Beer Review 0041: Sierra Nevada Juniper Black Ale
Sierra Nevada’s Juniper Black Ale was issued earlier in 2011 as part of a variety pack called “Beer Camp.” Beer Camp is a contest the company holds yearly where winners get to go to the brewery in Chico, California and experience everything there is to offer. While there, winners get to brew beer, and the brewery sometimes releases a variety pack offering a sampling of the best beers made.
Or, at least, I think that’s how it goes. The Beer Camp website is unclear on how everything works, possibly because the contest for this year ended a couple months ago. How they decide what gets released and when is a mystery.
Anyway, the four beers that were judged the best of Beer Camp and released earlier this year in a variety twelve pack were California Common (a steam beer), a Weizenbock, a Double IPA, and the beer we’re looking at today, Juniper Black Ale.
Juniper Black is a classic Black India Pale Ale designed to not only be hoppy but also very malty; as the name suggests, this one was brewed using juniper berries, which the brewery notes gives the drink a “resinous pine note.” The alcohol in a Black IPA tends to be high. This one comes in at 8.2% ABV (alcohol by volume).
If you’re like me and need a refresher on juniper berries, here you go: they’re not really berries, but are a cone with fleshy scales that give a berry appearance. Juniper berries are typically used to flavor wild game dishes; they also have medicinal uses in the form of aromatherapy and can used to flavor gin.
The beer poured with a huge, massive light-tan head that overflowed from my glass, so be careful when pouring this one. The foam was creamy and extremely long lasting. The drink was pitch black except for when held to light, where it showed ruby highlights; although pitch black this was a clear black beer, with the liquid itself showing no particles or sediment. The lacing was very sparse and what did form didn’t seem to last long.
There was heavy malt present on the aromatics, roasted coffee and chocolate with a slightly smokey hint. The hops were there, too, although in less quantity; they were perfume-like and slightly juniper. I also picked up a faint alcohol scent. The aromatics were good but unremarkable.
On the palate, Juniper Black was thick and creamy in texture, with a hop kick first, delivering perfume and the juniper berry. It had a soapy quality and then came the malts, first chocolate and coffee, leading to a bittersweet finish that went more toward bitter than sweet the longer it lasted. And it was a long finish that got more smokey as it warmed and more of the juniper berry surfaced.
This is a nicely balanced black ale, and by saying that, I don’t mean balanced hops vs malts. I mean that the malts are more dominant and the hops are nothing more than a precursor to a lengthy, roasted, somewhat grainy finish. I thought the higher ABV sort of did this beer a disservice, but I guess it is supposed to be a sipper. I could see myself having one of these every now and again, but definitely not more than one a week. The flavors are good but when I want dark beer, I want some dark beer, not just one.
If you try this one out, track it as it warms up — it’s nice.
Sierra Nevada Juniper Black Ale, 87 points. Price: $16.99 for the variety twelve-pack, in which you get three bottles of this particular beer.