Magners: bottling the orchard
Ever wondered about the leg work that goes into producing your pint of Magners? What kind of journey do those apples go on before they produce the end result of a fizzing glass of cider? iLoveMyGrub.com's Editor Helenka Bednar went a long way to Tipperary to find out.
There's something quite spellbinding about watching the Autumnal sun sink behind an orchard. Plenty of the apple trees we're standing amongst have been stripped of their fruit for this season, but there are still branches bearing ruby red fruit. Magners Irish cider uses some 17 traditional varieties of apple to create a finished pint of cider. When we visit the orchards on a luckily sunny October afternoon, there are a few sheep grazing between the trees. As we take a muddy walk between the apple trees, there's a mix of traditional orchard layouts and Magners' nod to modernisation with lines of new closely-knit, vineyard-style rows of trees. Taking a bite out of one of these apples fills your mouth with a sharp, acidic hit. These aren't necessarily eating apples, but then the magic occurs when the cider-making process beings.
Apples to cider
Magners cider is traditionally made between September and December, when the apples have been harvested and are ready for crushing. The company's original site in Clonmel has been a working plant for their cider production since 1935, and has only recently stopped fucntioning. Magners is now produced at a larger plant not far from the original site, as modern day consumption levels have increased demand, but the method used to produce their cider is much the same. It's a surprisingly simple process: first some 25 - 50,000 tonnes of apples are tipped from the giddy heights of a huge truck into huge pits at the Magners site. Each pit then fills up with water, wooshing the apples up to bob about on the surface, whilst any dirt sinks to the bottom. The huge glut of apples are then crushed, producing the sought after apple juice and the leftover 'pommace'.
The 17 apple varieties that Magners uses, provides the cider with its own source of sugar. Natural yeast is then added (using the same variety that occurs naturally at the original Magners site), and that's where the transformation into cider begins. The juice is stored in huge vats, reaching heady heights of 80ft, and is left to ferment and work its magic. The carbon dioxide produced by the fermentation process is filtered and used to carbonate the cider, with Magners endeavouring to keep their production process as environmentally-friendly as possible. The company planted 120,000 new apple trees in 2008, and re-uses most of its bottles. 1997 may have seen the last handpicked apple harvest at their orchards, but sustainability is a constant consideration for a company that prides itself on the natural quality of its cider. After anything from a 6-month to 2-year stint in vat storage, the cider is tested, filtered and ready for bottling.
There's something strangely hypnotic about watching thousands of bottles, clinking and gliding their way along the conveyer belts at Magner's packing factory. Half way through their journey to be boxed up and sent out, the bottles are labelled and finished off with gold foil necks. They glint as they continue speeding along the factory line before they get boxed up, stacked high and wrapped in a generous few layers of cling film ready for transportation.
What strikes you about Magners when you sup it, is its natural taste. It's made with fresh apple juice rather than concentrate, (which some other cider producers opt to use). Compare it to other brands and you'll probably find the alternatives taste far sweeter if not a little sickly. Magners' slight rosé hue glimmers against the condensation on my glass, and I take another slow sip. Bottling the orchard is definitely a taste worth savouring.
For more information on Magners, please visit: http://www.magnerscider.com/great-britain/
Written by: Helenka Bednar