I wrote about Chicago botanical brewers Forbidden Root in August 2013, when they made what I'm pretty sure was just their second festival appearance at the Oak Park Micro Brew & Food Review. About four months ago the brewery finally hit retail shelves, shipping 12-ounce four-packs of Sublime Ginger and Shady Character, and a little more than a month later Forbidden Root's namesake beer joined them. The Forbidden Root brewpub, which will occupy the former home of a theater at 1746 W. Chicago, plans to open its doors early this summer (if not in late May).
Last weekend Forbidden Root launched their whimsically named series of single-origin chocolate beers, Divine Mud. The first beer in the series, an imperial stout brewed with cacao from West Africa (mostly Ghana and the Ivory Coast), dried magnolia flowers, and six pounds per barrel of toasted Texas pecans, is called Heavy Petal—which might as well have been a hand-delivered invitation to Beer and Metal.
"Root master" Robert Finkel joked in 2013 that Forbidden Root has a "death wish" when it comes to ingredient costs, though that might've been a needlessly dramatic way to phrase it—as founder and president of Prism Capital, he's been able to meet many of the brewery's expenses himself during its start-up phase.
At any rate, Heavy Petal doesn't cut any corners. It's made with cacao mass, which has about four times the cacao-butter content of the much more commonly used nibs. "We literally melt the chocolate into the whirlpool," says Finkel. "The magnolia flowers go in the fermenter for about a week at a later point, to preserve their beautiful aromas."
Heavy Petal smells confoundingly complex, with a vaguely floral, mulchy aspect that puts me in mind of the Palm House at Lincoln Park Conservatory (except without the fertilizer—I'm not trying to make anything sound gross). I have a hard time teasing out specific, identifiable fragrances from this jungly richness, but I'll give it a go: chicory coffee, green citrus, crushed leaves, lemon zest, plant wax, dry-roasted pecans, and bitter chocolate.
Not that you asked, but magnolia trees are thought to be among the oldest flowering plants, emerging about 100 million years ago—they were probably pollinated by beetles, since bees had yet to evolve.
Anyway. As unusual as Heavy Petal is on the nose, it's even less like a familiar, conventional imperial stout on the palate. It's densely roasty, sure, but it's got an unctuous nuttiness from the pecans and a long, deep dark-chocolate finish that's much more like bar chocolate than you get in most beers flavored with cacao (with the notable exception of Southern Tier's Choklat Stout). And it gets crazier: I also taste something faintly spicy (black pepper, cardamom, even a little chile tickle), herbal and floral notes (maybe Meyer lemon or bergamot), a resinous astringency like cedar or juniper leaves, and tannic bitterness reminiscent of walnut skin.
Heavy Petal is a bit light-bodied considering its 9.2 percent alcohol content, but it's lushly, intensely flavorful, with a beautifully silky texture (presumably from the pecans and cacao butter). Finkel adds, "This beer is also pretty special on good vanilla ice cream." I believe him.
Without a facility of its own, Forbidden Root contract brews at 5 Rabbit, where creative partner Randy Mosher also pitches in; it distributes via Windy City. Because Heavy Petal is such a limited release, when I contacted Finkel he could only name two places that had it on draft, Fischman Liquors in Jefferson Park and Au Cheval in the West Loop.
Forbidden Root has shipped maybe 200 cases of Heavy Petal, which adds up to about 2,400 bottles; each should cost $16 to $18, depending on the retailer, making this not just a special beer but also a special-occasion beer. Unless you're pulling down a lot more money than I do, I guess, which admittedly isn't setting the bar very high.
Finkel says you can find Heavy Petal at Fischman, several Binny's locations, Printers Row Wine Shop, Capones Food & Liquor, Foremost in Arlington Heights, Go Tavern & Liquors, Miska's on Belmont, Tabb's Food & Liquor, Liquor Park, and Puerto Rico Food & Liquors.
The Forbidden Root brewpub, in case you're looking forward to it like I am, will become the brewery's research and development lab. "It will allow us to do some things that we know are not commercially viable," says Finkel, "whether because of seasonal sourcing or onetime availability." Its brew house will incorporate a custom-designed infusion system to make the most of the botanicals involved. The pub will fill growlers and serve food, and it's already hired a general manager—Naha veteran Terry Kane.
No relation between the beer and the metal this time. Early next week Mastery, aka Bay Area avant-garde black-metal weirdo Ephemeral Domignostika, releases his first proper full-length, Valis (the Flenser), more than ten years after his first demo. At nearly 18 minutes long, the promo cut "V.A.L.I.S.V.E.S.S.E.L." packs in a lot of distressing, tangled, screwed-up riffs (the album's PR claims Mastery uses more than 100 per song). When metal blog Invisible Oranges posted "V.A.L.I.S.V.E.S.S.E.L." in January, a commenter summed it up succinctly: "Not for the faint of heart but crammed full of evil genius. His brain is obviously made of snakes."