“We just kind of like each others’ beers,” King says. “We both have the same approach within what we want to do with beer—fruited saisons, wild ales, blending. It just seemed fitting that we work together. Plus Troy is just an awesome, likeable dude.”
While the backstory is a bit unremarkable, what came of the partnership between the two brewers is un-unremarkable: Leaner and Leaner, two of the most sought-after collaboration beers in the country.
To make the associative saisons, the two brewers wrote the recipe together, then brewed up identical batches back in their respective states—King on his own system; Casey at Roaring Fork Beer Co., where all his wort is contract brewed. Then the fun part: Each brewer mailed the other a batch of his house yeast and bacteria to be blended with resident cultures. Up to this point, the finished beers would theoretically have come out tasting identical, but King and Casey incorporated subtle differences into their ales.
First, the fruit. After the bugs did their work, the beers rested in barrels filled with local peaches (this is where the name comes in—a “leaner” is a peach so juicy that you have to bend forward, lest you get fruit juice all over your shirt) and, “Totally by chance, we both picked flaming names for our peaches,” King says. That’s not a euphemism—King chose Missouri-grown Flamin’ Fury peaches for the fruit addition to his version of Leaner; Casey selected a Coloradan variety called Flamecrest.
The amount of peaches that went into each barrel also differed by brewer—mainly for competitive reasons.
“I read online somewhere that Troy was overheard saying he was going to out-fruit me, and I was like, ‘Son of a bitch!’” King says. “I stuffed the barrels with as many peaches as physically possible. I used so much peach in there.”
Were the differences in peach variety and amount enough to set these brews apart? We tasted them side-by-side to find out.
The Side Project Leaner is lighter in hue—more of a cloudy marigold—while Casey’s evokes peach fuzz: shades of dusty yellow and sunset-orange. Both are clouded to near opacity, though the Side Project version is a bit clearer.
Casey has a brighter, fruitier aroma than Side Project, more focused on the peach additions than the effects of bugs and barrel aging. The Casey is a basket of fresh-picked peaches; the Side Project is those same peaches pickled or baked into a pie.
Side Project’s peach sweetness and funk run throughout the flavor; there’s more balance from the start of the sip to long after the finish. Casey has a fresher, brighter peach flavor—but acidity dominates. Ultimately, it’s less drinkable.
ADVANTAGE: Side Project
The bodies of the two beers are basically identical: juicy, medium-light. Carbonation is a bit higher in the Side Project bottle, but the Casey suffers a tad from enamel-eroding acidity.
SLIGHT ADVANTAGE: Side Project
WINNER: Us. Both brews are outstanding, and there’s more where they came from—King says he plans to brew another fruited saison with Casey this summer using the same culture-sharing method that produced Leaner. A scheme to craft a full-on wild ale, with each brewer actually visiting the other and assisting with the brewing process, is also in the works.