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Forbidden Root

Nov 01, 2017 Food & Beverage

Beer and burger and fries

A law crafted in Bavaria in 1516 limits beer ingredients to hops, barley and water. Today, a Chicago craft brewer is rewriting the new standards for flavor.

Reinheitsgebot is a beer law written 500 years ago by the Duchy of Bavaria, when pints of ale were served to early hipsters clad in stylish suits of armor and matching chainmail. Back in the days of the Holy Roman Empire, creating a beer of absolute purity may have been this Germanic law’s intended goal. But in the ensuing eons, these limits only served to quash creativity and experimentation with natural forest ingredients far afield from just hops and barley. In the year 2016, Robert Finkel, rootmaster behind one of the Midwest’s most popular craft root beers, set up the Forbidden Root brewpub in Chicago’s West Town. Joining Robert on his crusade to create highly complex (yet superbly balanced) varietals of gloriously drinkable beers are Nick Williams, Forbidden Root’s head brewer; Randy Mosher, Forbidden Root’s alchemist; and Executive Chef Dan Weiland, formerly of Blackbird, Avec and Trenchermen. Today, this trio of ale adventurers is on a modern-day quest for meticulously crafted beers wrestled from the roots of the earth. 

Interior of a restaurant The interior of restaurant Plates of food

Forbidden Root is more than just a brewpub: you can taste the ethos of this greater chemistry between restaurant and brewery in fresh, seasonal dishes created to heighten each crafted brew. In this enclave of experimentation, artisan details capture a vision of a true “Botanical Brewery.” Malt and a pinch of hops are topped by a generous dollop of natural botanic ingredients, ranging from wintergreen and cassia cinnamon, to balsam of Peru and yerba santa, then aged with oak to round off the flavor. As a result, the rich complexity and long, clean taste become a flavorful window into a bygone age. On any given day, dozens of distinctive creations are on tap. The lineup features intriguing offerings approachable for the average hophead, like a key lime ginger ale (a real ginger ale) and a pale ale with elderflower, marigold and sweet osmanthus flowers. A rotating menu of house syrups are also available in 3/4-ounce pours to mix with select beers, hearkening to a German tradition of pouring syrup into Berliner Weisse. And a recent collaboration with Fernet-Branca, a bitter, herbal liquor, is destined to be the next brew-vention that puts Forbidden Root on the national map. Every smooth finish pairs with original plates, including the Wild Mushroom Pot Pie (available in winter), the Forbidden Root Burger — named one of the city’s best — and Cluck & Shuck, when tables are overflowing with a king’s ransom of wings and oysters.

Forbidden Root reimagines the laws of brewing. Along this forest-to-table journey, a portion of beer sales benefit community charities, from Chicago’s Green City Market to Meals on Wheels to the Semper Fi Foundation. As stated in the founding charter, craft beer and delicious food are all about fostering community and giving back — all while going back in time to an age when dudes were dudes and botanical beers connected more closely with the land to harness the magic of nature’s ancient secrets.

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