Reaching Back into History for New Craft Beers

Pushing boundaries and palates, Forbidden Root Brewery is a botanical gypsy brewery bringing 150 years of history to Chicago.

Austin Grippin May 8, 2014 - 5 min read

Reaching Back into History for New Craft Beers Primary Image

Forbidden Root's brews are planned around natural botanical ingredients such as stems, blossoms, sap, herbs, spices, leaves, bark, flowers, honey, and roots. The recipes are inspired by early brewers from America and England producing low-alcohol beers infused with local botanicals. Some of these concoctions were sold as "elixirs" or "tonics" with medicinal qualities. The first three "elixirs" from Forbidden Root are Forbidden Root, Sublime Ginger, and Shady Character.

Forbidden Root

"In times long past, Root Beer was something far Nobler. Forbidden Root returns to that lost era. Malt and a pinch of hops are topped by a generous dollop of botanic ingredients which include wintergreen, vanilla, cinnamon, fennel, nutmeg, cardamom, black pepper, ginger, clove, star anise, tarragon, basil, capsicum, patchouli, sandalwood, balsam of Peru, licorice root, cocoa, and molasses. . . . The rich complexity and a long clean taste tell you this is not a soda, but a traditional brew that is a . . . window into another age."

Sublime Ginger

"Storms come and go, and in the end, there's just a refreshing breeze. So with this shimmering golden wheat beer, the escape is sure to be fresh, cooling, and sustaining. We start with a dry and creamy wheat beer and add fresh botanicals and a splash of key lime juice for a tangy flavor with the delicious bite of ginger. The flavor is bright, layered, and thoroughly satisfying. This beer resonates with the Caribbean otherworldliness of the Florida Keys."

Shady Character

"For all this beer’s rough nuts and gnarly roots, Shady Character's flavors are genteel and as well-mannered as you please. We start with a classic porter, as we think its soft chocolatey flavors are perfect to showcase the complex, distinctive flavors of American black walnut. Then we dig deep into botanic brewing's treasure trove: licorice, roasted chestnuts, and a dash of spices all add layers of flavors and tie the whole thing together."


Placing the Past Into the Future

Plans for a brewpub in West Town's East Village neighborhood have not been so easy with a liquor ban and commercial manufacturing zoning, but gaining community support has been helpful. Robert Finkel says that when the brewpub is officially opened,

"We'll serve great, cool, sometimes experimental beer and food that will pair well. We're about flavor and experience; we have some great plans for the brewpub and the neighborhood. We're also looking to educate and facilitate discussion around natural ingredients, botanicals, foraging, cooking and brewing with herbs, roots, and spices."

Founder and Rootmaster Robert Finkel, founder of Prism Capital and former Chairman of the Illinois Venture Capital Association, has enlisted craft beer experts BJ Pichman and Randy Mosher. BJ Pichman, operations manager, has been in the Chicago craft beer scene for years, brewing with and learning from some of the industry's most respected minds. Randy Mosher, creative partner and alchemist, has been searching for unique beers since the 1980s and is author of five books, including The Brewers Companion (1991), Radical Brewing (2004), Tasting Beer (2009), A Beer for All Seasons (2014), and Mastering Homebrew (2014). With no brewery location, Forbidden Root will continue to gypsy brew on local Chicago brewery friends' premises, not being tied to one location.

"Botanical beer is our core, with honey and chocolate also in our wheelhouse. The botanical ingredients will be naturally grown and sourced locally when possible but also from around the country and world as far as South Africa and Australia–some ingredients are not available domestically," said Robert Finkel. "Once bottling production starts, we will launch within Chicago and certain parts of the state. By year-end, we hope to be in the entire state, and in 2015 will look to scale to a couple of Midwest states as well. These are the plans–but as we all know, plans can change!"

Until their brewpub opens, keep up with Forbidden Root to find out where they will be pouring their beers or read more about their history and passion.