The great cider road trip: Seven Midwest cideries worthy of a visit

Whether you’re a dabbler or a connoisseur, you’ll find something new to sip in tasting rooms that prize limited-run varieties and regional fruit.

Hard cider road trip
Eris Brewery and Cider House in Chicago's Old Irving Park neighborhood offers tastings and tours of its historical building. Alycia Stack / Courtesy of Eris
Hard cider road trip
Eris Brewery and Cider House in Chicago's Old Irving Park neighborhood offers tastings and tours of its historical building. Alycia Stack / Courtesy of Eris

The great cider road trip: Seven Midwest cideries worthy of a visit

Whether you’re a dabbler or a connoisseur, you’ll find something new to sip in tasting rooms that prize limited-run varieties and regional fruit.

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After Washington and New York, Michigan produces the highest volume of apples, so it makes sense that ours is the next region to lean into America’s hard cider boom.

In the United States, the popularity of hard fruit cider has soared in recent years. Michelle McGrath, executive director of the American Cider Association, said that between 1984 and 2000, cider was made commercially in less than a dozen states. “Today, hard cider is commercially made in all 50 states,” she said, with cider on tap consistently outselling most styles of beer, excluding IPAs.

According to data from Nielsen, retail cider sales rose exponentially between 2011 and 2016, then growth tapered with store-based sales growing 6% between 2018 and 2022.

The popularity of regional and small-craft producers have helped drive growth. Some of the most interesting brands are made right here in the Great Lakes region — from Virtue Cider, founded by Greg Hall, a longtime Goose Island brewmaster, to the woman-led team behind Eris, which has connected cider making to Chicago’s architectural history by opening a mill in a former Masonic temple in Old Irving Park.

Unlike beer, cider is not brewed. “Cider is made more like wine,” said Hall, who left Goose Island to launch Virtue Cider just over a decade ago. “Where we take ripe fruit in the fall, harvest it and then crush it to get the juice out.”

Virtue, which is based in Fennville, Michigan, also uses a slow fermentation process for most of its ciders. His cider makers often don’t add yeast, which sets Virtue apart from more commercial brands. “We think that slower, natural fermentation leaves more fruit in the cider,” Hall said. So when you’re drinking it, you’re getting the full flavor of the Michigan-grown apples.

For those interested in visiting Virtue’s farm and tap room, Hall recommends a cider tasting, which includes varieties that you can only try on-site. “We think some of our best and most unique ciders are available just at the farm,” he says. “That’s our most popular thing.”

Apple cider road trip
Right Bee co-founders Charlie Davis and Katie Morgan offer monthly tours and a kid-friendly tap room. Courtesy of Right Bee Cider / Stout Collective

In addition to Virtue, there are dozens of cider mills and cideries across the region making use of local apples, and we’ve put together a map of some of the best, from right here in Chicago to Madison to southwest Michigan. Many smaller-scale cideries tend to make cider that is drier than more commercial offerings, though most offer a range of sweetness in order to accommodate any palate. (A few area destinations for apple picking are now pressing their own hard cider; read more here.)

Besides tastings of unique small batch offerings, several cideries on this list also offer a menu of activities that make them great day destinations, from farm tours to concerts. Maybe it’s the farm vibe, but the destinations also tend to be kid- and pup-friendly. But it’s always wise to check hours and specifics before you set out, since cideries are small businesses and things can change.

Hard cider road trip
Chantal Bennett Illustration

Chicago and the suburbs

For those based in Chicago proper, we recommend starting your journey right here in the city, at Right Bee Cider (1830 N. Kostner Ave., Chicago). The first cidery in Chicago since the days of Prohibition, Right Bee Cider was established in the Hermosa neighborhood in 2014.

This fall, owners Charlie Davis and Katie Morgan are offering monthly tours — you can register in advance through their website — and boast a kid-friendly, dog-friendly tap room, which has eight ciders on draft. Morgan hopes to encourage more people to give cider a try. “I think people are afraid of cider, they think it’s going to be too sweet,” she said. At Right Bee, “Nothing is going to be too sweet.”

From Hermosa, it’s a short jaunt north to Eris Brewery and Cider House (4240 W. Irving Park Road, Chicago). Conveniently located near the CTA Blue Line and the Metra Irving Park stops, this women-owned brewery and cider house has a full-service restaurant and an outdoor patio. Eris offers weekly tours through the fall and winter, focusing on the history of their building, a former Masonic temple that was completed in 1911. Visitors can enjoy an array of traditional and experimental ciders on tap, from a basil-infused version to a strawberry rhubarb blend. Stop by Nov. 6 for Eris’s third annual brisket competition, where a slate of local breweries compete for your vote.

Hard cider road trip
Cideries such as Eris offer experimental pours alongside more traditional options. Adam Alexander Photography / Courtesy of Eris

From Eris, a 45-minute drive southwest will take you to 2 Fools Cider (1864 High Grove Lane STE 100, Naperville, Ill.). Established in 2016, 2 Fools Cider recently relocated to a new facility just up the road, quadrupling its space and fermentation capacity from 3,000 to 11,000 gallons. President Monte Summers says the company started out trying to make dry, English-style cider; the Michigan-sourced apples provide a tart-forward taste.

At the taproom, visitors can try the company’s core flavors, such as dry or rosé blends, or can venture into seasonals, including mango habanero or honey hibiscus.

Wisconsin

The Cider Farm (8216 Watts Road, Madison, Wisc.) is a must-visit on any cider tour. About two-and-a-half hours northwest of Chicago, this tasting room offers eight ciders and apple brandy, all made from homegrown organic apples, which are cultivated specifically for drinking. While you’re there, indulge in small plates sourced from local food purveyors, and catch live bands on the weekends. The farm proper is located in nearby Mineral Point, Wisc., and owners offer outdoor tours of the orchard throughout the fall.

Michigan and Indiana

Since Michigan is known for its apple production, it’s little surprise the state is packed with small-run cideries. Heading east out of Chicago, your first stop should be Aftermath Cidery and Winery (15 North Washington St., Valparaiso, Ind.), just south of Indiana Dunes National Park. This locally-owned business makes its own cider — sourced from Indiana apples — and wine. Their bar offers small bites, a non-alcoholic cider and Instagrammable alcoholic slushies.

From there, head north along the coast of Lake Michigan to Peat’s Cider Social (6201 Red Arrow Highway, Stevensville, Mich.). Housed in a restored, 1960s-era bowling alley, this taproom offers ten housemade ciders on tap, from a crisp, semi-blend to sweet, blueberry-infused flavor. Try your hand at bowling a perfect game in between sips, or see if Pac-Man can successfully navigate his old-school maze in the retro arcade room.

Hard cider road trip
Virtue frequently hosts events on its 48-acre farm, including a cider celebration on Oct. 1. Courtesy of Virtue Cider

Continue north until you’re just shy of Saugatuck and you’ll arrive at Virtue Cider (2170 62nd St., Fennville, Mich.). Open six days a week, this family-friendly cider farm has outdoor seating, one-and-a-half miles of trails, field games and adorable farm animals, such as spotted Gloucestershire pigs. (An Oct. 1 cider celebration includes live music and a pig roast; details here.)

While touring the grounds, visitors can see firsthand Virtue’s sustainable practices, which include solar panels that provide 60% of the mill’s energy year-round, to a 20-foot deep cellar that keeps the cider cool. Virtue ferments its cider in either bourbon barrels made in Kentucky, or wine barrels flown in directly from Burgundy, France.

“Both of those give, we think, a little extra character and complexity to our cider,” said Hall. See if you can taste the difference.

Kerry Cardoza is a freelance writer based in Chicago.