Cider is one of those drinks that are poised for growing popularity between the worlds of wine and beer. Similar to wine, cider is made by fermenting a fruit’s juice (apples rather than grapes), but also shares beer’s lower alcohol range between 4% and 8% ABV.
In northern European countries that were too cool to grow grapes but perfect for flourishing apple orchards, cider-making was inevitable: Ireland, Britain, and northern France’s Normandy and Brittany in particular.
Cider consumption is a little like rosé wine, anchored to the weather. Sunshine definitely boosts cider sales. Low in alcohol, at a third or a quarter the strength of wine, cider makes for a refreshing drink. Irish Craft Ciders in particular are finding fans of gluten-free drinks because no grain is permitted in creating a true craft cider.
These are artisanal and hand-made drinks using Irish grown apples. Their naturalness is underpinned by the strict exclusion of any artificial sweeteners, sulphites, additives, colourings or preservatives.
The price difference between an Irish Craft Cider and the commercial brands can be partly explained by the fact that an Irish Craft Cider must contain 100% apple juice, whereas the commercial brands must contain at least 35% apple juice with the balance of 65% water.
Both coexist in harmony. The commercial brands invest heavily in marketing and advertising cider while the craft cider producers enhance the image with their artisanal methods of producing a very natural beverage.
How is Cider Made?
The apples grown for cider differ from eating (culinary) apples by their palate tingling acidity and greater bitterness and astringency. The most widely cropped cider varieties of apples grown in Ireland are Dabinett and Michelin. A small amount of pears may also be added to the apples used in cider making.
However, if pears only or mostly pears are used, this alcoholic beverage is called Perry. In Britain, occasionally culinary apples are used to make a delicately flavoured drink and this is spelled with the letter y replacing the letter i, Cyder.
To extract the apples’ juice, the apples are milled (sliced). After milling, traditionally the pulp is placed in a cloth (a “cheese”) and then pressed. The pulp yields about 80% of its weight in juice. After yeast is added and the fermentation of the apple juice concluded, the result is a dry to medium-dry or sweet cider, best drunk well-chilled without diluting the natural flavours with ice.
Suited to the Irish dinner table, medium-dry cider in particular is one of the few beverages that go brilliantly with bacon and cabbage. Whereas, the medium and sweet styles are especially good to contrast with salty hard cheddar style cheeses.
Below, nine delicious Irish craft ciders to try.
MacIvor’s Medium Cider with Plum & Ginger
Armagh – 4% ABV
€4.30 (500 ml) – Available at most independent off-licences including SuperValus
Shocking pink colour with delicate carbonation delivering a faint halo of foam. Distinct perfume of freshly grated ginger root and fruity plum. Delicious with the invigorating ginger leading the attack and followed with the seductive fruity plum. Light and very refreshing. Habit-forming.
Food friend: Keep it exotic with a Chinese chicken and ginger fried rice and scallions.
Stonewell Esterre Sparkling Prestige
Cork – 6% ABV
€16.00 – €17.00 (750 ml) – Available at Redmond’s of Ranelagh, Martin’s Off Licence, Whelehan’s. Parting Glass, Enniskerry; La Touche, Greystones; Ardkeen Quality Foodstore, Waterford and the Carry Out Group.
Pale golden colour with moderate carbonation. Clean and fresh apple juice aromas. Very dry with a tangy acidity cleansing the taste buds followed by crunchy green apple flavours.
Food friend: A bowl of steaming mussels in a garlic creamy broth.
Cockagee Irish Keeved Cider
Slane, Co. Meath – 5% ABV
€9.95 (750 ml) and €4.95 (375 ml) – Available at O’Briens Wine, Sweeney’s, Whelehan’s, Redmond’s of Ranelagh, Morton’s, Drinkstore, Martin’s Off Licence; Bradley’s, Cork; Callan’s; Dundalk.
Naturally sparkling from the ancient keeving method of fermentation. In this cider, fermentation can take up to a year to convert all the sweetness in the apple juice into alcohol, delivering a dry tasting cider with depth of character. Perfumed scents of windfall apples. Off-dry, silky textured with pure apple flesh and skins with an attractive tangy finish.
Food friend: serve with a classic pairing of bacon and cabbage with a creamy parsley sauce.
Boyne Valley Dan Kelly’s
Co. Meath – 4.5% ABV
€4.25 – €4.50 (500 ml) – Available at many independent off-licences nationwide including O’Brien’s Wine, Molloy’s and select Dunnes Stores and SuperValu.
Medium amber colour and moderate carbonation. Blathery foam and a fruity apple fragrance. Medium-dry with a sharp bite of acidity counterbalanced by a fruity core averting any austerity. Long fruity and balanced aftertaste.
Food friend: experiment with a sweet and sour pork dish.
Long Meadow Blossom Burst Cider
Co. Armagh – 4.5% ABV
€3.79 (500 ml) – Available at Baggot Street Wines; Matson Inns, Grange, Cork; Fresh Stores; Joyce’s Supermarket Stores, Knocknacarra, Athenry, Headford, Inverin and Tuam; Quish SuperValu, Ballincollig; Scollan’s Gala Supermarket, Drumshambo; Number 21 Off Licences, Cork; Deveney’s Off Licence, Dundrum; Higgins, Clonskeagh; McHugh’s Malahide Road and Kilbarrack Road.
Pale lemon colour topped by a blathery foam. Moderate carbonation. Subtle aromas of steel and apple skins. Dry, crisp and fresh apple flesh flavours. Uncomplicated with a delicate fruity finish.
Food friend: Serve with salads with chicken or chunky fish and a creamy dressing.
Orpen’s Vintage 2013
Ireland – 5.3% ABV
€2.50 (330 ml) – Available at Purtill’s, Kilkee and Purtill’s, Ennis.
Pale lemon in colour with moderate carbonation and no foam. Fruity apple drops aroma. Dry and crisp with refinement and a citrus lemon finish.
Food friend: Chinese chicken and fried rice with lemon zest.
MacIvor’s Vintage Reserve
Armagh – 5% ABV
€2.70 (330 ml) – Available at Drinkstore, Martin’s Off Licence, McHugh’s, Baggot Street Wines, Celtic Whiskey Store, select Number 21s and Carry Out Group.
Pale lemon and moderate-to-vigorous carbonation forming a faint halo of foam. Steely muted aromas contrasting with a concentrated palate of apple core. Dry and refined.
Food friend: an excellent alternative aperitif appetite sharpener.
Sweet Armagh Craft Cider
Ireland – 4.5% ABV
€2.29 500ml at Aldi stores nationwide
Pale lemon in colour and delicate carbonation yielding no foam. Muted apple skin aroma. Fragrantly fruity and medium-sweet from the addition of natural apple juice.
Food friend: an open cheddar cheese sandwich, slicked with mango chutney and lightly grilled.
Longueville House Mór Cider
Mallow, Co. Cork – 8% ABV
€7 – €8 (500 ml) in the majority of independent off licences including Bradley’s, Cork; McCambridge’s, Galway. In Dublin: Celtic Whiskey Shop, Morton’s, Redmond’s of Ranalagh and Whelehan’s Wines.
Cloudy and amber in colour. Medium-dry with the addition of an oak cask-aged Apple Brandy. Aromas of baked apple pie with spicy clove. Full–bodied and a drying spice finish ending with a kick from the Apple Brandy’s 40% ABV.
Food friend: a baked ham spiked with clove and baked apples.
While the current batch is sold out, the next batch will be ready mid-late October.
Liam Campbell is one of Ireland’s most experienced wine writers. His work has been featured in the pages of numerous publications, most recently as the Wine & Drinks Editor for The Irish Independent, as well as in Irish Homes, Easy Food and The Dubliner magazines.
Besides writing, his involvement in the world of wine goes deeper: he’s an approved WSET educator and holder of a WSET Diploma, Diploma in Craft Beer & Cider, and he has worked as judge in international wine competitions and as a wine consultant.