewing prowess. Their operation is small and exclusive, and obtaining any of their famous barrel-aged offerings may be more difficult than you think. With no outside distribution, your best shot is to make a trip to Maplewood, Missouri. Either that or attend a festival at which Cory and his team are pouring beers. And if you have trouble finding their tent there, just look for the longest line.
New & Unique
Cory King, who also serves as Side Project’s brewmaster, describes O.W.K. as the “culmination of the brewery’s stout production.” The recipe and process are meant to thoughtfully provoke insight into why Cory truly loves brewing and blending, a passion that he hopes he can pass on to the son whose golden initials are embossed on O.W.K.’s matte black label. Understandably, the beer itself is made up of a unique recipe dissimilar to Side Project’s other stout offerings. This singular stout was designed to fit comfortably in its inevitable resting place: hand-selected Willett Family Estate bourbon barrels. The beer rested for 15 months in 15-year Willett barrels before conditioning on a double dose of naturally processed Ugandan vanilla beans.
Upon release, O.W.K. was available for on-site enjoyment only, with a limit of one bottle per person per day at both of Side Project’s locations. Exclusive member bottles still occasionally float around at private shares; O.W.K.’s last public appearance was at Side Project’s Festival of Barrel-Aged Stouts & Barleywines on February 2, 2020.
From the moment I had heard about O.W.K., who brewed it, and what it represented, it immediately became my “white whale.” If you happened to read my event recap on their Invitational, you know that I finally had the opportunity to slay this stout. I touched on its importance briefly in that article, but I felt that a beer of this magnitude deserved the full breakdown. Also note that the pours I received of O.W.K. were not from the bottle, but from a keg packaged in March 2018.
In the glass, O.W.K.’s motor oil thickness is immediately noticeable. As a result, there are no traces of head or lace. Instead, chestnut brown-colored bubbles lazily rise in a broken circle around the ring of the beer. Swirling it lightly in the glass really shows the density of the body, with wine-like legs trailing slowly in the wake of the quickly motionless liquid.
With this beer approaching two years old, the still-dominant vanilla aromas are amazingly prevalent. Bordering on pastry, the initial 1-2 punch of vanilla combined with a rich, sweet, chocolate-forward stout base is something to behold. After a moment, however, an exquisite bourbon-barrel complexity emerges, with notes of charred oak and a touch of caramelized dark fruit.
On the palate, there is a bit more evidence that the vanilla has begun to mellow but does not completely recede. Lightly earthy cacao softens what can only be described as bourbon-soaked brownie batter. Notes of rich marshmallow fudge, vanilla bean and charred oak lead the way for a viscous, boozy warmth that can be felt all the way down.
The mouthfeel on this beer is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It’s decadently soft and smooth. It’s thick and chewy. It finishes boozy and warm. And it somehow does all of these things simultaneously. At the same time, O.W.K. literally coats your mouth, ensuring that every taste bud experiences the full essence of what this masterpiece has to offer. The chew on the palate and that warmth down the hatch stick around well into that inevitable next sip.
If you ever get the opportunity to try this beer, savor it. It might not be too overly dramatic to say that it will never be topped.
Feature photo courtesy of Side Project Brewing