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Why cider is like the forgotten child in Ireland's drinks family

Everyone is talking about whiskey and craft beer – but what about the craft cider?
Sep 26th 2015, 8:00 PM 18,702 34

WHILE IRELAND’S RESURGENT whiskey industry and burgeoning craft brew scene are being lavished with attention, cider is a bit like the forgotten child in the family.

Overseas, the craft cider movement has even been outstripping the much-vaunted boom in microbreweries, but in Ireland the industry remains in its infancy.

“I think Ireland has a reputation as a good drinks producer – whether we like it or not we owe Guinness for that – and as a green country, for having great produce,” Cider Ireland chair Emma Tyrrell told TheJournal.ie.

We want to be part of this food-and-drinks movement that Ireland’s developing, we want to be part of the reputation for producing the best that we can with what we’re given, but we’re being punished for that as cider makers.”

The ‘punishment’, according to producers like Tyrrell, who has run County Wicklow-based Craigies Cider with husband Simon since 2011, is the higher tax rates they are slapped with compared to their counterparts.

2015-09-22 11.56.43 Cidermaker Simon Tyrrell, of Craigies Cider

Irish producers suffer a price penalty over rivals in the UK, with alcohol industry figures showing the average excise duty burden on cider made in the Republic was nearly double that in the neighbouring country.

Local craft breweries also enjoy a 50% excise discount on all production up to a 30,000-hectolitre cap, a relief unavailable under EU laws for cider and other drinks producers.

However an odd leap in excise rates for cider that is unique to Ireland means taxes more than double once their cider tips over the 6% alcohol mark – a strength more common in small producers’ undiluted batches.

Excise1 Source: Revenue.ie

Once VAT is added and both distributors and retailers take their cut, the difference can amount to a €2 or greater increase on a bottle at the till.

Demand up, production down

A recent analysis by economist Constantin Gurdgiev for Cider Ireland, which represents 15 independent producers, noted global cider consumption had gone up 50% over the decade to 2013, while local production last year was nearly 25% below its 2006 peak.

Nevertheless, there is clearly an appetite among locals for the drink. Despite the drop in overall output from major producers, there has been an up-tick in recent years when it comes to domestic demand.

Cider1 Source: Cider Ireland

Until five years ago there was virtually no small-scale commercial production on the island, with the notable exception of David Llewellyn’s Double L ciders, and in 2014 craft cider still accounted for only a tiny fraction of the Irish market.

Many new producers are apple growers who have diversified into fermentation, like Olan McNeece, of Dan Kelly’s Cider in Drogheda, who produced his first commercial batch two years ago after years in the family’s orchard business.

“Craft cider is made with Irish apples so the ingredients would be sourced locally more than almost any other product,” he said.

Obviously the excise duty is one of the issues and I suppose craft beer and craft cider pretty much sit in the same place on a bar, but craft cider is hampered because it’s more or less double the duty. We don’t expect favourable treatment we just expect to be seen in the same vein.”

McNeece2 Olan McNeece, from Dan Kelly's Cider

The final cider product from craft producers typically contained about 85% apple-derived content, according to Gurdgiev’s report, while the figure was more like 30% in mass-produced ciders with a significant share of those raw materials imported.

If craft cider was to mirror the growth in craft beer sales and new microbreweries, the industry could support nearly 170 more jobs in apple production and cider, according to the Apple Growers Association of Ireland.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Finance would not say if there were any plans to reduce cider excise duty in the upcoming Budget.

This month, as part of TheJournal.ie’s ongoing startup and small and medium enterprise (SME) focus, we are looking at the drinks industry.

To view other stories from our collection, click here. 

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Peter Bodkin

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