OLD IRVING PARK — At Eris Brewery & Cider House, they do things differently than most new breweries.
Start small and add more equipment later?
Not Michelle Foik and Katy Pizza.
The co-owners started big, in large part because building a brewery and cider house in the massive old Masonic Temple at 4240 W. Irving Park Rd. meant the project needed to be big.
Brewing equipment needed to be moved through holes in the exterior walls during initial construction, so Foik and Pizza installed more than they initially needed, preparing for the future.
That future is arriving. As Eris celebrates its first anniversary, plans are in place to grow and start distributing ciders to bars across Chicago. If all goes well, Eris aims to have their ciders on tap at other bars in the next couple months.
“We’re going to be putting our cider into quarter barrels,” Foik said. “In the beer industry you have things like a half barrel, a keg, and then you have a one sixth barrel. So of course we’re going to be different again by putting our ciders into quarter barrels.”
Choosing to use quarter barrels for the cider is just another way Eris is doing things its own way.
Based on the cider they sell out of their own space, Foik says the one-sixth barrels get drained pretty quickly.
“Quarter barrels don’t take up too much more cooler space than a [one-sixth barrel], but will provide 2.5 more gallons to our thirsty accounts,” Foik said.
On Tuesday, Eris co-owners Foik and Pizza welcomed cider fans visiting Chicago as part of this year’s CiderCon convention by offering up a tour of the building with cider and food pairings from the brewery.
They started with Eris’ Pungenday, a “hop-forward” cider paired with a butternut squash apple soup.
“It’s very strong on the palate but also refreshing and slightly tart,” Foik said of the cider.
The beers and ciders at Eris are crafted by head brewer Hayley Shine, who has a background in bioengineering. She previously brewed for Rock Bottom Brewery and Rogue Ales.
Other pairings on Tuesday’s tour included Van Van Mojo, a Blueberry cider hopped with Mosaic, alongside spoonfuls of a peanut butter mousse dessert which featured a peanut butter and grape jelly flavoring.
“Our New Year’s Eve party was the first time we ever really did that,” Foik said. “My favorite part of these pairings was seeing our chefs, see the wheels turn in their heads and eyes pop open.”
The pairings aren’t being offered to the public yet, but it’s one of the more fun projects Foik says she’d been able to work on since opening Eris’ doors.
Originally built around 1910 as a Masonic Temple for multiple area lodges, the brick building at 4240 W. Irving Park Road was more recently the Korean Bethel Presbyterian Church. The process of converting it into Eris began in 2014, with the doors opening last year.
“The windows were initially all bricked in and we opened it up to their original proportions of 17 feet high,” Pizza said.
Safes with Masonic imagery found in the building are now near the entrance, and reclaimed radiator heaters have been incorporated into the design of railings. The circles next to the Eris logo in the main dining area are actually the metal rings from a water tower. And many of the light fixtures are original to the building.
While the cellar, first floor and second floor have been built out, the owners are still making plans for the building’s third floor. One possibility would be for the hall on the third floor, which was previously another gathering space for the masons and later a basketball court for Korean Bethel, to be renovated into a 200-person event space.
“The building has not been landmarked, which is why we’ve been able to make such extensive changes,” Pizza said.
The building’s renovation from a former church into a functioning restaurant, brewery and cidery created a unique challenge — moving the custom tanks and fermenters in. Because of the size of the equipment Eris chose to use to brew beer and cider, it needed to be installed in the building while it was under construction.
The brewery’s bright-pink grain mill sits on the building’s third floor above the tanks visible from the first floor dining area. This allows the grain to filter into the tanks below seamlessly. The mill was installed was on the third floor before the room’s renovation was completed.
Eris has five tanks that hold 1,000 gallons each for fermenting cider as well as three 15-barrel fermenters and two 30-barrel fermenters for brewing beer. This system allows Eris to ferment and blend a higher volume of different variety ciders over the same two- to three-week period it would normally take to brew one beer.
“With cider, we’re able to ferment it in two to three weeks into a dry cider and then start blending it to create all the different styles,” Foik said.
Foik says the business is operating at about one-third of its full brewing capacity right now. In five years, it expects to be brewing at full capacity and using all of its large building.
Foik and Pizza say they’re excited to ramp up production as their ciders are soon tapped at other bars in Chicago soon.
“I think everyone thought we were crazy when we first started the project because we did have to do it backwards,” Foik said. “Other breweries I know started out small and then six months later needed to buy new stuff. A year later, they had to buy millions of dollars of new equipment. For us, it was opposite, we put a lot of money and thought into the process early on so hopefully we don’t have to spend money to grow later.”
And as Eris is incrementally expanding its production volume, the owners also plan to add more monthly events at the brewery, like trivia, yoga, bingo, game nights and regular tours.
“We held bingo in the mezzanine and it was so popular we had to turn people away,” Pizza said. “The next time we host bingo we’ll host it on the main floor.”
Another example of the Eris growth plan.
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