If you happen to be a regular patron of a beer-savvy bar or bottle shop, chances are you’ve noticed that American craft brewers have come down with what amounts to a significant case of wine and whiskey envy. How else to explain their nascent but rapidly spreading obsession with putting their beers in wooden barrels?
No one knows precisely when it started (although Goose Island Brewing’s original mid-1990’s edition of their Bourbon County Stout is as good a benchmark as any), but it has certainly accelerated on a grand scale over the last half-decade or so. Stouts and barley wines are matured in used bourbon barrels; wine country brewers accent their lighter-bodied ales in chardonnay or cabernet wood, and even barrels that once held brandy or port are getting a turn on the brewery floor.
But still, nothing prepared the faithful followers of Oregon’s Rogue Ales for this. Operators of both a brewery and a distillery, Rogue’s recent project began with the maturing of their sweetish, highly aromatized Spruce Gin in local pinot noir barrels, itself an unusual endeavor that resulted in Rogue Pink Spruce Gin. Brewer John Maier and distiller John Couchot then got together and filled the pinot and gin saturated wood with Rogue Juniper Pale Ale, thus creating John John Juniper Pale Ale.
The barrel-accented brew is quite different from the original Juniper Pale Ale, with a more profound fruitiness and fragrant spruce perfume on the nose and distinctly gin-esque notes in the body, along with some plummy fruit, a whack of juniper and a muting of the original beer’s fresh hoppiness. Like the Pink Spruce Gin itself, it became a drink more for reflection than refreshment, not necessarily better, but most certainly different.