The Map Room
The explorer's club theme is fitting for a bar that allows patrons to dabble liberally in such rare and unfamiliar brews. The drafts list is deep and is hardly ever without a sour. Recently it was Bockor's Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge ($8), a Flanders Red Ale that epitomizes the rich, sweet-and-sour balance typical of the style. Also, pretzel rods.
Bro bars largely dominate the drinking scene around the DePaul University campus, but Local Option is a rare exception with more demanding tastes. This beer lover's haven has an extensive and ambitious draft program, which on a recent visit included Oro de Calabaza ($6) from Michigan's Jolly Pumpkin Brewery. Jolly Pumpkin embraces the Old World brewing techniques that give rise to complex sour brews, and OdC is a standout: crisp and dry, a great balance of hops and sourness, slightly vegetal, and very clean on the finish.
Meet Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck's Gueuze Fond Tradition ($7), a super drinkable Gueuze—and just one example of several quality sour beers on offer on any given day at Hopleaf, Chicago's mecca for all things Belgian and gustatory in nature. There's a pleasant apple cider undertone to this brew, expressed amid a hefty sour funk. Even if a keg of an obscure "get" like this one may come and go fast at a place as popular as Hopleaf, you can trust the proprietors will replace it with something equally luscious and desirable to the sour beer nerd.
The Small Bar
For those who cherish the Beautiful Game as much as beautifully made suds, The Small Bar's location on Division Street is pure heaven. What's more, this soccer- and beer-focused bar is usually good for a sour or two on draft along with many on their extensive bottle list. On a recent visit the bartenders were pulling Liefman's Goudenband ($10), an 8 percent ABV Flanders Oud Bruin. It's mildly sour with a light tingle on the tongue, easy on the palate despite its deep color, and finishes clean. A quick scan of the bottled offerings revealed a single-serving Monk's Café ($9), one of the more ubiquitous Flemish sours, as well larger bottles of Loverbeer BeerBera ($25), the super-delicious Lost Abbey Red Poppy ($27), and a vintage 2010 Rodenbach ($30).
Ah, the mysterious house Lambic ($10) at The Publican. If you spot this entry on the ever-updating draft list, order it. The staff is mum about which Belgian brewery this clean-finishing, delicious, golden-colored sour is sourced from (the bar has had this "connect" for about a year now); and once you taste it, the secrecy makes sense. Pair it with raw oysters and you'll be happy as, well, a clam.
With the recent arrival of a celebrated new chef in Cleetus Friedman, there's yet another good reason to get to Fountainhead. Another biggie: the binder's worth of beer options, several of them sour. Go soon and you just might snag a pull of Jolly Pumpkin's malty, raisiny Noel de Calabaza ($8). But even if you miss that beauty, Brewery Vivant's Tart Side of the Moon ($7) is on deck for a tap line. Fountainhead also features a solid list of bottled Berliner Weisse, a German style of beer that may lack the punch of certain high-acid Belgian sours but still delivers tart summertime flavors. The Berliner Weisse 1809 (bottle pictured; $10), brewed by Dr. Fritz Briem in Munich, is a tasty go-to.
Bangers & Lace
With 30-odd draft lines and crushing weekend crowds, Bangers & Lace has the opportunity to offer a wide and constantly updating variety of beers. The selection never seems to disappoint, especially when it comes to sours. I recently enjoyed The Bruery's Sour in the Rye ($9), an American Wild Rye Ale, aged in red wine barrels, that hails from Placentia, California. It had a wonderfully strong sour flavor up front, spice in between, and a light, fruity finish.
The Bad Apple
A friendly, neighborhood vibe pervades the eclectic and beer-centric Bad Apple. A recent stop into the Bad Apple yielded Petrus Aged Red Ale ($7) on draft as well as Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge ($6.50). The former is a very big beer, with a candied sweetness played against a tart backbone. And it's that much more of a pleasure to drink a beer from its proper glass.