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.
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.