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Eris Cider House Draws Overall Support, a Few Sour Apples Over Parking

By Patty Wetli | December 18, 2014 9:16am
 Renderings of the proposed Eris Cider House and Brewery, showing outdoor patio, exterior grain silo and trellises for growing hops.
Renderings of the proposed Eris Cider House and Brewery, showing outdoor patio, exterior grain silo and trellises for growing hops.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

OLD IRVING PARK — Eris, Chicago's first proposed cider house, shares a name with the Greek goddess generally credited with instigating the Trojan War.

A far less epic confrontation took place Tuesday night as Michelle Foik, partner in Eris with Katy Pizza, presented plans for the cider house/brew pub/restaurant at a community forum attended by residents of Old Irving Park.

Though the majority of attendees expressed support for the project, a small but vocal group of neighbors from Kildare Avenue, whose garages would share an alley with Eris, raised several objections ranging from traffic to fumes.

Patty Wetli says it's close to a done deal:

Primary among their concerns: the prospect of delivery vehicles blocking access to their garages and Eris' request for a zoning change that allows for just 17 parking spaces at a restaurant with 150-seat capacity.

Foik countered that delivery drivers could be directed away from the alley. Regarding parking, she emphasized that she and Pizza chose the site at 4240 W. Irving Park Road because of its proximity to a number of public transportation options.

A veteran of both Revolution Brewing in Logan Square and Goose Island's Wrigleyville location, Foik said that she had experience dealing with challenging parking situations. 

"All my guys rode bikes," she said of staff at Revolution.

Ald. John Arena (45th), who will decide whether to approve or reject the zoning change Eris needs to open, offered to host a separate meeting between the Kildare neighbors and the Eris team.

Asked by the Kildare group whether the zoning change was already a "done deal," Arena responded: "Do I think this has merit? I do. Will it affect parking? Yes. Will it affect alley use? Yes. Are those changes an overall positive or an absolute negative?"

The property, formerly a Masonic Temple and currently home of the Korean Bethel Presbyterian Church, has, throughout its history, been tax exempt, Arena stated.

A conservative estimate would have Eris generating $80,000 to $100,000 in property taxes alone, with liquor and sales tax on top of that, he said.

"The city needs revenue. We need to activate properties that are underperforming," he said.

Economic benefits aside, Arena said, to widespread applause, "This community is starved for a place they can walk to exactly like this."

In the event that the alderman approves Eris' zoning request, the measure would take 60 to 90 days to work its way through the City Council.

Residents both for and against the cider house will then have time to prepare for their new neighbor: Foik said she doesn't anticipate Eris opening until fall 2016.

The 4½-story building requires a significant amount of work to meet current codes, including all new electrical, plumbing, stairwells and sprinklers, according to Cheryl Noel, architect on the project with Ravi Ricker.

Their firm, Wrap Architecture, also designed Revolution Brewing.

Though exterior aesthetic modifications will be minimal, Eris aims to open up bricked-over windows and add trellises that will be functional and ornamental.

"We're going to try to grow hops," said Foik, adding that in the excitement generated by the cider house announcement, the brewery half of Eris often has gotten lost.

"I really think we're going to be 50-50," Foik said of the beer-to-cider sales ratio.

She's planning on a 15-barrel brewing system for beer and will have the ability to make up to 100,000 gallons of cider, though "we probably won't ever reach that capacity," she said.

Apples and juice — Eris is too small for apple pressing to take place on site — will come from Washington, Oregon and Michigan, Foik said.

"I'm sure I'll find some smaller suppliers," she said. "I want to do as much locally as I can, but we're a year-round cider house."

Foik said she intended to hire a head brewer/cider maker and then an assistant under each branch of Eris' operation, given the differences between brewing and fermenting.

Cider, she explained, has more in common with wine — cider houses actually are classified as wineries, meaning Eris will be licensed as both a brewery and a winery.

In response to questions regarding the legality of the dual license, Foik said, "We and our lawyers have consulted with the state, and they approved our licensing proposal."

If there's one aspect of Eris' lengthy timetable working in the venture's favor, it's the opportunity to increase awareness about cider in advance of the 2016 opening.

"The more education we can do, the better," said Foik.

Cider with alcohol still suffers from an "it tastes like apple juice" reputation, which should evolve as consumers become more familiar with a broader range of cider varieties, she said, comparing cider's current position in the market to that of craft beer 15 years ago.

"In 2000, nobody knew what an IPA was, nobody knew a blonde," she said.

Projects like the Fountainhead team's The Northman cider bar "will only help what we're trying to do," Foik said.

If a cider house/brewery/restaurant seems a risky proposition to some, Foik said she's confident Eris will be a success.

"I feel it in my bones," she said. "This is good."

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