If you're seriously into beer, chances are your journey through brewed beverages is somewhat similar to mine. Get burned out on macrobrews, wander the world of your major imports, check out the Belgian beers and then dip your toes into the deep pond of American craft beers. Following that, you go crazy on huge stouts, porters and ales, become a hophead with all the biggest IPAs, and then - only then - do you end up in the world of sours and barleywines.
That's been my process, and I've arrived at a place where the more sour the beer, the happier I am. If the bartender has to warn me about the brew when I order it, so much the better. Sour brews can be tough to find when you're in the mood for one, but when you do stumble across a mouth-puckering brew in a sea of barley and malt, it's truly a thing of beauty. Since the beer scene in Chicago is changing as quickly as it ever has (at least in the past few years), always check first before making one of these places a destination for a sour. Who knows - I might have already beaten you to them.
Sour Selection: New Belgium
's La Folie Found At: Jerry's Sandwiches (Division)
If your experience with New Belgium is limited to the flurry of Fat Tire mania that erupted when the Colorado brewery first began distribution in Chicago, consider digging deeper into its ever-expanding roster of locally available beers. The "Lips of Faith" is hyper-sour and can be found from time to time around the city (and is what prompted the aforementioned "are you sure you want that?" from a bartender), but the La Folie is a kinder, gentler wood-aged sour.
You can find 22-ounce bombers of La Folie at Jerry's on Division for $20, and then pair it with one of the restaurant's many sandwiches (over a hundred to choose from). Want to choose your menu item first and then find the proper brew for it? In addition to the La Folie, the eatery has dozens of beers in bottle and on draft, making Jerry's a very underrated beer destination in a city that grows richer with beer bars every day.
Sour Selection: Monk's Cafe
Flemish Ale Found At: Hackney's
Even though it was originally brewed for Philadelphia's Monk's Cafe, this Flemish Sour can be found in many places outside the city of Brotherly Love, including Chicago. A nice mix of sweet and sour, this 11.2-ounce bottle might remind you of wine in many ways, which is an okay thing for beers of this type. Without being overwhelming on the palate, Monk's Flemish is light-to-average bodied and is a good median sour for when you don't want to blow out your taste buds.
When you hear Hackney's, you probably think "big burgers on black rye," immediately followed by "onion loaf." It's time to add a third instant response: "a lot of good beer." Besides the Monk's sour, the Printers Row location recently had beers like the Surly Bender, North Coast's Old Rasputin and Bell's Oarsman on hand, all top-notch selections.
Sour Selection: Dogfish Head
's Festina Peche Found At: Long Room
While the Festina Peche is not a traditional sour or Flemish ale, the overwhelming tartness of this brew will definitely quell your need for a face-puckering beverage. The Peche is a BerlinerWeiss brewed with peach sugars, which interact with the yeast to make a fruity yet incredibly tart and complex beer. It's not terribly strong (4.5 ABV) but that doesn't mean you can down these like water; the Peche can be almost overwhelming. If you're expecting a fruit beer going into it (like a cherry or blackberry ale), you're going to be quite surprised.
The Long Room doesn't have a lot of competition in the area of the Irving & Ashland intersection (although Ten Cat Tavern - ironically almost kitty corner to the Long Room - certainly is a quality bar as well) but the bar continues to improve its selection nonetheless. It's hosted an unveiling of Moaten, a sour beer brewed by both Two Brothers and Belgian brewer Urthel, and stocks plenty of other beer-dork thrillers like Bell's Hopslam on draft.
Sour Selection: Goose Island
Juliet Found At: Map Room
Up until this point, we've been focusing on beers that might not have a huge distribution and are found at places that might not get the recognition they deserve. But now we're going to diverge from that path with a hometown brew at an old standby - Goose Island's Juliet at the Map Room. Believe it or not, for as much hype as the Map Room gets for having a crazy selection of beers, sours are as underrepresented there as they are anywhere else. (Though some might say that you don't need much more than Juliet and Lips of Faith).
The Juliet packs some tartness from the aging process; Goose Island lets it hang out in cabernet barrels for a while to let it soak in some sour, and also adds blackberries to the mix for good measure. The folks at GI claim it's a good beer for fans of pinot noirs, and we think it's a good way to ease into the world of sour ales, as it's a milder version of the style. Once you've got your brain wrapped around it, grab a Lips of Faith and let 'er rip.