Chicago has a huge number of breweries, but there are not many cideries within city limits. In fact, there are only two, and Right Bee Cider was the first to open since Prohibition in 2019. Once a Schwinn Bicycle factory, the Hermosa cidery and tasting room is now a cider-lover’s destination. We spoke with cider maker Charlie Davis about the brand he owns and runs with his wife, Katie Morgan. And if you don’t care about cider but love America’s best dad-rock band, you might like to know they earned a Wilco endorsement for their Muzzle of Bees cider.
InsideHook: If Katie and you never met, do you think you’d be brewing cider?
Charlie Davis: Absolutely not. I was a professional beer brewer when I met Katie. We were friends, and when I would bring beer to parties, I noticed she would try it and then move swiftly onto cider. She appreciates craft beer but fell in love with cider while studying in England and never looked back. We were just buddies at the time, but I started experimenting with cider because she liked it and ended up making her one for her birthday. She was worried she would have to pretend to like it because it would be too sweet. Turns out I did a good job. While I thought I was officially “friend zoned,” she felt obligated to start dating me after trying the cider. We dated, got engaged, then married very shortly afterwards. We started Right Bee Cider the same year and now have two kids and a growing business on the West Side of Chicago. Our name, Right Bee Cider, sounds like “right beside her” and alludes to our story.
Your name is super sweet, no pun intended, and also a nod to the bees on the roof. What’s more difficult: producing honey from bees or producing cider with honey as an ingredient?
If you’re asking if it’s easier for Right Bee Cider to make cider or honey, then definitely cider. We use an amazing local company called The Hive Supply to manage our hives. Naaman and his team check the beehives and harvest the honey we use in our cider. If the question is whether it is harder to be a beekeeper or a cider maker, then I’m not sure. Those guys spend long hours on sweltering rooftops checking hives, getting stung, sticky and sweaty — no thanks!
Cider making comes with its own challenges, though. We spend countless hours fermenting, blending and lab testing everything to make sure it’s perfect before packaging. Canning and kegging the cider is a challenge in itself. At the end of the day, it’s a good thing we like what we do.
I genuinely like your ciders, and I do not consider myself a cider drinker. I’ve found that some ciders can be too sweet and sticky. Yours, specifically the Dry Hard Apple Cider, is crisper, more refreshing. Did you intentionally develop your stuff to appeal to a non-cider audience?
The misconception in the United States is that cider is super sweet and sticky. We make crisp, refreshing, dry ciders that are accessible to the experienced cider drinker, as well as someone new to the beverage. Long story short: we make cider we like to drink. We like to drink cider that is well balanced and not too sweet. Our low sugar content really sets us apart from large cider makers.
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Would you considered naming a cider after any other Wilco songs?
The story behind our Muzzle of Bees is so beautiful and organic, and I’m not sure we can replicate something like that. I was working at the bar one night, and “Muzzle of Bees” came on. Being a big Wilco fan, I had an idea that we could make a cider called “Muzzle of Bees” with our rooftop honey. We’d use the money from the cider to help us compensate our beekeepers at The Hive Supply. I shot off a late-night email to the “contact us” email on Wilco’s website. They got back to us immediately. Not only did they say we could use the name of the song, but designed the label for us!
The cidery in the Hermosa neighborhood blends in well with the existing block. What was the reaction like when you first opened? There aren’t many other breweries nearby or in this area of the Northwest, West Side of Chicago.
There are two other manufacturing breweries in the neighborhood: Pipeworks and Off Color. However, they don’t have tasting rooms at their facilities. We have a great relationship with our neighbors and do our part to keep the building and area out front looking as clean and friendly as we can. This building, the old Schwinn bike manufacturing facility, works perfectly for us and we’re happy to be here and help build the community.
You were the first cidery to open in Chicago since Prohibition, and you’re only one of two. About 100 breweries have opened in city limits. Why do you think cideries aren’t growing at nearly the same pace?
Regional ciders are growing as fast, if not faster, than breweries. There aren’t as many of us because the market is smaller.
Right Bee Cider is truly a family business. Would you want your children to take over the cidery one day?
My kids are free to do whatever they would like to do. If working at the cidery is what they want to do, then more power to them. They certainly won’t be “taking over,” though. Everyone starts here building boxes and cleaning kegs, and it won’t be any different for them.
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