First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 27th July, 2019
We hear a lot about local spirit and beer producers, but possibly the most Irish drink of all is cider (and we are talking about craft cider here) which in most cases is 100 per cent Irish, made from fruit grown in orchards around the country. All four ciders below were made from estate-grown apples, using wild yeasts, and without the addition of sulphites or preservatives. They are also both coeliac-friendly and vegan.
Cider-making has similarities with wine, with an array of varieties, including many specific to cider-making, and goes through a similar fermentation process. Alongside mead, it can claim to be one of the most ancient Irish drinks of all.
In this country, cider has always faced two problems: a reputation as a summer drink, or as a tipple of choice for underage drinkers. Neither is necessarily true, although there are few things nicer than a good cider on a sunny day. The problem is one of perception and price; consumers are familiar with cheap medium-dry cider and don’t see why they should pay more.
Is cider now at the same tipping point as craft beer and gin 10 years ago? At a tasting at an event organised by Cider Ireland, I tasted some wonderful refreshing ciders, although many were medium-dry rather than dry.
The Mór from Longueville House was fermented and aged for a year in casks that had previously been used to mature the (excellent) Longueville apple brandy. The estate has a 30-acre orchard, much of it planted 35 years ago, making them one of the very first craft producers, along with Highbank in Kilkenny.
Cousins Barry Walsh and Dave Watson, with his wife Kate, own and run the 30 hectare Killahora estate in east Cork. As well as making a wonderful apple ice wine, a delicious perry and various other fascinating experimental apple drinks, they have two Johnny Fall Down ciders. The Bittersweet below is made from 47 different varieties of apple from their orchard, including many rarities.
The McNeece family bought a farm in the Boyne Valley in 1962. It included an orchard. They always made cider for home consumption, but in 2013, Olan McNeece decided to go professional and make a range of ciders, named after his great grandfather, who used to drive the Dublin-Belfast train that runs through the orchard.
Cockagee is one of a series of ciders made by Mark Jenkinson from his and a few neighbours’ orchards in Co Meath. Jenkinson has more than 100 varieties of apple, many rare, in his organic orchard. Cockagee is keeved or given a very long slow natural fermentation; it is bottled without filtration, pasteurisation, sweetening or carbonation.
Dan Kelly’s Original Cider
Lightly sparkling with clean refreshing crisp green apple fruits. A great sunny day cider.
From See dankellyscider.com for stockists, plus SuperValu in Meath and Louth.
Johnny Fall Down Bittersweet Cider
Delicious, refreshing, complex cider with pears and green apples; tannic with some good acidity and a light sweetness but definitely one for grown-ups. And preferably with food – pork chops with caramelised apple perhaps.
Cockagee Irish Keeved Cider
A wonderful complex cider with slightly funky apple fruits, good intensity and a lightly pithy dry finish. Drink with ham and cheese crepes.
From O’Briens; Blackrock Cellar, 23 Rock Hill, Blackrock, Co Dublin; Bradley’s Off-licence, 81 North Main Street, Cork; Carry Out, O’Moore Street, Tullamore, Co Offaly; Fresh Outlets; McCambridges, 38-39 Shop Street, Galway; Number 21, 6 Greenhill Road, Ballinacurra, Co Limerick; Redmonds, 25 Ranelagh Road, Dublin 6; Drinkstore, Manor Street, Stoneybatter, Dublin 7; McHughs, St Assam’s Park, Donaghmede, Dublin 5; Whelehan’s Wines, The Bray Road, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin.
Mór Longueville House Cider
A delicious rich and powerful cider, smooth, with red apples, a touch of spice and great length. With barbecued ribs or a roast of pork.
From See longuevillebeverages.ie