Tasty, locally made and environmentally conscious, Irish craft cider should definitely be on your radar.
Cider Ireland is a group of apple-growers and cider makers from around the country that have formed a network to represent their common interests.
Did you know that cider has a very long history in Ireland? For more than three centuries, the drink has been made here to an exceptionally high standard and was regarded as extremely important economically. Ireland has the perfect climate for growing apples and as such, those apples make some of the best ciders in the world, each of which are unique in their own way.
"Each cider-maker has a unique cider in their own stable and that's simply down to the personal taste of each maker, but also the work they put into it," Liam McDonnell of Legacy Cider says. " Each cider is completely different, even if you use the same apples and give it to a different cider-maker, you're going to get a different cider."
Unlike beer, which is probably what cider is most often compared to, cider is actually very similar to wine as both are made from the fermented juice from fruit: grapes for wine and apples for cider.
In terms of flavour, cider can showcase a vast array of flavours depending on the apple varieties and cider-making techniques use. Often you'll find earthy flavours like black tea, fragrant floral and herbaceous notes, refreshing acidic flavours like citrus, and fruity flavours like berries and tropical fruits.
Taste-wise, Irish craft cider is completely different (and better than) mass-produced cider and is structured around three main components: acidity, tannin and dryness/sweetness.
Cider comes in a variety of forms too, showcasing the depth and range of this drink. Acid-forward ciders, which pair really well with fatty meats and rich cheeses, offer vibrancy and serious refreshment. On the other hand, tannic ciders contrast perfectly with charcuterie and complement cheesy pastas due to their lower levels of acid and range of sweetness.
Sweet ciders are incredibly versatile, ranging from lightly sweet to those that are similar to dessert wines. The former work very well with hot chilli dishes while the latter are perfect with desserts. Barrel-aged ciders offer great depth and richness due to to the flavours from the barrels that they've been aged in, which include whiskey, wine, brandy and beer barrels. Keeved cider utilises an ancient method of natural preservation to retain sweetness, resulting in balanced, complex ciders that lightly sparkle - try keeved cider with intense cheese and sweet dishes for perfect pairings.
Fruity or floral ciders offer balanced flavours and acidity with some sweetness - some are made with additional fruits and flowers, like elderflowers, rhubarb and cranberries, to create serious depth of flavour.
Single variety ciders are a seriously special version as they are made with one specific apple variety with outstanding qualities or from a specific vintage.
Did you know that craft cider-making is a seriously environmentally-friendly endeavour? The climate here is perfect for growing apples which reduces food miles, while the apple trees themselves help to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions. The trees don't disrupt the soil which also retains carbon.
Apple trees are also so important for bio-diversity, as orchards create a natural habitat for pollinators and chemicals are only minimally used.
"The potential for Irish craft cider is very exciting," Seamus O'Hara of Craigies Cider says. "In particular, Ireland and its climate is great for apple production. We have our own orchard so we produce the apples we use ourselves which helps to capture the fresh apple flavour into the cider, showcasing the natural flavour of the fruit and I think that's down to the local apples."
The process of actually creating cider uses very little energy too, something that's incredibly important right now - the fruit is harvested, milled, pressed and then left to mature and filter before being bottled.
"The energy use is so low," Liam McDonnell of Legacy Cider explains. "The main energy that we use is in extracting the juice from the apples, so we cut them into little pieces and then press them. Thereafter, very little energy is needed - we don't have to heat anything up like in beer-making."
The Irish craft cider industry, which is ever-growing, is an incredible economic pursuit and has provided countless jobs around the country from cidermakers to apple-pickers and everyone in between. It certainly makes a tasty way to support local, something Seamus O'Hara of Craigies Cider agrees with.
"People that make cider are very passionate about it," He explains. "A big part of the Cider Ireland network is sharing information and knowledge . Collectively, we can help grow the sector, which is small right now - it needs the collective effort to develop and grow because there really is so much potential in cider."
For more information about Ireland's craft cider industry, visit ciderireland.com.
Brought to you in association with Cider Ireland and Bord Bia.