Chicago’s Forbidden Root is a very small, very unusual, very intriguing new brewery, and one whose name you may not have heard before, but that’s likely to change. If you’re a regular Paste reader, then you may recognize the company from my trip to this year’s Great American Beer Fest, which is where I discovered them for the first time. It was even a surprise for me, thinking that I knew all the breweries of my hometown, but what I found was a group of young people making wildly experimental offerings. Unlike so many OTHERS hanging their hat upon experimentation, though, the beers I had from Forbidden Root at GABF were uniformly excellent. Good enough that I included them on my “Five Young Breweries to Watch ” piece after the festival.
As I said in that piece, I have a rather contentious relationship with beer that strikes me as “gimmicky.” In short, I don’t like it. I don’t like ingredients added for aesthetic purposes. If it doesn’t have a flavor component, keep it out of your beer. If it doesn’t make it taste better than it would otherwise without your kooky ingredient/process, keep it out of your beer. It should be that simple. Given that, and given my lack of familiarity, Forbidden Root was really peddling uphill when they gave me things like a “root beer-flavored beer” to sample at GABF, but so help me, it worked. Perfectly spiced, capturing the flavor of root beer botanicals while also still finishing dry as a beer, it truly was what it claimed to be. That, and the other beers I tried, bought them a lot of credibility with me.
And so, I was excited to try a new release from Forbidden Root, their new imperial stout, Heavy Petal. This beer is the first in a new series of chocolate beers titled Divine Mud, which will all feature (different?) single-origin cacao beans, keeping with Forbidden Root’s emphasis on singular, unique, high-quality adjunct ingredients. Specifically, this beer is an imperial stout with West African cacao beans, roasted pecans and Magnolia flowers, which is the source of the name. It’s packaged in 750 ml bottles at 9.2% ABV.
The beer pours black, black as the night, with not much in the way of carbonation. The aroma is moderately strong and very complex—boozy, musty, roasty, nutty. Plenty of roast is present in the nose, along with lots of dark chocolate, and an underlying vegetal/floral note that is presumably from the flowers. All in all though, in terms of aromatics, it’s not hugely different from the imperial stout you could expect.
Flavor, however, is where things diverge hugely. Here, the flowers come through in a big way—it’s legitimately heavy on the petal, for better or worse. They contribute a perfumey characteristic, which pairs okay with assertive, pleasant roastiness. The other unexpected flavor that pops out is lots of peppery spice—whether that’s also derived from the flowers I’m not sure, but it’s a very present note, reminiscent of a multi-colored peppercorn grinder. Cocoa is there as well in this complex lineup of flavors, very dark and dry—not “chocolate” in a candy sense but “cocoa” in a baking sense—it blends in and out of the nuttiness supplied by the pecans.
There’s a ton going on in this stout, and it takes some consideration to evaluate. There seems to be a very tasty, roasty imperial stout underneath it all, which is a blessing. Of the additional ingredients, the cacao nib and pecans seem to be the best incorporated. The Magnolia flowers, on the other hand, are simply a little bit “apart” from the beer itself—perhaps because of their strength, it becomes something like “a beer with Magnolia flowers” rather than “a beer with flavor components of Magnolia flowers.” It’s worth checking out if you’re a seeker of new chocolate beers, or if you enjoy peppery spice in particular.
Personally, I’m still very curious to see what kind of flavor experiments come out of Forbidden Root next.
Brewery: Forbidden Root Brewing Co.
City: Chicago, IL
Style: Imperial stout
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor and one of several resident beer geeks. He spends an absurd amount of time writing emails to breweries each week. You can follow him on Twitter.