Virtue, brewmaster Greg Hall’s next venture

By Sophia Coleman

Finding a good craft beer in the city is easy. Sipping fine wines at a local cafe is not a huge feat either. But when searching for a tasty hard cider, one may be left drinking apple-juice concentrate with a sour face.

The search may soon be over, thanks to Greg Hall, who has made it his mission to bring quality hard cider to Chicago, the rest of the Midwest and his new brewery, Virtue. He doesn’t only want to give people’s tastebuds something to salivate over—he will also be helping out local farmers and organizations with his new business.

“We are trying to not only make the cider delicious but also support family farmers and keep those guys going for a couple more generations,” said Hall, the former brewmaster of Goose Island.

The Virtue office is located in Roscoe Village, 2024 W. Roscoe St., but is currently looking for a site on which to build its own cider mill so it can press, ferment and bottle its apples. With 23 years experience as Goose Island brewmaster—his father, John Hall, was president of the Chicago-born brewery—Hill knows a thing or two about quality beverages.

His initial trip to Europe in 2000 inspired Hall to begin his cider venture, as he tasted delicious drinks in Normandy, France and Northshire, England. He saw how the breweries there passed down techniques from each generation, and ultimately produced a cider that tasted so natural and intense, that he knew cider would be his next move back in the States.

This past summer, Hall went back to England and France to learn techniques from European breweries. He said he plans on using some of their methods at Virtue. His first cider, Redstreak, will be made from a blend of apples from different local growers.

“Cider right now is at a place where there is a whole lot of innovation. There’s all kinds of opportunity,” Hall said. “There’s a lot of beer out there, but there isn’t nearly enough great cider—so that’s what I’m going to do.”

Hall said he was excited to begin a business from the ground up. In March 2011, Goose Island was sold to Anheuser-Busch, because the brewery on Fulton Street was full and they couldn’t make any more beer. They had the choice of not making any new product, or bringing more jobs to the market by having someone else brew for them, who had an enormous amount of money.

For Hall, the selling of Goose Island was exactly what he needed to get Virtue going. So far, he has held several cider-focused dinners at C-House, 166 E. Superior St., and Hopleaf, 5148 N. Clark St. Though he does not have his own cider prepared yet, he featured a few of the ciders he admired while in France.

“Some of the best ciders in the world come from France, but there’s no reason why we can’t compete with that,” said Mike Roper, owner of Hopleaf.

People are using local organic grains and fruits to create their products—and now it’s cider’s turn, Roper said. He said that cider has an older history in America than beer and spirits, and was the dominant beverage in the 1700s. During the past three centuries, the practice of crafting hard cider fell away, and the ones that survived were cheap and uninteresting.

“It’s a good move for Greg and it’s a good move for the Midwest and farmers,” Roper said. “It can help out a regional economy by using products that we have in abundance.”

One of the local organizations that Hall will be supporting is Chicago Rarities Orchard Project, which was founded in 2008 by Dave Snyder to establish “community rare-fruit orchards” in Chicago.

CROP has a plot of land sectioned off in Logan Square to be the site of an orchard that will bear apples and other fruits. Fruit produced from the orchards will, in part, be used to fund the project and also be distributed throughout the community.

“We hope to offer the neighborhood beautiful, open space, educational opportunities and access to locally produced fruit,” Snyder said. “Imagine getting off of the [train] and being able to see and taste a variety of fruit not found in a grocery store.”

The orchard in Logan Square Plaza is slated to begin planting in spring 2012, and from there the trees will continue growing and will produce apples in about seven years, according to Snyder.

“Apple trees give back so much,” Hall said. “They clean the air, they’re good for the soil, they stop erosion and they provide habitat for birds and insects. It’s exactly what we need in the city.”