Making cider and brandy is a successful rural enterprise attached to this four star country house hotel and restaurant
From orchards in Mallow and as far from commercially produced ‘cider’ as can be imagined
It was the first week of the apple harvest at the orchard at Longueville House, Mallow, and it was all systems go.
The day before had relentless downpours but, on a bright and dry Tuesday morning, Longueville House proprietor and chef William O’Callaghan had the phone in one hand and was shaking apples loose from the trees with the other.
The picking machine gathered apples into a basket that can take half a tonne, they were then tipped into a trailer and brought to the crush house (cider mill) to be pressed and crushed.
The harvesting of 30 acres of orchard would go on for five weeks.
“We’re under pressure to get the harvest done before the weather goes,” said William.
The weather has been so-so, but this has been a great year for awards at Longueville House Beverages. In September, Longueville Mór Cider won the Great Taste Golden Fork in London for the best food or drink from Ireland, and Longueville’s regular cider got a one-star Great Taste Award.
At the Blas na hÉireann Awards in Dingle in early October, both Longueville ciders got gold awards, while Longueville House Apple Brandy won silver.
The apples used at Longueville are Dabinett and Michelin. “They’re kind of like a crab apple with a lot of tannin, which you want in a cider, it gives dryness,” explained William. The pressed juice is naturally fermented, as a result of the presence of wild yeasts particular to the orchards and environs of Longueville.
“The wild yeast is on the leaves, in the apples. As soon as you crush, it starts its action, turning into alcohol. We had a record high alcohol yield last year because of the sunshine.”
No added colourings, additives, sulphites, or preservatives are used at any stage during production and manufacturing of Longueville ciders. The cider is bottled in the UK. Even with the over-and-back costs and the price of bottling, it’s still more economical than doing it in Ireland. Otherwise, the entire process, from apple-growing to cider fermentation, is done on the farm.
“It’s a craft cider, an honest type of drink. Many conventional ciders are made with sugar and water, and they contain 30% apple, whereas ours is 100% apple. And they’re our own apples.
Fermentation of the regular Longueville House Cider takes between four and six months in stainless steel tanks and results in a rich, amber-coloured cider.
Longueville House Cider’s ABV (alcohol by volume) is 5.9%. William says Longueville House Cider — medium-dry with a fresh apple flavour — is refreshing, clean and crisp.
“[It’s] as far from commercially produced ‘cider’ as can be imagined. It’s how traditional cider used to be, before it got all artificial and fake.”
Longueville Mór Cider, on the other hand, is fermented and aged for one year in Longueville’s apple brandy casks. “We’re the only ones in Ireland making apple brandy, as they do in the Calvados region in Northern France. They age it in oak barrels, and so do we. When we take our Longueville House Apple Brandy out of our French oak red wine casks after four to six years, we fill the cask with freshly pressed apple juice.
“There’s brandy in the wall of the cask, soaked into the wood. There’s the taste of the oak and the brandy and this gives a different sort of cider, which we call Longueville Mór.”
Longueville Mór’s ABV is 8%. “It’s a very drinkable, quite deceiving cider, as it doesn’t taste like an 8% cider.
“However it will remind you about halfway through the bottle that it is an 8% cider.”
William’s father, Michael, started the distilling business here over 30 years ago.
“He always wanted to do something a bit different, looking at other angles rather than the conventional.
“He started making wine first, as a hobby, growing vines on an acre, but climate was against it. Then he turned to apples, planting the orchards with a view to distilling brandy. He was the first micro-distiller in Ireland outside the three main players at the time.”
At the harvesting end, Longueville House Beverages employs five. It’s a rural enterprise, and William says it’s high time Government starts listening to rural enterprise, and ensures jobs are kept. “They seem to be more interested in the Googles and the big boys.”
The most fraught part of running his beverages business is Government regulation. “They don’t treat me like a farmer. A farmer can be inspected by the Department of Agriculture. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has decided I get inspected by the Department of Health, which has a completely different set of expectations. They expect the business to be run more like a hospital!”
His ciders are pasteurised, meaning they’re “100% safe, and the brandy is likewise safe, because of its high alcohol content”.
He says the FSAI directive to the Department of Health reads to the effect that ‘Agriculture remains responsible for primary producers using apples from their own orchard, to make their own apple juice and other products’.
“I’d have thought I fitted in this category!” he comments.
Awards like the Great Taste Golden Fork and Blas na hÉireann are a huge boost.
"They’re some of the best awards you can win. They don’t go on sexy advertising. To win the Golden Fork, we went through 20 blind-tasting judging panels. They didn’t see any labels or branding. It’s a real award.”
He’s hopeful the Great Taste accolade will increase UK demand for Longueville House Beverages. “Our biggest market is the home market. We have some abroad, for example in Holland and Germany.”
While there are always many variables to business, William is optimistic. Aside from the four-star hotel, there’s forestry and pigs. “We feed the pigs pulp from the apples, and we use the pork and ham in the house. We used to have sheep and cattle. Now we concentrate on the apples, the hotel and the walled garden, which has fruit and vegetables, and I keep my hand in in the kitchen.”
Longueville House has been around a long time. William’s grandfather bought it in 1938 from the Longfield family, who built it in 1720. Next year is the 300th anniversary.
For William, business is all about adapting. “You have to be constantly on your wits, constantly thinking of changing for the better to manoeuvre your way through.”
It was a case of roll out the barrel when the Great Taste Golden Fork for the best food or drink from Ireland was presented to Longueville House Beverages from Co Cork for its Longueville Mór Cider, after a record-breaking 12,772 entries were judged.
Rising to the top among hundreds of other entries from Ireland, the cider was celebrated as the best tasting product in its region at the Great Taste Golden Fork Dinner at the InterContinental Park Lane Hotel, London, where over 350 guests from the world of fine food gathered to discover this year’s stars of food and drink.
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Wow! We are blown away! Thrilled to say the least! 3 Stars from The Guild of Fine Foods in The Great Taste Awards 2019! "The flavour was just exquisite and had the judges really quite excited." #longuevillemór #greattaste #greattasteawards #greattasteawards2019 #3stars #cider #irishcider #realcider #craftcider #rethinkcider
Judges said the cider from Longueville House Beverages, Mallow, is a “perfectly balanced” 8% (alcohol by volume) cider made with Dabinett and Michelin apples from the cider maker’s own orchards, and the only brandy cask fermented cider produced in Ireland.
With an “amazing aroma of sweet apples on the nose, followed by a fresh and crisp taste with depth and a clean finish”, the Longueville Mór Cider impressed at every stage of the blind-tasting judging process.
William O’Callaghan of Longueville House Beverages accepted the prestigious award at the Great Taste Golden Fork Dinner. He told Irish Examiner that Great Taste is one of the best awards you can win.
This award follows a string of accolades won in previous years by Longueville House Beverages. In 2018, for example, its ciders won three prestigious international awards at the Alltech Craft Brew and Food Fair in Dublin. Its Longueville House Cider won silver in the competition, which attracts craft brews from across the globe. Longueville Mór won gold and was crowned Overall Champion and 2018 winner of the Alltech Commonwealth (Cider) Cup. Last year, this Cup competition attracted almost 400 entries from nine countries.
According to the organisers of the award, the Cider Cup is only awarded to an excellent product that displays the “correct balance of taste, aroma and appearance appropriate for the style, and a high level of technical merit”.
The judges were “particularly impressed” by the Longueville Mór, describing it as a robust cider with tremendous complexity and a rich apple aroma that was well balanced with dryness and acidity. They said, “the oak notes added to the complexity in flavour”.