The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Here Are 5 Reasons To Get Excited About Cider In Chicago

By Staff in Food on Jan 27, 2014 7:00PM

Photo courtesy of Virtue Cider

Just a few years ago you’d be lucky to find a single cider on a bar menu, and it was pretty much guaranteed to be too sweet, but these days great cider is everywhere. Here are some reasons why this is the time to get excited about cider and try some of the great new options available:

Chicago is nestled close to prime cider apple orchards in Michigan and Wisconsin. Chicago-headquartered Virtue Cider has a farm in Fennville, Michigan which has quickly become a destination for day trippers to taste and buy cider. They are closed for the season right now, but will re-open in March. During the fall, when the apples are harvested and pressed into cider, many cider farms such as Vander Mill and Uncle John’s welcome visitors to watch the process. In Wisconsin, ÆppelTreow Winery makes cider and perry, the underrated pear equivalent. Visit their tasting room to sample their selection and then take a stroll in their orchards. Look for more cider orchards to open in the Midwest as the cider industry grows.

The selection of cider in Chicago is bigger than ever before and growing. Cider has a reputation for being a sweet drink, but many new local ciders range from dry and slightly savory - like Vander Mill’s pecan-infused Totally Roasted - to sour like Virtue’s Percheron, now available on draft at many bars such as Farmhouse, and in large-format bottles at many retailers.

Bars, restaurants, and liquor stores are also expanding their foreign and domestic cider selections in response to cider’s increasing popularity. The sophisticated and complex Eric Bordelet ciders from France, available at Lush Wine & Spirits, will appeal to wine aficionados. Beer-lovers, especially those who have to go gluten-free, might want to try the pleasingly bitter-sweet Tieton Cider Works' Yakima Valley Dry Hopped Cider or hearty Crispin Lansdowne Cider, which is brewed with ale yeast, both available at Binny’s Beverage Depot. The uniquely tart and earthy Basque cider Isastegi is available at Lush and pouring this Tuesday Jan. 28 at The Green Lady’s Sour and Funk Fest.

Cider is even showing up in cocktails. Barrelhouse Flat recently hosted a competition inviting bartenders to create cider cocktails with Virtue’s Mitten cider. You can view the winners and their recipes on Virtue’s Facebook page. Many bars now have cider cocktails on their menus, such as the Innocence Lost at Longman and Eagle, a “refreshing elixir” which contains Anthem’s Hop Cider alongside North Shore Aquavit, Aperol, and Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters. The Bad Apple is also serving up a variety of cocktails made with hard cider, including the “Carl Weathers” made with Virtue Red Steak mixed with mead, bourbon, and Abita Root Beer.

Chicago is about to become the home of not just one, but two new bars entirely devoted to cider. The Northman will open sometime this spring in North Center at 4337 N. Lincoln Ave., and will feature over 100 different ciders, as well as a menu by The Fountainhead’s Chef Cleetus Friedman. In the fall, Farmhouse’s team will open Nordcider downtown, which will feature their own small-batch European-style ciders from their Michigan farm. They will be pairing these ciders with a menu of food cooked on an open flame. If you want to get a preview of Nordcider, they are doing a series of pop-up dinners Feb. 6 and 7, featuring dishes like a suckling pig porchetta with cider mustard and cider poached sole. The dinners are $54 a person. (Reservations are available at City Eats.)

Chicagoans love to celebrate cider. If you want to learn more about cider or just enjoy something special, there are many great upcoming cider events. Last year the Chicago Cider Summit sold out quickly and the popular event is returning to Chicago Saturday, Feb. 8, with a selection of over 90 different ciders from around the world. If you are curious about expanding your cider knowledge, Hale to the Ale is hosting Passport to Cider: Artisanal Pomme Beverages From Around The World, Jan. 30 at Hopleaf. Attendees will learn cider basics from cider expert Brian Rutzen and get a chance to sample different ciders.

— Melissa McEwen