The rise of the craft cider in Ireland is well under way and Dan Kelly’s sits proudly among the best.
In the second of my Meet the Producers series, I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours with Olan McNeece from Dan Kelly’s Cider. He kindly took time out to drive me around the orchards, give me run down on the history of the brand and talked about what the future holds for Dan Kelly’s Cider.
It’s not only apples that go into making Dan Kelly’s Cider. Family is very much at the core of the business. On the day of my visit three generations of the family were on site. The Boyne Grove Fruit Farm sits in the Boyne Valley in Drogheda Co. Louth. Dan Kelly is not just a name, he is a real man who worked the Great Northern Railway, which still runs through the orchard today. In 1962 his grandson Gerry McNeece bought the farm. Making cider on the farm was always a hobby but confined to personal consumption. In 2013 Olan McNeece set about producing cider for the consumer market and so Dan Kelly’s (a nod to the original Dan) Cider was born.
A Trip Round The Orchard
The farm is over 200 acres with the orchard covering 80. They grow over 16 varieties of apple with the main one being Bramley and harvest between August and sometimes as late as November. They are one of only a few producers who actually grow their own apples and they are all picked by hand (now that’s what you call hand to bottle). The trees are kept short for ease of picking and there are bee hives placed throughout the orchard to help with the pollination process.
The Cider Itself – Completely Natural
The process is completely natural with no sulphites or cultured yeasts used. The apples are hand pressed and wild/natural yeast takes over the process. Cider apples are blended with Bramley and dessert fruit to give the cider a dry finish. Mixed with a light carbonation the distinct flavour of apples shine through in their signature cider. Juice is added prior to the pasteurising stage which gives the cider a crisp, fresh taste. Interestingly enough, any apples which hit the ground during picking season, are put to one side and sold on to Bulmers. It would seem only the highest quality of apple will make it into a Dan Kelly’s cider bottle.
Along with the cider, both bottled and draught, they produce cider vinegar and fresh apple juice. The label is simple yet tells the story of the family, the farm, the orchard and depicts a steam train on the Great Northern line running through the apple trees.
Where Can I Find It?
Dan Kelly’s Cider is stocked in off licences, pubs, restaurants and hotels across Ireland including places such as Dillingers, The Brew Dock, The Market Hotel, L’Ecrivain and The Lighthouse Cinema in Dublin. You will also see them at Castlepalooza, the Big Grill in Herbert Park, Bloom and the Alltech Brew Convention. On a more international stage the cider is exported to Germany and New York. For a full list of stockists you can check the list right here
Dan Kelly’s Future
Following the incredible success of the craft beer industry in the USA, the craft cider market is hotly tipped to see similar growth with many of the large breweries such as Miller Coors and Boston Beer Company already turning their attention to releasing cider brands. I fully suspect that Dan Kelly’s will become an obvious choice in that market as the popularity of quality cider grows across the USA.
At home the brand is going from strength to strength and sitting very comfortably among its (friendly) rivals like Orpens, McIvors (they are actually related to them), Craigges, Tempted, Stonewell and Cockagee. Being a family run business, they also have the ability to indulge their creative side and test out new methods of making cider. For the last Alltech Brew Convention they produced a lower carbonated cider which proved a hit with Mulligans Grocers who were happy to take all the stock. Olan has also managed to get his hands on some whiskey barrels and is eagerly waiting to see how the flavour combination will work.
Aside from their own business objectives the Dan Kelly’s Cider family are very much about being involved with the wider community. They are part of the Boyne Valley Food Series; a calendar of over 40 unique food led experiences highlighting and celebrating the diverse offerings in and around the UNESCO World Heritage site Bru Na Boinne. Their recent Blossom Walk took visitors on tours of the orchard and the proceeds were donated to a local charity. Further afield the orchard attracts students from a University in the Czech Republic who come every year for the unique experience of picking apples and living onsite at the orchard. There’s even talk of a possible pop-up restaurant at some point at the orchard.
It is often said that ‘you are your brand’; if that is the case, with the likes of Olan and Fiona behind it, Dan Kelly’s will continue to blossom and the future for them looks rosy indeed.