Okay, so the first time I tried this beer it was my third of the night (that's a lot for me) after the california common and the weizenbock (more on that later) and I honestly was not impressed. It well balanced, you wouldn't spot it for an 8 percenter, but that's really the best I could say for it from first impressions.
To highlight this, I poured the last half a glass out before going to bed, just couldn't get through it. So the next night I cracked another one as I would hate to short change a beer on first impressions (here that all you ladies who turned up your nose at me over all those years?) but anyway, I cracked another one open and poured it and gave it a sniff and sip. First off, this is very definitively a BLACK ale, as dark and opaque as a stout but with a thinner body and slightly (very slightly) less roast. I don't know if it's the roast or the juniper or whether there is smoked malt in there but I get a strong smoke character from this beer. not unpleasant just smoky. I don't get a huge juniper presence. There is a slight bitterness that is different from what you would expect to get from the roast or the hops but I don't get a lot of pungency which is what I think of when I think of juniper.
Overall not a bad beer. but It's a once a night kinda beer for sure. it kind of curbs the appetite for any other beers as well. That being said I did have another of the Cali commons after this beer and it was a nice refresher after the big black beast.