Juniper Rising: Tucson’s Gin Oasis with Stuart Lauer & Kellner Brown
Welcome to the latest episode of Life Along The Streetcar, where we take you on a sonic journey through the vibrant heartbeats of Tucson’s cultural, culinary, and business landscapes. This episode uncorks the story behind Juniper, the newest gin-focused bar in Tucson. Join our host, Tom Heath, as he sits down with the dynamic duo – Stuart Lauer and Kellner Brown, to dive deep into their shared passion for innovation and their vision for a redefined Tucson drinking scene.
- 🍔 Iron Johns & Monkey Burger Legacy: Discover the history and innovation behind the iconic brands.
- 🍸 Gin-Focused Revolution: Dive deep into the gin trend Kellner encountered in his travels and how it’s making waves in Tucson.
- 🛠 From Brewery to Bar: Learn how Stuart and his team continuously innovate, and the plans for transforming their spaces.
- 🍹 Cocktail Craftsmanship: Kellner shares the intricate art of curating a unique gin menu, and the importance of fresh and dried botanicals.
- 🤝 Perfect Pairings: Find out about the destined friendship between Stuart and Kellner, and how their partnership shaped Juniper.
About the Guests
Stuart Lauer – A visionary entrepreneur and co-owner of Iron Johns Brewery and Monkey Burger. With multiple ventures under his belt, Stuart is continuously looking to innovate and offer Tucson a fresh culinary and beverage experience.
Kellner Brown – A Tucson native with a wealth of knowledge in the world of cocktails. His travels and encounters with the global gin trend led him to curate Juniper’s distinctive menu.
Encourage your friends and family to dive into the world of gin and experience Tucson like never before. Share, listen, and immerse in the rich tapestry of stories Life Along The Streetcar has to offer!
Good morning, it’s a beautiful Sunday in the Old Pueblo and you’re listening to KTDT Tucson. Thank you for spending a part of your brunch hour with us on your downtown Tucson community sponsored all -volunteer powered rock and roll radio station. This week we’re going to speak with Kellner Brown and Stuart Lauer, they’re two of the brains behind Tucson’s newest bar, Juniper. The gin -focused spot opened up last week and was welcomed by a lot of folks in downtown. We’re going to get a behind -the -scenes peek at how this concoction came to be. Today is September 10th, 2023, my name is Tom Heath and you are listening to Life Along the Streetcar. Each and every Sunday are focused on social, cultural, and economic impacts in Tucson’s urban core and we shed light on hidden gems everyone should know about. From A Mountain to the University of Arizona and all stops in between, you get the inside track right here on 99 .1 FM, streaming on downtownradio .org. We’re also available on your iPhone or Android with our very own Downtown Radio Tucson app.
And if you want to interact with us directly on the show, Facebook and Instagram seem to be the best way to do that. And if you want information on the show, book past episodes, or to contact us, you can head over to lifealongthestreetcar .org and of course we invite you to listen to our podcast and all kinds of platforms out there, most of the ones where you’re going to find your other podcasts like Spotify, iTunes, and even asking your smart speaker to play Life Along the Streetcar podcast. Well, tomorrow we know is the anniversary, it’s the September 11th anniversary. There are several events around town and in downtown we always have the Tower Challenge. It was held at the University of Arizona for a while and now it’s being held at the Tucson Convention Center and it’s an opportunity to run the number of stairs that are in the towers and celebrate the first responders who did that so heroically. Now the registration might be closed. You can head over to their website, 911towerchallengefoundation
.org. If they have spots available, they’ll let you register, but I know they cap it and usually fills up before this, but you can always check that out and see if there’s any spots available. And if you did register, remember it starts at seven, it’s at the convention center and you want to give yourself a little time for parking. They do have a registration option if you just want to go and support one of the registered participants, even if you’re not yourself going to be doing the stairs, and you can do that through their website. There’s a non -participant attendee, it’s a free registration. It does, you do have to match it to someone who is participating, so you can’t just go and watch. You’ve got to watch and support an individual. So make sure you’ve got their name and everything when you register for that. And while you’re there, after the challenge or maybe before, do a little reflection, walk around the plaza there, the Alba Bustamante Torres Plaza. It’s beautifully renovated.
There’s water flowing, very calm and serene in the morning. So check it out. And something else you might want to check out soon is the newest bar in Tucson. It’s called Juniper. It’s got a gin -focused menu, although it’s got quite a few other selections. And it came from the brainchild of the Iron Johns team over there. And we had a chance to talk with Stuart Lauer, one of the owners, and Kellner Brown, a consultant that helped put this together, and kind of get the inside scoop on how this establishment came to be. So we are joined today by Stuart Lauer, one of the co -owners of the Iron Johns, Monkey Burger, soon to be Juniper, and probably a handful of others in there too. And then we also have Kellner Brown, who is a consultant helping with the opening of the Juniper gin -focused bar. Welcome to the show, gentlemen. Good to be with you. Thanks for having us. So Stuart, Iron Johns has so many different sort of arms that’s in our community now. Can you kind of give us a little background
of this brewery and all the things that you guys are doing? Yeah, so Iron Johns and Monkey Burger came together in early 2020, right before everything went a little crazy with the pandemic. And we chose to try and bring, you know, the burger concept I had with Monkey Burger and the great beer that Iron Johns had to create something new and have it all just go underneath the Iron Johns, you know, kind of umbrella. And in doing that, we’ve ended up with, you know, a couple of different projects, remodels. So our old Monkey Burger location on Broadway and Craycroft is going to be opening hopefully in the next few months. That will be, you know, beer -based, but we’ll also have drinks and then we’re doing a full pizza lineup and also some of the great burgers that we had before at Monkey Burger. I saw on Facebook, I was looking, doing a little research, there were some people clamoring for some of those burgers to come back. So I’m glad to hear that some of them will make a reappearance on
the menu. Yeah, and some that won’t make a reappearance, we’re definitely going to be running a specials for the first little while, you know, trying to, you know, obviously attract back a lot of the regulars that we had and followers we had from before. So in addition to that, you’ve got the tap room on 18th, which is a pretty huge facility that you’re still operating out of there, correct? Yes, yes. That’s operating just as a beer tap room right now. Our goal is to turn that into our full brewery operation and into a restaurant there as well, hopefully sometime middle of next year. Good heavens. So it’s, you guys don’t rest much over there, you’re always rebuilding something. We just always seem to get more than one project going at once. What I was going to say is we’re talking about Monkey Burger, that concept reopening in a couple of months, but you know, as we air this, we are a day or two away from the grand opening of the Juniper Bar, which is a former tap room that Iron John’s
had that they’ve converted. So obviously it’s airing a few weeks later, but how do you stay sane if you’re remodeling like all these different businesses? I think we kind of just get ourselves into it and then just go from there, ask the questions later. I think the team that we have at Iron John’s really does enjoy the project side of things, but we definitely look forward to being operational and getting back to what you call the normal day -to -day of operating a restaurant and brewery. And we’re really looking forward to the awesome beverage program that Kellner’s put together for us over at Juniper and how exciting that is for our portfolio as well. Well, Stuart, there’s the segue for me. I was going to get a transition into this because I really want to talk about this. It’s on the tap room that’s on Congress in between 5th and 6th. It was closed as Iron John’s earlier in August and is reopening September 1 as Juniper. And Kellner, you’re the brains behind these fabulous drinks I’m
seeing on Facebook? That’s nice of you to say. I don’t know if I’m the brains behind it, but I am doing it. We really wanted to take advantage of what we saw as a nice opportunity in the Tucson market to do something that was gin -focused. Tucson has seen so many different amazing places choose a specific focus in the last five or six years, and nobody had done gin yet. That’s what we decided would be our niche for the Congress tap room. And I understand it’s gin -focused, but not gin -exclusive, right? You’re offering, you’re still going to have the Iron John’s beer and things on tap? We’ll have the Iron John’s beer on tap, and we’ll also have full bar capacity to produce any classic cocktail with any spirit. The major focus on gin. And so tell me about the gin itself. Are you using, are you bringing in all these different gins that we don’t normally see in Tucson? So we have a gin portfolio right now that is composed of more than 50 different gins from 16 different countries. So it’s
certainly the largest gin portfolio in Arizona that I know of. Wow. And we’ve worked very closely with several different distributors to put that portfolio together to find interesting bottles and certainly tasted our fair share of gin to put that together. For sure. And are you, is gin your background or are you overall like a cocktail expert in crafting different cocktails or is gin kind of like a driving force for you? Cocktail bars broadly are my background, but gin has been something that I’ve been really interested in in the last few years because I found a trend traveling outside of the United States, a gin tonic trend, lots of gin tonic focused bars. And the tradition there is focused on that, that Copa Ballon glass. It’s like a big giant Merlot shaped, almost looks like a wine glass, but a photo doesn’t do it justice. It’s almost a 30 ounce capacity in that bowl. And what that allows you to do is it allows you to add all sorts of fresh and dried botanicals. To a gin tonic that
takes that gin tonic from an everyday experience that you might be used to in a normal bar that you would go to anywhere, to something that’s a real broad and varied experience that can include all kinds of fresh ingredients that you would usually find in a high class cocktail bar, but repurposed specifically to the gin tonic. And that’s just something that I hadn’t seen come this way yet. And so that is another thing that we decided to make the primary focus of this bar. It’s big, it’s fresh, it’s beautiful. It’s a great aromatic experience as well as a tasting experience. And you get to have that enormous Copa Ballon glass in your hand. And how did this all come together? Are you connected and wanted to do this or did you approach Iron Johns or Iron Johns seek you out? How did this relationship come to be?
I can answer that one a little bit. One of my best friends is a really good close friend of Kelner. And Kelner and I have been friends for probably eight or nine years. And I was looking to make that transition at Congress to adding in a cocktail program. And I reached out to my good buddy, Danielle. And he was, you know, the first person he picked up the phone to call was Kelner. We had to sit down and the next thing you know, his eyes lit up about the G &T thing you see all over Europe and the goblets. And it really like, I was like, well, I think you’re onto something. So we basically went back to the rest of the partners and, you know, I kind of pitched it to him what I heard and I was excited about it. And I think everybody was pretty sold on it. It was, you know, it took us a while to get in gear to try and make the transition. Obviously, we had to get a new license and do some different stuff. But I think the friendship and the relationships that Kelner and I already shared made
it easy to transition to a working thing where we had, you know, a common interest in what we were trying to, you know, how we were trying to move forward with the Congress location could put his vision there and to, you know, to have, you know, everything kind of come together. Man, I love stories like this. They’re just, it’s just like fate, like this is supposed to be here. You have someone out traveling the world, looking for a place to bring a special set of cocktails. And then you’ve got a place in Tucson going, we need something different and a mutual friend brings you together. And it sounds like a perfect pairing for what we need in downtown. It’s been a great experience being able to put it together. And they have a great team. They’re very much a, once the curtain goes up, the show is on type of mentality. And that’s the environment that I like to work in. You’re here, you’ve helped establish this concept. Are you going to be here for a while or you have other projects lined
up and you’re kind of getting us going and then moving on? So the next thing on deck is to do a wine and vermouth cocktail program at the Iron John’s, the additional Iron John’s locations. So as soon as Juniper is up and running, then we’re going to move right on to the next two and we’ll do pizza pairings and all kinds of great stuff that will carry over some of the things that we’ve done for Juniper, but we’re going to do some fresh new things in those locations as well, which I’m excited about. So you’ll be in Tucson for a bit here, kind of making all this happen. Well, I’ll be here for the foreseeable future. I’m back to living here full time now. Okay. Are you from Tucson originally? Originally from Tucson, yes. Oh, okay. I’ve had the opportunity to work with opening some other bars in town, which has also been great. Yeah, I love what’s been going on here the last couple of years and I’m right where I want to be. Well, I hope you are right where you want to be listening to this radio
show on Downtown Radio. This is Life Along the Streetcar. We’re talking to Stuart Lauer, co -owner of Juniper, Iron John’s, and a few other places here in town, and Kelner Brown, a consultant to help them come up with a concept of Juniper, the gin -focused bar in downtown. We’re going to finish up that interview in just a moment, but I do want to remind you that you’re listening to Life Along the Streetcar on Downtown Radio 99 .1 FM and streaming on downtownradio .org.
Support for Downtown Radio is provided by the Tucson Gallery, located in downtown Tucson inside of the proper shops at 300 East Congress Street. The Tucson Gallery offers original work, reproductions, and merchandise from Tucson artists like Joe Pagic, Jessica Gonzalez, Ignacio Garcia, and many more. For information about all of the artists, including when they will be live at the gallery, head to thetucsongallery .com or find them on Instagram and on Facebook as Tucson Gallery.
I don’t know if any of you were at the Tucson Gallery on Friday the 8th. It was fun event with Lori Kay, debuting a new piece of hers focused on the Sonoran hot dog. So, keep an eye if you are interested on the Tucson Gallery’s website for other Meet the Artist events. It’s thetucsongallery .com. Let’s finish up our interview here with Kellner Brown and Stuart Lauer. They are two of the brains behind Juniper, Tucson’s newest bar with a gin focus. And we’re going to get a little bit more about Kellner’s vision here and how he really sort of came to want to put this spot here in downtown. Like when did these travels take you across Europe to experience this gin tonic revolution? It has been a few years and it was just amazing to me that it still hadn’t really happened on this side. I’m a gin fan, but I’m not like a gin aficionado. I’m excited. I mean, if you have 50 different kinds of gin with that sort of portfolio, like what the elements that make up a different style of gin? Oh, there
are so many different tasting profiles and botanicals that go into all different varieties of gin. One of the other things that we’ve done to help some of our clientele really appreciate the depth of the portfolio and the flavor profiles that you’ll find in any given gin is we’ve designed this large wheel. It’s a gin tasting wheel. It’s going to be about five feet in diameter sitting in a prominent place above the bar. And as you’re sitting there enjoying a drink, drinking a gin tonic or enjoying one of our other classic gin cocktails, you can take a look at this wheel and it’ll help guide you through florals, herbs, spices, nuts, citrus, fruits, and it’ll help you identify is that thing that you taste, do you feel like there’s rose in there? Is it wattle seed? Is it lemon myrtle, coriander, or all kinds of things. And there’s a lot of different herbs and fruits that go into gin that are things that we don’t find in a lot of other items that we regularly encounter. You know, there might
be gooseberry or bergamot or beech plum or fennel. We have a tomato gin that is excellent. But this wheel is really going to bring out how complex some of these products are and it’s going to give the client a way to feel more connected and really appreciate the experience they’re having as they sip their drink. So you’re talking about from the moment the gin is created, like these different profiles, they steep over time. And then once they get into your hands and juniper, the cocktails themselves now with these goblet -like glasses and you’re adding even more flavors and botanicals into the G &Ts. Yes. And one of the things that we have done is we’ve taken the time to prepare some in -house syrups that we add a tiny little bit of to the tonic that we use to complement the specific gin profile in each different G &T. And then we’re pairing that with dried botanicals and fruits and fresh fruits and herbs that are also specifically selected to complement that particular menu item. So everything
that we do has been thought out and paired and definitely tested over and over and over again. How long has this been on your mind, like in your brain? I know you’ve been thinking about it for years, but as it started to come together as a menu, what was the, like, did you just have these aha moments, like, what if we did this and this? And then how did that kind of go? One of the nice things about this process is that we actually, I got started on my part of it last November and got started in earnest, took advantage of a great partnership with the distributing company, RNDC, who provided staff with incredible knowledge. Mickey over at RNDC is the person to go to as a partner to work on crafting cocktails and selecting ingredients. What is RNDC? I guess we met in November, and then we had a little bit of a delay, and so by the time I came back to it, a lot of those ideas had settled and there was room to add some new things to it as well, and it all just kind of clicked. And so in RNDC,
I’m not familiar with that acronym, is that a local beverage company? RNDC is a national distributor of wine and spirits, and they have a local office here with a facility that is open to local bartenders to come and demo ingredients and play with cocktails and get a lot of other expert opinion on what they’re putting together. They have a great service over there to help you make sure that you’re putting together exactly the portfolio that you want. Oh my gosh, this is fantastic. So it’s like a working lab in essence, and you get the hands -on experience and you get the expertise right there to kind of help guide you. Yes, it’s a lot of different letters, but it’s the RND bar at RNDC. That is fantastic. You must have been like a kid in a candy store with all these things in front of you and like putting them together, and I can only imagine the excitement as you were discovering some flavors that you maybe never really had before. Absolutely, without a doubt. It’s a great resource. And
Stuart, tell us a little about the operations of this. So it’s a bar, is it a restaurant as well? No, no, we don’t have the square footage here to add any sort of good or food program. So I think that’s what’s great about what Kelner’s done is I think the fresh ingredients kind of give it that, not a meal type feel, but it definitely has, I don’t know, more to it than just a standard gin and tonic you’d find. And in doing so, kind of gives it, I think it’s going to, this is definitely going to stand on its own without a food element. I think it’s going to be a unique experience to come in and try some wonderful creations. Yeah, I would imagine you’re going to be there for a while sort of getting a sense of these flavors and how they come together. It’s a lot more, not just going in and grabbing a shot or something, you’ll have an experience when you go in there. No, I definitely think it’s, I’m from a performance art background, and I think Kelner, watching him make drinks and training
the staff, it’s a performance art as well. It’s really a great show, and it’s pretty incredible how it all comes together. It’s not that fast sling a drink type experience. It’s, you’re getting to watch something be built right in front of you that I think, as it takes form, it really is amazing. And I think all the drinks that I’ve tried, as they sit there, even the flavor profiles change because of having the fresh juniper in there and different ingredients is really, they really keep changing as you’re sipping on them. So it’s pretty awesome. And I saw, I think it was on Facebook, but you have Facebook and Instagram for juniper, correct? Yes. And is it just juniper? Is it, one of them is juniper bar? On Instagram, we use bar juniper. Okay. Just because we were having a hard time finding a handle for that one. If you’re listening to this and you haven’t had a chance yet to attend since they opened on the first, you’ve got to check out these pictures because these drinks are, you said
performance are, but these drinks are just absolutely beautiful. They’re coloring and they’re just, I don’t even know how to describe it, but they’re like multicolored and multifaceted. They’re not, they’re not just like a single color. There’s just a lot of things happening within that glass. Yeah. And then the big glass, like the color I was talking about earlier, almost the 30 ounces, the wide mouth on it, it really, it’s inviting to want to smell everything and put your face basically in it to get that full experience. It’s definitely different than anything I’ve seen anywhere. You get the experience of a meal in the glass without having to eat lunch. I mean, I like that. Very enjoyable meal. I like that. Well, it’s called Juniper. It’s a gin -focused bar. It’s on Congress between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue across from the Ronstadt Center there. And you’ve known it as Iron Johns for a while. Now it’s Juniper. And we’ve had Kellner Brown, the cocktail expert, and Stuart Lauer, one
of the owners. Gentlemen, I know by the time this airs, everything will be up and running. But right now, you are a couple of days from opening. And I really appreciate both of you taking time to set aside and chat with us today. We appreciate you having us on. Yeah, our pleasure. Please come in and see us. Well, I did go in and see them. And it was quite the experience. I enjoyed my beverage. And the place was quite busy. And I thought, given the size of the crowd, I got to the drinks pretty quickly there because it does take some time to put these things together. We also interviewed Elyse Lauer a couple of years ago as the brewer for Iron Johns. So if you want to check out that interview, you just head over to our website there, lifealongthestreetcar .org, and put in Elyse Lauer or Iron Johns, and you’ll pull that up. Well, my name is Tom Heath. You’re listening to Life Along the Streetcar and Downtown Radio, 99 .1 FM, and streaming at downtownradio .org. You’re listening to KTDT Tucson,
Arizona, 99 .1 FM, Downtown Radio. I’m Brother Mark, host of a show called Radio Club Crawl that airs every Tuesday at 3 p .m. We try to focus on most of the bands that are coming through Tucson, and we give you a tasty taste of their music. If you want to check out what’s happening around Tucson, check out Radio Club Crawl, Tuesdays, 3 p .m., right here on KTDT Tucson, Arizona, 99 .1 FM, Downtown Radio. Thank you very much.
Enjoy your evening. Bye -bye.
Well, and thank you again to Kellner Brown, Stuart Lauer, for talking to us about Juniper, the new bar here in Tucson with that gin -focused menu. And as a reminder, if you want to share any of those hidden gems that we should be talking about, the best way is to hit us up on Facebook and Instagram. You can also e -mail us, contact at lifealongthestreetcar .org. There’s a contact button on our website, but we’d love to hear from you. And stick around. Ted Prozelski’s coming up with words and work in just a few minutes, and then it’s Ty Logan at the top of the hour with Heavy Mental. I want to thank Ryan Hood, as we do every week, for allowing us to play Dillinger Days as our opening theme song. And we’re going to leave you with an Austrian musician named Parav Steller, and it’s from an album called The Demon Diaries. And since we were talking about Juniper today, we thought we’d leave you with a song, Gin Tonic. It’s got a little swing beat to it. My name is Tom Heath. I hope you have a
great week. And please do tune in next Sunday for more Life Along the Streetcar.