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Drinks

Great Irish Drinks: Making The Most Of Craft Ciders

Oisin Davis on the versatility of ciders.

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A good cider is not only a tasty beverage in its own right but can also create interesting concoctions when used as a mixer, says FOOD AND WINE writer, Oisin Davis.

August is definitely peak cider season. Not only are we still in the midst of summer and crave those long refreshing, sun-drenched libations but random trees dotted everywhere from public parks to private gardens have gone from displaying blossoms to bearing fruits. Specifically, apples: they are very clever manifestations of guerrilla marketing, each one subconsciously telling us to head out and, "Buy More Cider!" At least, that's what they're secretly telling my brain anyway. I probably need professional help or just more cider in my life. 

Like most Irish people of my generation, and every generation that has followed, some of my earliest dalliances with alcohol involved overdosing on very cheap cider. As a result, it took me a long time to find my mojo with it again. But it came back with a bang, especially when a flurry of new micro-producers started releasing beauts that were fermented in the bottle and weren't just made with a minimum amount of actual apple juice. That's the thing with an awful lot of the large macro cider brands, be they Irish or internationally made. Some will only feature as little as 15% apple juice and will be instead laced with sugar and malic acid. Seek out the ciders that aren't ghastly sweet and are made with proper apple juices. When you do, you'll most likely be supporting family-run businesses who not only have to try and compete with the huge brands from the macro breweries but also have to contend with ridiculous duties that are four times higher than beer. This is largely down to the fact that the government taxes all ciders like industrial alco-pops where products are turned around in as little as a fortnight, while ignoring the plight of those who do it more traditionally and can spend up to a year just fermenting. In order for me to spread the good word about these craft Irish ciders, I wrote two weeks ago about how we should use them more to cook with. This time, I decided to look at how we should use them more to mix with. Because we need more ways to support and indeed, enjoy these gorgeous beverages. A couple of cider producers shared their thoughts and some of their favourite recipes. I'd like to thanks them both for their time.

READ MORE: Great Irish Drinks: The Cider And Food Dream Team

William O'Callaghan, Longueville House 

Back in 1985, William O'Callaghan's father planted 25 acres of apple trees with the view of creating a highly sustainable, all-natural cider. Nearly 35 years later and those efforts are solidly in action as the family home of Longueville House now actually produce a carbon-negative line of ciders and apple brandies. That being said, it's never easy and not without its obstacles, as William himself says, "One of the biggest challenges that we have come across is the stranglehold that the big corporate breweries have on the pubs. Both of the big players now have added cider to their portfolios and are in effect paying pubs to keep real craft out, so we have found a niche for ourselves in good quality restaurants and cocktail bars where we continue to be very successful." 

This is a very common issue for smaller producers everywhere but it's heartening to know that the more premium bars and restaurants show them so much support. As more and more cocktail destinations have started to use his ciders, he's been given a great opportunity to see what kinds of flavours mix best with the fruits of Longueville House, "Our cider is very versatile and can complement a very wide range of flavours as you will see with the rise of flavoured cocktails on the market, but it is very simple to add your own flavour to your cider thus making a cocktail. The best advice I can give is to experiment and see what works for you but what I have found that works really well are strawberries, mixed berries, elderflower, ginger and rhubarb just to name a few. The key is balance - a sweet element, a sour element, the punch of a high proof alcohol and the moderation of a lower alcohol cider, even if it's just a splash." This delectably tasty drink that comes from McHugh's Bar in Ennis, seems to tick all those boxes.  

Longue Summer Day
Longue Summer Day

Longue Summer Day, courtesy of McHugh's Bar in Ennis 

INGREDIENTS:
2 strawberries
3 basil leaves 
15ml strawberry syrup
2 lime wedges
35ml vanilla-infused vodka
120ml cider
Garnish strawberries and lime

METHOD:
1. Muddle strawberries, basil and syrup in tall glass.
2. Squeeze lime from wedges and add to glass.
3. Fill with ice and vodka and top with cider.
4. Stir and garnish. 

Barry Walsh of Killahora Orchards

As a lover and dabbler in making drinks, Barry Walsh didn't seem to need much convincing when his cousin Dave Watson hit him up with an offer in 2011. He had bought some south-facing farmland outside Cork city and had a notion for them to cultivate rare apple trees to make cider with them. As it turned out, the property itself already had some very interesting things already growing there, "Shortly after we planted the first trees, we discovered that there had been an orchards there since the late 18th century, and we subsequently found 15 to 20 old wild apple trees that had descended from the original orchards!  So at that stage when we found we had a great history, great land, unique fruit, we started to see the potential to create more premium drinks using original and unique methods of manufacture. From there we progressed from ciders to bottle-fermented wild ciders, an apple ‘port’ we called ‘Pom’O’ and our Rare Apple Ice Wine." 

This is what makes Killahora so interesting, their range encompasses some great innovations that hitherto, have not been explored much in Ireland. Of course, this makes things even more difficult when you're already got the standard industry challenges. "Everything we’ve done was new. Every tree we planted and every drink we’ve made has had new learning curves to climb... try making an ice wine in a part of the country that never freezes! As scale increases, the ability to hand press and bottle changes, and in each step a new risk is taken for the drink to go sideways. The French have a saying, (paraphrasing here)’ Air is the death of cider’, so we try to minimise exposure. So really it’s a case of trying to bound the risks and take precautions, and if making mistakes, make them small or make them fast!" 

In terms of taste though, the end results are always worth it with the Killahora lads and there is no shortage of fantastic cocktail bars in Ireland and the UK rolling out their products in wicked drinks. A couple of the good folk from Cask in Cork city helped them create some fabulous drinks for the Irish Embassy in London recently and we've got one of them here.  

Orchard Fizz
Orchard Fizz

Orchard Fizz, created for The Irish Embassy in London by the team at Cask 


INGREDIENTS:

15 ml Killahora Orchard's Apple Ice Wine
15 ml Moineir Irish Strawberry Wine 
100 ml Johnny Fall Down Cider 

METHOD: 
1. Stir the two wines in an ice-filled shaker for 10 seconds.
2. Strain into a chilled champagne flute and top up with the cider. 

Main image: Getty

Oisin Davis works on a global level as an Irish drinks evangelist and producer. He is the founder of nationwide drinks festivals that celebrate Irish spirits in the best bars and restaurant in the 32 counties and to top it off he is co-owner of Poacher's Premium Beverages, Ireland's only all-natural mixer company. F&W is delighted that Oisin has joined our contributing team with his column "Great Irish Drinks." 

Follow Oisin on Instagram and Twitter