Cider Love: Magners, Irish Cider
Magners is a lie. Yes dear readers, the original name of Magners and how it is known in its native Ireland is not actually Magners. It is called Bulmers. I… I can’t even….
So the story goes that the cider that we know in the United States as Magners was first created in 1935 by a man from South Tipperary, Ireland named William Magner. But then H.P. Bulmer, an English cider making company first established in 1887 in Hereford, England, bought 50% shares in William’s successful cider company in 1937. (H.P. Bulmer also owns Strongbow, but we’ll get to that, dear readers, some other time.) After the war, in 1946, H.P. Bulmers bought the remaining shares of the Magners cider company and changed the name to Bulmers. Then in the 60s, after a losing a lawsuit, they were forced to sell the Bulmers Magners company to Guinness and Allied Breweries. They continued to sell Bulmers in Ireland, and based on that success, decided to go international. But in doing so, they created a separate brand: the original Magners name. It has only been available in the United States in mass market production since about 2005.
I first had it in 2007. I did not know any of its history then, nor was I fully aware that it was made from 17 varieties of apples which contributes to its “unique and refreshing taste”. I only knew, as my last Cider Love entry may have informed you, that it introduced me to the world of cider and saved my social outings. The bottle is beer-bottle shaped and the cap must be removed by a bottle opener, the edge of a table, or if you’re the type, a set of very strong teeth (not recommended). It has the word “original” on it, which spoke to my fierce independent American soul, and the word “Irish” which spoke to my also very American need to claim some culture other than American as my roots, and also the word “cider”, which is what the bottle with the hard to open cap contained.
The beverage itself has that fermented fruit flavor unique to the cider category. As the bottle suggests, it definitely has a unique and distinctive taste. I just can’t really define for you what that taste is. Magners is heavy on the fermentation flavor and light on the fruit (unlike some other ciders). You might imagine that one of the 17 varieties of apples that goes in to the brew is perhaps a little on the mushy side, bruised and starting to turn. These are not apple pie apples. These are Irish apples which I have to imagine have had to weather some bad, well, weather, and grown and thrived against the odds and possibly against the desires of their neighbors, and likely aren’t the kind you pick out so much as end up with. These are the red-headed step-children of apples, is what I’m saying. I mean, when you think of Ireland, are apples really what come to mind?
Magners tastes better than beer. But not that much better than beer. In fact, it is on the beer-y side of flavours that cider can come in and is missing perhaps only the hops (horrible horrible hops) flavor that makes beer something I personally cannot with any enjoyment consume. I can consume Magners with enjoyment, and I will voluntarily order it at any bar I find it at, unless there is maybe a better tasting cider option (which often there is not, so successful is the brand). That is to say, Magners, while being my first cider, is not my favorite cider. You never forget your first, but, you know, I’ve had better. My memory of it as this delicious amazing apple-y drink that is not beer doesn’t often hold up to the actual taste of it as this sort of slightly bitter apple-y drink that while not being beer is definitely in the same family. It is better over ice, or on draught (all things are better on draught) and on a hot summer day or a humid NYC evening, it most definitely hits the spot. The second bottle or pint is always better than the first. By the third, Irish eyes are smiling, and by the fourth (particularly if you’ve been having pints), you might be inclined to talk about how Irish weather is better than regular weather and squishy apples that grow where you don’t think apples should grow are better apples because, damnit, they GROW, don’t they, and they do it despite everything and you really should go to Ireland, it’s so beautiful, and if you do, go to the The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival in September for the single lads and lasses, and Oh Danny Boy and all that.
Actually, Magners really is a fine cider, a lovely cider, the best cider really, and probably we should all have another round.
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!