Simple is good.
Jim Henson 1
If you’ve read this blog before, you know I prefer simple. Simple can produce some wonderful things. But simple is hard. Especially for me, because I often complicate things. Usually it’s out of enthusiasm. I want to do everything, simultaneously and immediately. It’s worse if you add the probability that I’ll only have the opportunity to do something once. Our Irish cider tour was a perfect example of this imperfect side of me – I wanted to try every cider at every cidery.
As usual, time and space got in my way. Such obsessive touring was impossible. It didn’t help that many of the places we found didn’t seem to have tasting rooms. A few even actively discouraged visitors. At one point I was despairing of visiting any cidery, when J. told me she reached out to the staff at Longueville House and had scheduled a visit for us.
Longueville House, in Mallow, County Cork, produces a range of ciders and cider products.
When I first saw Longueville’s website, I thought yes, let’s visit. Then, in looking at the estate, I wasn’t sure what we would find. What I found online felt contradictory. Their ciders had near-universal acclaim, but based on their website they’re also a rather posh hotel and restaurant. Was this going to be the triumph of money over process? Did they basically buy their way into making good cider? We would find out soon enough.
In the meantime, and despite the fact that we weren’t visiting until mid-week, I avoided trying any of their ciders because I wanted to hear their story first.2
Their story was told to us by Rubert Atkinson, sales and marketing manager. Rubert, a tall man who reminded me of Chris O’Dowd, was a generous guide. We met and dove right into the history of the place, quickly going from the 17th century up through the late 20th century.
Originally owned by the O’Callaghan Family, the property was forfeit to Cromwell sometime after 1649. Ultimately, the Longfield Family acquired it. They built the core of the present house in 1720. After Richard Longfield was made Baron Longuefield in 1795, he expanded the house.
In 1938, William O’Callaghan, a descendant of the seventeenth-century owners, bought the estate back. It was William’s son, Michael, who created Longueville’s restaurant, orchards, and cider.
After Rubert finished his history we followed him into a self-contained world of gardens, orchards, and barns, all supplying the restaurant and hotel.
As we left the garden and turned right, we headed straight into the orchards.
Of the estate’s 500 acres, 30 are orchards. Those orchards consist solely of two apple varieties, Dabinett and Michelin. Most of the orchards were planted by Michael in 1985. He researched cider apples and found those two made the best cider for his taste.
The estate has continued his cidermaking almost unchanged. Apart from the choosing two apples to focus on, they also have a very simple cidermaking operation. Once apples are harvested (they let them fall naturally and then pile them up and collect them from there), they mill and press onsite.
They run the press for 24-hours straight through cidermaking season. As the pomace is pressed and ejected, it is shoveled out of a little window into piles outside the cider house.
The juice is piped from the press to two collecting tanks just outside the cider shed. They wild yeast ferment everything to 5.5%. This base cider is used for everything they make.
And they only make two ciders, entirely from their own products. Their House Cider is made by backsweetening with their unfermented juice, to bring the ABV down to 5%. Their Mor cider is aged for over a year in their fresh apple brandy barrels, bringing the ABV up to 8%.
Once everything has conditioned for a year, it’s sent off-site to be lightly carbonated, bottled, and labeled.
The fermented juice that does not became one of these ciders is distilled into apple brandy. Though Ireland has a cider tradition, apple brandy had never been legally made there. That is, until 1985 when O’Callaghan obtained the first new distillery license in Ireland since the the 1770s and began making apple brandy.
Longueville achieves what I value in cidermaking. Since they grow, ferment, and distill everything themselves on the estate, their cider captures their terroir. And their cidermaking process is uncomplicated and thoughtful. They work with what it gives them, instead of trying to redirect it into being something else.
Lastly, I appreciate that their cider is directly tied to their past. What they do and how they do is informed by what came before. Their cider is simply living history.
1. Reflecting on Henson’s words, Jerry Juhl said, “We always used to kid Jim that after telling everybody “simple is good,” he would turn around and try to produce the most complicated work in the world and just about wipe out all of us – him most of all – in the process.”
2. I’m not sure why. I know that cider is good or bad independent of its story, but there was something about not trying it beforehand that appealed to me. Perhaps it was offering myself a surprise, since no Irish cider had to that point in the trip. Or maybe I was being lazy.