Irish cider: how d’you like them apples?

This refreshing tipple is the perfect drink to serve at summer weddings

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Ireland’s craft brewers received a deserved boost from the Minister for Finance a few years back when he granted them a 50 per cent rebate on excise duty. This allows smaller brewers to compete with the larger producers on a relatively even playing field. The results speak for themselves; the number of small craft breweries has shot up. However, our craft cider producers are currently excluded from this, and are therefore at a huge disadvantage to other similar drinks. Real cider is, like wine, fermented rather than brewed, and therein lies the problem.

Under EU law, the minister cannot simply lower the duty on fermented products. However cider is taxed in two bands, over 2.8 per cent alcohol and over 6 per cent alcohol. The Government could lower the current (extortionate) higher rate of duty; at the moment in a good vintage, such as 2014, a cider will ferment naturally to about 7 per cent. I would have thought this group was even more deserving than our craft brewers.

This is exactly the kind of business the Government should be helping; they are rurally based, use locally grown produce (genuine cider is made from 100 per cent Irish apples) and can substitute their cider for imported products. They may rescue many of our orchards with their unique stock of heritage apples. Let us hope the minister extends the lower duty rate in his next budget. In addition to this, while restaurants are permitted to serve bottled beer to those eating a meal, only those with a full on-licence can offer cider. Again it appears we are discriminating against our indigenous producers. Surely this too should be changed.

Changing tack, if you are getting married this summer, why not serve something Irish alongside, or instead of wine? Three of the more enterprising Irish producers now offer their ciders in very smart-looking 75cl bottles, perfectly suited for larger events. Throw in a few Irish beers and some genuine local apple juice for those not drinking alcohol, and you have a thoroughly Irish occasion. You could even finish off the evening by offering a glass of the excellent Longueville House apple brandy as well as whiskey.

James O’Donoghue of Longways produces an elderflower frizzante cider with summer celebrations in mind. James had been supplying a very large local cider producer with apples for 18 years before starting up his own cider-making business. His partner is John Maher, who worked as product development manager with C&C. Their aim, says James, was “to give it a taste profile similar to that of white wine”. They couldn’t get the flavours they were looking for from pure cider, but came across a locally produced elderflower extract. This was added to the cider once fermentation had finished. “It was quite amazing the change it brought to the product,” according to James. Craigies and Cockagee have been featured here before.

Angus Craigie and Simon Tyrrell started with the more traditionally styled Ballyhook Flyer, which has won many fans among more seasoned cider drinkers. The Dalliance is made in a very different style, lighter and fresher; the latest vintage is the best so far.

Mark Jenkinson has been producing his wonderful unique Cockagee for a few years, using traditional varieties grown in Meath. This keeved cider is naturally carbonated, unfiltered with a natural sweetness. I frequently enjoy cider with food but any of these three would make a very different and enjoyable drink to have at your wedding. Two craft cider producers also make other apple-based products. David Llewellyn makes a cider vinegar and an excellent balsamic cider vinegar, in addition of course to Irish wine – the current 2013 vintage is his best yet. Con Traas of The Apple Farm, who makes some of the best apple-based soft drinks, has a beautifully presented living culture Irish Cider Vinegar that tastes amazing.

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