When I think of Ireland, I think of cider. In 1998 I spent a week traveling through the country. Everyday at lunch I had a Guinness and a cider, usually a Bulmer’s (known in America as Magner’s). In my memory, those ciders were wonderful. The highlight for me was stumbling upon the Bulmer’s factory in Clonmel. The town smelled so deliciously of fermenting cider. Back then, being 23 and in a foreign country, Bulmer’s was an elixir. I couldn’t get enough.
Twenty-one years later, I was back in Ireland. This past spring J. and I took our belated honeymoon and spent eight days traveling around.
In the intervening time my cider tastes had changed. It’s move away from sweet and bubbly to dry, still, and wild fermented.
As we planned the trip, I looked into the cider possibilities. I had every reason to think Irish cider, like my taste, had matured over the years. First, there’s Cider Ireland. While it only has 13 members, they appeared to be what I was looking for, local, natural, and independent. Happily most of them were along the route we were planning to take in the second half of the trip. Also, in 2016 the Washington Post ran a story about cider in Ireland. The author gives you the impression that cider is everywhere, officially or not. The article even says that if you don’t see cider on the menu, it’s under the counter waiting for the right person to ask for it.
I also reached out to the members of the Promotion of Real Cider and Perry Facebook group. Most of their members are British and Irish, so I reckoned they would have some suggestions. The first response was disheartening – there was no good cider to be found. Fortunately, others recommended some interesting places.
Armed with websites and hope, I was excited for our Irish cider experience. Admittedly, I didn’t want to turn the whole trip into a cider tour.
Actually, I would have, but I wasn’t going alone.
What my research said was true. You could get cider just about everywhere. The most common was Orchard Thieves, the Irish Angry Orchard. It was in almost every bar, pub, cafe, and restaurant we went to.
A few others that were easily found in restaurants and off-licenses (bottle shops) included Cronin’s “Quality” Cider (so sweet that it pushes the term “quality”), McIver’s Medium Dry (it actually was), Stonewell Dry (not at all), and Dan Kelly’s (funky and quite drinkable).
Kelly’s was a happy find. Wild yeast fermented, funky, with a little sweetness. There’s nothing in America like Kelly’s, funky and nationally available.
Despite the research, what I found was a cider culture much like America’s – dominated by a few producers, mostly industrial, making sticky-sweet and carbonated beverages. Their craft counterparts were still small and developing. But there was one standout, a cidery that’s the Flag Hill Farm of Ireland. But more on them next time.