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Casks & Camaraderie | Oak & Steel

Feature Image for Oak & Steel's installment of Casks & Camaraderie
Eric Griffin

In an unintended continuation from the last installment, Casks & Camaraderie is again headed to Missouri. Previously exploring Cape Girardeau’s Cask Craft Spirits and Beer Lounge, we focused on their elevation of barrel picks to expand exclusively from whiskey distillers into the realm of private picks with local brewery barrel stocks. This iteration picks up in the same barrel room it left off in, with Cory King and Side Project Brewing. His newest collaboration in the Silent Barrel series was with Kyle Howard, owner of Oak & Steel craft drinkery out of Kansas City. We took a deeper dive into his experience, the barrel, and the impact it’s had on the ever-changing beer scene in northwestern MO.

Oak & Steel

The seed for this craft beer concept was planted back in early 2018, an idea that stemmed off from beer chats about potentially investing in startup breweries during the midst of the industry boom. Partnering with previous clients of his who owned two local liquor stores, they signed a lease in December of 2018, officially opening for business on September 20th, 2019.

In the short time since Oak & Steel opened its doors, the craft scene as well as distribution in the Midwest region has undergone numerous shifts. Top-tier brands like Hop Butcher, Equilibrium, and Narrow Gauge are all now available in Kansas City, and the emergence of world-class, home-grown breweries has been fantastic for business. Alma Mader, BKS Artisan Ales, and Pathlight are just a few of these new brewery projects in the area popping up since 2019, and the alignment in growth timelines has been mutually beneficial with Oak & Steel.

Kyle’s Crossroads neighborhood bar has 24 taps dedicated to constantly rotating independent craft beer. In addition, there is a small curated wine list and over 100 bottles of whiskey to choose from. PRO TIP: Don’t ask for cocktails, your serving options for whiskey will be either neat or with a rock!

Silent Barrel

Cory King pouring samples from Side Project's Barrel Room
Cory King pouring samples for Oak & Steel’s tasting session | Photo courtesy of JD Creative

Camaraderie

Group photo, Oak & Steel with Karen and Cory King
Group photo from Oak & Steel’s October selection day | Photo courtesy of JD Creative

This program from Side Project Brewing was designed to be a series by and for brewery members and friends. While Kyle had supported Side Project since 2015, relationships didn’t evolve until 2022 when he joined La Coterie. This exclusive membership gives access to Side Project’s beer to people who have supported the brewery locations for years. La Coterie members get to reserve and purchase select Side Project beers before the public sale, as well as receive discounts and various other perks throughout the membership term.

Fast forward to August of that same year. Kyle reached out to Cory and his team about possibly purchasing kegs for his upcoming 3rd Anniversary Party. The rest was history. Oak & Steel has been buying kegs and making regular trips to-and-from Maplewood ever since those first purchases, and it’s been over this time that he’s really grown to know and build a friendship with the Kings.

Casks

Detail shots, Oak & Steel Barrel #552
Photos courtesy of JD Creative

This connection eventually led to Cory and his wife Karen inviting Kyle to their barrel room to make a selection for their Silent Barrel series. For his sampling he invited a few of his employees, as well as some of his best customers and friends. On a Thursday afternoon in October, Kyle’s hand-selected team drove to the Side Project barrel warehouse. The setup on-site had a table with five samples for each attending member. Cory explained that he wanted everyone to taste through the beers blind, without knowing recipes or barrel origins; he wanted them to pick based on the beer alone. While the five samples were just a starting point, and he pulled from additional barrels for further exploration, the group still found themselves gravitating back towards two of the original five.

After determining the favorite, Cory revealed the recipes and barrels of everything that had been sampled. Their final selection, Barrel #552, was an unreleased collaborative stout recipe named “Henry”, brewed with Monkish brewing 4 years prior. The beer had been resting ever since in Weller 12-year bourbon barrels.

Everyone in the group found the “big” nature of this beer enticing. That is to say, the four years spent aging in oak led to an “extra-massive” quality, even when being compared to Side Project’s other notably robust offerings.

Barrel #552

Barrel shot of final selection #552
Photo courtesy of JD Creative

While this Silent Barrel made its debut during Side Project’s Stout Week celebrations, Oak & Steel was given a separate allocation. Bottles were sold in extremely limited quantities to select customers, with the rest available for purchase and consumption on-site since March 23rd.

Kyle was incredibly generous in setting aside a bottle and sending it to us for review. We unanimously agreed that the opportunity was the perfect fit for the second installment of Casks & Camaraderie. We owe him a huge thank you for allowing us to share the experience for this series.

As mentioned, this beer is Side Project’s collaborative Henry recipe, which entered a Weller 12-year barrel on January 7, 2020. It never released publicly, and this thread rested in that same barrel until this release.

The Review

Review Image, Silent Barrel #552
Photo by Eric Griffin

The pour from the Oak & Steel selection comes about as close to true motor oil than you’d ever hope to find from any other barrel-aged stout. As these Silent Barrels are all bottled still, this beast is viscous and intimidating without agitating the slightest touch of residual head. When catching the light, the perimeter of the glass shows off deep shades of umber.

The nose, while preemptively showing off robust, dry chocolate notes, quickly elevates the senses with enormous barrel presence. Campfire smoke paves the way for milk chocolate raisins, toasted vanilla, baseball leather, and a touch of pipe tobacco.

At first, the palate brings strong reminders of recent Beer : Barrel : Time vintages. Tobacco and oak forward; charred and dry. There’s mildly abrasive cacao, burnt sugar, stewed raisins, and a staunch residual bitterness that slowly fades into the next sip. The bourbon increases with each taste, bringing with it elevated vanilla, baking spices, and the subtlest hint of pomegranate molasses. While just a whisper, this touch of fruit is very much detectable on this beer’s long finish.

The mouthfeel on this beer is big, viscous, and a touch syrupy. A subtle hint of naturally-occurring carbonation cuts the weight. It fully coats the palate, leaving behind noticeable residual stickiness. As mentioned previously, there’s a good level of dryness imparted from the oak; the time spent resting is so noticeable. Throughout is a big, boozy warmth, a necessary quality to uphold the boldness of the sensory experiences presented by the formidable #552.

Picking & Choosing

In a time where the craft industry has found itself needing to develop new and exciting ways to market their product to stay relevant, private barrel pick beers have seen huge upside. Side Project’s Silent Barrel series is no different. They essentially serve as the vessel which allows members and friends of their community rare opportunities to not only sample a variety of rare and experimental casks, but also to share the selection and their stories with members of their own business’s communities. It’s a cycle that is both wholesome and effective. Additionally, the small batch-nature of these releases allow rare beer seekers something notably difficult to land their hands on.

For Kyle Howard, this opportunity is the culmination of experiences from 8 years ago. It began with a trek across the state for Side Project’s Pulling Nails #4 in 2016. In 2022, he was able to purchase kegs for Oak & Steel’s 3rd Anniversary celebration. Finally, the chance to taste through barrel stock for a selection in Cory King’s exclusive series. Oak & Steel just hosted their Silent Barrel Day this past weekend on March 23rd, bringing in people from near and far for a chance to try this newest selection in Side Project’s quickly growing series. That’s what these programs and this series is all about. Barrel-aged beer and the friendships they forge.


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