We had tons of juniper bushes in the area we grew up in Colorado, so the smell of gin was familiar to us long before we ever drank it. We used to squish the berries between our fingers and smell their pungent, spicy odor. Sure, not all gin is heavy on the juniper, but it is a predominant ingredient in most. In fact the word “gin” comes from the Dutch word for juniper, genever. It’s that piney, resiny, woody note—not unlike some hop varieties. And, in fact, there is a traditional Finnish beer, sahti, that’s brewed with juniper twigs or berries. Though Rogue was not trying to brew a traditional sahti, tasting this beer does offer a glimpse at brewing’s past where various cultures in the world just used whatever fermentable (and, hopefully, tasty) materials they had on hand.
JUNIPER PALE ALE
Pale Ale (with juniper)
With the easy availability of the four major ingredients beer is typically brewed with in the modern craft beer era, there’s obviously no need to, say, use juniper instead of hops to add spicy, bitter notes to a beer to balance it. But, hey, why not try it? That seems to be the Rogue M.O. anyway. This is, after all, the brewery that used the yeast found in brewer John Maier’s beard to ferment a beer. Seriously. Though we’ve yet to try it, it makes us wretch just thinking about it. (No offense, John Maier, we’re just not down with drinking beers brewed with beard fungus.)
Juniper berries we’re good with. As noted above, the aromatic similarities to certain West Coast hop varieties makes them a good fit for a pale ale. And used in moderation, as they are here, they add an interesting element to the beer, rather than take it over. Nobody wants to drink a beer that tastes like a pine tree. And anyone thinking this is the beer equivalent to gin will be disappointed. Since gin is made from a distilled spirit, it teases notes out of the berries that the brewing process doesn’t.
In fact, you’d be hard pressed to really smell much juniper in this beer. The overall aroma of the beer is fairly muted. Doesn’t smell bad, just doesn’t smell like much. Taste-wise, the juniper shows up as a nice little floral/herbaceous background note across your tongue—nothing too overbearing—and follows with a sharp, biting bitterness. Yes, there is a decent amount of Sterling and Cascade hops in here adding bitterness, as well, but the kind of bitter here is more herbal and almost medicinal (in that naturopathic way).
We’ve tasted beers brewed with spruce tips (another this’ll-work-in-a-pinch ingredient used in earlier times) and they were difficult to stomach beyond a few ounces. Rogue’s Juniper Pale Ale, is a crisp, light-bodied beer with the earthy juniper well integrated into it, so that the beer is interesting and yet also balanced. It has a nice crisp, dry finish and it won’t leave you burping pine needles after you finish a pint.
Adem Tepedelen’s new craft beer book, Decibel Presents the Brewtal Truth Guide to Extreme Beers: An All-Excess Pass to Brewing’s Outer Limits, is now available in the Decibel online store.
And for your beer drinking and metal listening pleasure we give you the French instru-metal band Caldera who wrote a whole album about trees, Mist Through Your Consciousness, including a tune called “Juniper.”