Field Trips: Howells & Hood

howells and hood taps
howells and hood taps

All photos by Kevin Gibson. The ever-growing love affair we have with craft beer has partnered with America’s obsession with excess.

Some 20 years ago, I went to a small pub in Indiana called Rich O’s Public House where, as I recall, about 10 or 12 exotic beers were tapped. It was a blend of imports and “microbrews,” and it was mind-blowing that I could actually have such an amazing choice in one place.

Now it’s 2016. On a recent jaunt to Chicago, I came across Howells & Hood, a restaurant and beer bar with a sleek, cool Michigan Avenue presence, as well as a gorgeous patio bar. But that’s not all: this patio bar had 120 taps. Yep, 120. And that’s just one third of all the taps available at Howells & Hood, serving 114 different beers.

howells and hood bar
howells and hood bar

Folks, that’s a lot of beers. And that’s why I say craft beer has collided with American excess.

But Howells & Hood isn’t alone. World of Beer, a chain that is growing quickly, typically boasts upward of 50 taps, plus hundreds of bottles. A Midwest chain called HopCat is opening soon in my hometown of Louisville, Ky., and it reputedly will boast a ridiculous 134 taps. There’s a place in North Carolina called Raleigh Beer Garden that has 366 taps. 366!

How does a bar manager keep track of so many beer brands and styles? And how do they keep the lines clean, or keep the beer from going stale?

Regardless, it’s tough to walk past the outdoor bar Howells & Hood, which is located in the historic Tribune Building (its original architects in 1922 were two men with the surnames Howells and Hood). It’s a glimmering, chrome oasis in the middle of a bustling city. I defy anyone to walk by and not suddenly become thirsty.

In fact, when I first laid eyes on the thing, I think I said something like, “Oh my god, look at all those taps!”

howells and hess
howells and hess

I was also fairly well wowed while browsing through the Howells & Hood beer list, which is available in the form of a leather-bound tome and breaks down the beers by style, from wheats to ciders to sours. With that many beers to peruse, it really isn’t easy to make a decision. My traveling companion Rob isn’t terribly into craft beer, so he started with a Corona Light (hey, it was a hot day, so no judgment here).

For my part, I chose a Pinner Throwback IPA from Oskar Blues. Yes, it was a beer I’d had before, but it just sounded good with the sun beating down on me. I followed that up with a Daisy Cutter from Chicago’s own Half Acre Beer Co. (to support local brewers, which occupy roughly 20 percent of the taps at H&H), and off we went.

But we knew we had to return the next day. Why? One, because I wanted to try another beer. At least. Two, because Rob had left has credit card there by mistake the first time we visited. (We “tasted” a lot of beer the first day.)

On our second trip, Rob, so happy was he to see his card again, bought our beers and even celebrated with an Eliott Ness, a Vienna-style lager from Great Lakes Brewing Co. I chose another local beer in the form of a Two Brothers Brewing Wobble IPA, which actually turned out to be my favorite of the day.

And with that, we had made our way through five of the roughly 114 different beers available at any given time at Howells & Hood. We would have had to stay a month to get through them all, and by then, they’d have likely changed out half the taps.

In other words, if you’re a beer nerd like me and you find yourself on the Miracle Mile, please do yourself a favor and check out this beer miracle. Hey, it’s the American way, right?