The pair, the sole members of Chicago’s Right Bee Cider, only make… one cider. They work very hard to make sure it’s just right. They’ve been stirring up quite the buzz (we couldn’t help it) in the Chicago the craft beer scene lately and we sat down for a chat about the pursuit of the perfect cider, and the heartwarming story of a boy who made a cider to woo a girl at a party.
Matt Perrson: What is Right Bee Cider?
Katie Morgan: Right Bee Cider is an unfiltered hard cider made out of apples, a small amount of organic sugar, and local Chicago honey. We use honey from the Westside Bee Boyz, urban beekeepers in Chicago. Our cider is crisp and refreshing, but not overpowering in sweetness. We want our cider to be approachable, for people who have been drinking cider for years, and for those who may have never tried cider before.
MP: Why do you only make one cider?
KM: It’s important for us to start doing one thing, and do one thing really well. It can be a little maddening, tweaking little things here and there, but we’re perfectionists and we want to continue to improve our product and procedure.
Charlie Davis: I’ve worked for many breweries where it’s like we have to make 20 different types of beer in 20 different types of packaging, and it’s this focus on hiding volume in variety. I’ve always wanted the time to experiment, and be thorough, and focus on making one thing perfect.
MP: You mentioned that your honey comes from the Westside Bee Boyz, who are they and why do you work with them?
KM: The West Side Bee Boyz are urban beekeepers in Chicago that have a number of different hives around the city. They work closely with Sweet Beginnings and NLEN, two organizations that help employ people who were previously incarcerated. We met them at a festival, learned their story, loved their honey, and have been using their honey ever since! As a local cidery, it’s important to us to work with other local businesses in the community.
CD: There are hives at the Lincoln Park Zoo, downtown rooftops, and all around the city. We’re passionate about helping save the bees, and we support the work of NLEN and Sweet Beginnings. The Westside Bee Boyz are great people and we love their company.
MP: How did Right Bee Cider come to be? What inspired you two to start the company?
CD: My background is in beer brewing. I’ve always been a brewer. My first job in brewing was with Crown Brewing in Crown Point, Indiana, then Finch’s Beer Company in Chicago, and then I went out to Columbus, Ohio for a few years and I was the Brewmaster at North High Brewing. Since then I’ve done consulting for new breweries, in addition to starting Right Bee Cider.
KM: And what he’s not saying is that he’s really good at making beer… His recipes have won gold and silver medals at the world beer championships!
MP: What caused your shift to cider?
CD: When I met Katie, she didn’t drink beer, she prefered drinking cider. I noticed this and used my skills as a brewer to surprise her, and made a cider for her birthday.
KM: This was before we started dating. He brought it out for my birthday in this unmarked bottle and I was a little worried I was going to have to act like I liked it… I was thinking, this is great, this really nice guy made me such a sweet and thoughtful gift, and I’m going to have to practice my “I love it” face so I don’t hurt his feelings. But I tried it and it was perfect! I was first exposed to cider when I studied abroad in the UK. I fell in love with it, and when I returned from my travels I couldn’t find any options in the U.S that I really loved. And in passing I had explained to him the type of cider that I like and he completely nailed it. I like crisp and refreshing, a little tart, not sweet. That’s the story behind our business. We named this company Right Bee Cider because it sounds like right beside her. It’s a little punny.
MP: What’s it like being married to your business partner?
CD: It works for us because we have good communication. With business and with marriage, if you can communicate effectively and tell the person what you think outright and clearly, then it works. I think because of that it has worked. It’s not to say that we don’t have our moments of difficulty. It’s been crazy, and I think that once the dust settles we’ll have more time to spend with each other, which will be really nice. This is an investment in us and our future together, so it’s worth the hard work.
KM: I was surprised at how much I actually enjoy it. I was a little worried that it was going to be overwhelming being newlyweds and business partners, but it works really well. We got married six months before our release party in 2014. We’ve been very busy the past three years! When someone is your business partner as well as your life partner, you truly have the same goals. We share the same passion and vision for our business, and that drives us to be successful.
MP: What were the early days of Right Bee Cider like?
CD: We started this company with what we had… very little upstart capital. We used shared warehouse space, and made our cider in non jacketed fermenters using ambient space heaters.
KM: Household space heaters.
CD: In a room that didn’t have central heating.
MP: So you were just constantly babysitting the cider?
CD: Yes. Before we went to bed we would drive over there make sure the heaters were still on, and then wake up in the morning to go over and check on everything. We had an instance when the power went out during a snowstorm, our yeast struggled, and we had to dump about 500 gallons of cider.
KM: I was crying in an alley, at night, in the snow, in the middle of February, watching 500 gallons of cider be dumped. It was terrible.
CD: To cool the liquid we had a tank outside in our cooler, which I built by hand inside an old storage shed in the back alley. We had to transfer the liquid outside. It doesn’t matter if it’s 70 degrees out or -10, those orders don’t stop coming. There are times I distinctly remember being outside, it’s -10 degrees and I’m spray painting our logo on kegs and filling them. I couldn’t feel my hands. I probably have permanent nerve damage in my toes from getting frost bite. It was rough. On top of that we were some of the first people in Chicago making cider, and a unique cider that people aren’t familiar with. It’s unfiltered, it’s dry, it’s not your run of the mill cider. We spent a lot of time explaining to people “it’s supposed to look like that and taste like that, it’s not supposed to be crystal clear or super sweet”.
MP: When things get tough, what motivates you to keep going?
KM: Until relatively recently we were self distributing out of a pickup truck we bought on craigslist. We were making the cider, staying up all night processing it, and then driving around the city and delivering it to accounts. This is truly a labor of love and something that’s very personal to us. We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished. We’re excited to share it with people.
MP: What’s next for Right Bee Cider?
KM: We just got a bottling line, and hope to have bottles ready for sale by Fall. We also recently signed on with a distributor, which has been great because it frees up a lot of time for us to work on other aspects of the business, other than deliveries.
CD: We finally got temperature controlled tanks, and that takes a lot of adjustment. You don’t want to change everything about your procedure all at once, so now after six months or so, we’ve had time to make adjustments, take meticulous notes, and perfect our cider!
The Chicago Ale Fest is a celebration of American Craft Beer in the heart of Chicago. The 2016 fest will take place on Friday, June 17th and Saturday, June 18th. Located at Buckingham Fountain in historic Grant Park, bordered by the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan, the fest will feature more than 200 beers from over 100 American craft breweries. The fest will also feature live music and food from some of Chicago’s favorite restaurants. Join us on Chicago’s front lawn for one of the most anticipated craft beer fest of the year!
Chicago Ale Fest
June 17th & 18th