By Brad Knutson
Corner pubs and sports bars are a dime a dozen in Chicago. No matter where you travel in this town, you’re probably not more than a block away from a local watering hole serving up the usual array of light domestics and skunky imports. If you’re just out to get a quick beer buzz, these places can’t be beat. However, for those a bit more interested in the quality of each pint rather than the quantity poured, we also have our fair share of places to satisfy the appetites of the fiercest beer snobs. While Chicago may not be on quite the same level as microbrew-obsessed towns like Portland and Boulder, local establishments like Delilah’s, Sheffield’s and Quencher’s that boast a hundred to 200 varieties of beer each help alleviate the stereotype that we’re all a bunch of Old Style-chugging yokels.
Taking the appreciation of beer to an even further level in Chicago are The Map Room in Bucktown and The Hop Leaf in Andersonville. Both featuring copious amounts of hard-to-find imports and microbrews, these two bars are the end-all, be-all for the serious beer fan. Not only are you not able to find any light beer at these bars, you almost have to go out of your way to find a beer that doesn’t have an alcohol content of at least seven percent or higher.
Located at the corner of Armitage and Hoyne, The Map Room features a rotating stock of twenty-six beers on tap and a total of about 200 varieties of beer available. You can find just about any style of beer from around the world here, though there is a definite emphasis on Belgian ales and American craft brews. As in Belgium, every beer on tap is served in a style-specific glass that is best suited to bring out the optimum body, aroma and flavor for that beer. The selection changes rapidly and serious fans can even track the latest additions at the bar’s Web site, which is updated almost daily. The sheer number of choices can be almost overwhelming to the uninitiated, so you may want to pair up with an experienced friend who can steer you in the right direction. If you’re really serious about brushing up on your beer knowledge, The Map Room even offers monthly “beer school” sessions taught by local brewers.
Further up north on Clark near Foster is Chicago’s other must-visit destination for beer aficionados, The Hop Leaf. Also specializing in Belgian ales and domestic micros, The Hop Leaf shares the same beer-obsessed mantra as Map Room. In fact, The Hop Leaf may even slightly eclipse The Map Room in terms of overall variety. They have four more tap handles for a grand total of thirty beers on draft and also feature an easier-to-read menu (also updated online) that gives brief descriptions of every beer. As an added bonus, The Hop Leaf doubles as a full-service restaurant, with a food menu that has garnered as many rave reviews as its beer. After a full meal of steak and potato frites washed down with a couple of full-bodied Belgian ales, it’s hard not to walk out of this place without a big dumb grin on your face.
As anyone who’s ever enjoyed a freshly poured glass of Delirium Tremens can attest, enjoying a fine beer is a refined experience not unlike slowly sipping an expensive wine. Once you’ve experienced one of these bars, you won’t look at beer the same way again.