Craft Beer in New York Has a Fling With Botanicals


Craft beer in New York is getting back to its roots, literally. Last week saw the citywide release of two separate botanical beers, each defined by a unique sarsaparilla-like flavor profile. First it was Not Your Father’s Root Beer, a cult phenomenon that’s more than a clever name — it actually tastes like a stellar root beer. The soda with a 5.9% kick of alcohol worked its way from western New York and into the NYC area via Long Island. Following closely on its heels was Forbidden Root, a far subtler, spiced beer that was welcomed into town with a private party at Decoy Bar in the West Village. Each is equally extraordinary in its own right, both nodding to esoteric beer from a bygone era. These newcomers deserve recognition as beers of the week. 

Not Your Father’s Root Beer boasts an unparalleled accessibility. You certainly don’t have to be a beer drinker to appreciate this one. In fact, many craft beer snobs thumb their nose at it, denigrating it as more of a soda than anything adult. It’s crisp, refreshing, and dangerously drinkable, but if you don’t have a sweet tooth it could be difficult to swallow.

Even if you do enjoy an ice-cold mug of Mug, say, it’s unlikely that you’d polish off half a dozen of them in one sitting. By the same token, it might be unreasonable to plow through a six-pack of Not Your Father’s. It’s delicious, and most certainly unlike any other craft beer on the shelf, but it brushes closely against novelty status. 

Forbidden Root, on the other hand, has gone through painstaking efforts in production and marketing to ensure their beer doesn’t go the way of pop. The brewery’s founder, Robert Finkel, also serves as “rootmaster,” sourcing herbs and botanicals from across the globe to the traditional malts and hops that brewmaster B.J. Pichman brings to boil.

In their flagship release, Finkel introduced nearly two dozen exotic ingredients, including sandalwood, tarragon, patchouli, and Peruvian balsam, before oak-aging the ale for several months. The disparate parts coalesce in pure alchemy; no one element dominates the rest, encouraging the tongue to read a novella of flavor in the beer’s lengthy finish. It marries effortlessly with the most aggressive of ethnic foods — the legendary Peking duck at Decoy was a grateful adversary.

Not Your Father’s Root Beer was just picked up by the city’s largest beer distributor, so expect to see it soon, and often. It typically retails in the neighborhood of $11 per six-pack. Forbidden Root is already on tap at The Jeffrey on the Upper East Side, and will soon be Brooklyn-bound. So whether you prefer soda, spice, or everything nice, there’s now a beer for you waiting at your local bodega. 

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