Brew Blog: John John Juniper

This is probably a bad idea, but I must admit that this review is the direct result of a recommendation from Bruce R. Ordinarily, I wouldn't give him credit (kidding, Bruce), but I feel he earned it. In the making of this particular recommendation, Bruce waded through a sordid personal history involving underage drinking and shameful personal hygiene. Two in a row, Brucie. Not bad.

Interestingly enough, I actually tried to sample this beer a while back. I didn't get it right, though, remembering the "John John," but not the "Juniper." For what it's worth, John John Hazelnut Brown Nectar is pretty good. Both of the beers come out of an interesting collaborative project between Rogue's brewmaster and spiritmaster (I have yet to try any of Rogue's hard liquor, though I've seen their whiskey and gin at Spec's. Anyone have any experience?), featuring a trio of Rogue's production beers aged in barrels that formerly housed the brewery's spirits. It's an interesting twist on a barrel aging program, allowing the brewer and distiller to design their beverages in conjunction, tailoring the barrel specifically to the beer, and creating an interesting link between the two beverages.

John John Juniper, as you may have guessed, is aged in gin barrels. To be specific, it's aged in Rogue's Spruce Gin barrels. The hazy gold beer produces a fluffy, three-finger head with decent retention, leaving broad, heavy lacing down the sides of the glass.

Bright, citrusy aromas vault out of the glass, carried on an interesting breeze of pine, owing to the spruce nuances in the gin. Slight spicing comes through, manifesting as coriander with a hint of its carrot-green cousin. The juniper is there in the nose, but just floating underneath.

The gin-berry is not so subtle on the palate, coming out right up front. The citrus notes follow, along with a slightly tarry, peppery kick. A mild bitterness washes those flavors out, starting like clean, herbal hops but rounding out, interestingly, like quinine. That burst of tonic really helps to reinforce some of the gin elements, a flavor allusion to the spirit-half's signature tipples.

It took me a long time to really understand the difference that warming can make in the appreciation of a beer, allowing more flavors to be perceived and getting some of the carbonation out of the way. This is definitely a beer that benefits from a bit of tempering. As it warms, the slightly hard edges of the beer soften, and the flavors seem to coalesce. It also reveals some malt nuance, biscuity with an undertone of earth or wood and an elusive quality that keeps thumping in my brain as "gamy." As these flavors round out, the bitter quinine/hops takes on a curious, almost acidic character. Dill comes to mind. As odd as that sounds, it's not unpleasant.

I don't know that this would make it into regular rotation; some of the herbal elements are just too particular to make for an everyday sort of beer. Still, it's intriguing and surprisingly appropriate for the time of year, what with the fact that it smells like citrus and Christmas trees.

I've been told that, if you really like gin, you'll love this beer. I'm not sure that's really true, though. While it's redolent of gin, it doesn't taste like gin. I'm pretty sure that you wouldn't leap to the direct connection unless you knew the story, but would rather just find this to be a quirky, aromatic, spicy pale ale with some unusual flavors and aromas. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall