This story was updated for 2023 by Cassie Walker Burke.
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.
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.”
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. Originally published in 2022, we’ve updated this list for 2023, including new times and cider mill features.
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.
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.
Owners Charlie Davis and Katie Morgan offer $25 monthly tours — you can register in advance through their website — and boast a kid-friendly, dog-friendly tap room with 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), which operates out of a former Masonic temple that was completed in 1911. 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. Visitors can enjoy an array of year-round and seasonal ciders on tap; the latter list currently includes a strawberry rhubarb blend and a peach hard cider with basil.
From Eris, a 45-minute drive southwest will take you to 2 Fools Cider (1864 High Grove Lane Suite 100, Naperville, Ill.). Established in 2016, 2 Fools Cider last year 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.
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, Wis. On Sept. 24 and Oct. 1, the owners lead a one-hour outdoor tour of the orchard, complete with a cider pressing. Tours start at $25 per person; a $49 ticket includes a charcuterie box and a bottle of cider.
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 and a non-alcoholic cider.
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 or so 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.
Continue north until you’re just shy of Saugatuck and you’ll arrive at Virtue Cider (2170 62nd St., Fennville, Mich.). 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. You can book a farm tour ($12 for adults, $8 for children) or a cider tasting ($15, must be 21) online.
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.