It's easy to love Guinness. The Irish stout is often the first step into a world larger (and better) than the land of Miller and Bud. But now you're a bit older, a touch wiser, and ready to break away from tradition. You want to open yourself up to alternative stouts stocked at bars across the city. With spring rapidly approaching, now is the time to down as many of these thick, rich brews as possible—especially before you succumb to St. Patrick's Day Guinness burnout. (Could that really happen?)
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout at Hopleaf
Pretty much everyone who drinks beer in Chicago regards Hopleaf as ground zero for all Belgian beer fanatics. Even Belgian-inspired brews from other countries have found a home behind Hopleaf's bar. But it hasn't completely ignored the local boys.
Goose Island Brewery consistently gets props for its Bourbon County Stout, aged in old bourbon barrels to give it a richness beyond belief. The malty, oaky flavor with a whiskey tang is intense enough to justify the $10 price tag for one 12-ounce bottle; you'll be telling all your friends about the hard-to-find score for weeks. Skip Hopleaf's top-notch mussels and frites, which pair better with lighter suds, and give the hearty duck reuben a shot instead.
Rogue Imperial Stout at Map Room
Breweries you've never heard of share Map Room's tap space with some old standbys, exposing beer dorks to fresh tastes and trends in the world of brewing. Rogue has been gaining ground on some of the majors, winning fans over with its Dead Guy, Mocha Porter and Hazelnut Brown Ale.
Its Imperial Stout is harder to find but worth tracking down. Imperials are super-strong stouts, and the Rogue is no exception, with an 11-percent alcohol content. Thick and creamy with a touch of chocolate and caramel, it can be imposing to drink all 22-ounces, but don't let that stop you from trying it.
Beamish at Jaks Tap
It would be almost unfair to keep a Celtic craft brew off this semi-anti-Guinness list, so we bring you Beamish at this West Loop beer bar, with 40 taps and a handful of bottles. This $5.75 pint is a true Irish stout that's nearly pitch-black in color and has a history going back two centuries.
And it may just leave you reconsidering where your loyalty to Celtic craft brews lies. Same pouring rules apply, though; keep an eye on the bartender and make sure he lets it rest for the head to form, just like Guinness. While the similarities between the beers may make you wonder why you should bother to make the switch, the aroma, color and taste of Beamish is richer and deeper; it's like Guinness-squared.
8 Ball Stout at Risque Cafe
Risque is new to the Wrigleyville scene, bringing some barbecue—as well as an impressive beer list—to the Clark Street strip. Under the watchful eye of pinup-girl posters, you could order a $4.50 High Life, but why the hell would you when you could opt for brews by Three Floyds or Southern Tier?
Risque offers a number of different stouts. While the deep brown, slightly nutty 8-Ball from Lost Coast Brewing doesn't explode with taste like some of the other stouts on our list, it's a touch lighter for when your stomach can't handle all that fullness. But if you're really looking to up its richness, order it in float-form for $6.95—a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a glass of 8-Ball. Beer and ice cream? It's the new peanut butter and chocolate, trust us.
Hitachino Espresso Stout at Quenchers Saloon
Japanese beers are typically light and brewed with rice, so it shocked us to discover there's a stout from Japan. Hitachino Brewery has started to loosen the grip of the stranglehold that beers like Kirin and Sapporo have on the Japanese beer market. Leave it to Quenchers, which boasts 200-some-odd bottles and a selection reaching as far-spread as India, Kenya, Finland, Peru and Namibia, to sell it.
The stout delivers what it promises with the title—a thick, smooth body; a creamy, cocoa scent; and a heavy coffee taste. It's a great quilted-blanket of beer to coat your belly on a biting winter day, and Quenchers is arguably the most homey tap in which to enjoy it. The $7 price tag for 12-ounces might seem tall, but it's worth the travel.
The take-home edition:
Southern Tier Choklat Imperial Stout
Discerning liquor stores across the city are starting to discover the pure flavor of Southern Tier's monster-size beers. The Choklat assaults your taste buds with an overwhelming hit of rich fudge-y chocolate; it's almost like getting drunk on Yoo-hoo. Most liquor stores should retail it for less than $10.