Armagh family cider firm pressing ahead with investment geared to export
Cider maker Mac Ivors has invested £250,000 in a top of the range German cider press and a further 10 acres of orchard - but owner Greg MacNeice (44) has bigger plans for the business which has humble beginnings on the family farm.
The fifth-generation apple grower from Ardess, Co Armagh was inspired by his French mother and his home-brewing uncle to make the best Irish cider he could.
He currently farms 100 acres of orchard alongside his father Sammy but is expanding by 10 acres at a time when the craft brewing market is booming.
He hopes the move will allow him to treble production over the next two years.
Currently Greg is able to produce around 300,000 litres a year.
The firm is already exporting to Denmark and its first shipment to Canada due to arrive later this month.
The new press will be capable of processing up to eight tonnes of apples an hour.
Previously the job had been contracted out, but now pressing the apples on the orchard means they can be processed at the perfect time.
Greg bottled his first 1,000 litres in 2010 and in 2011, tried making a larger batch and began supplying local bars and independent off licences.
Before he decided to perfect the art of brewing at the Cider and Perry Academy in Worcestershire. And he launched the business in 2012.
He said: "There's gorgeous French ciders and I always wondered why we couldn't have that at home too. My uncle had always been into home brewing and there was a bit of alchemy there too so I used some of his equipment to make my first few batches.
"It started as an inquisitive thing. I just wanted to make really good tasting cider. Cider making is more like wine making - there's a maturation process and it takes time, but I started to get good feedback from friends and family and that spurred me on - I did my sums and began to realise there was a business in it.
"Growing the apples ourselves helped because it cut out another margin from the product and meant we were able to select the ones we wanted to use and make choices about the fruit which you wouldn't be able to if you were buying it in from someone else."
Greg decided to name the cider after his grandmother Annie Mac Ivor.
"The family farm used to be called Mac Ivors until she married into the MacNiece side but my grandfather died quite young. She was an amazing woman and I wanted to bring the name back. I wanted the brand to be separate from the fruit-picking business and I also liked the 'er' sound at the end of cider names.
"It helped that it rolled off the tongue - I could imagine ordering a pint of Mac Ivors.
"There's 14 different varieties of apples which go into Mac Ivors - some we never have enough of and that means we've had to buy more in but the extra orchards will help future-proof the business. I've big plans for the next five years so by investing in the apple press and extra ground now it means we're ready to up production and won't have to buy those things down the line."
Greg is already looking to the future - this year he launched a new plum and ginger cider, a pink and bubbly Champagne alternative new to the market.
He added: "There is a new generation of cider drinkers in Ireland and the market is booming. Times have changed so much and people are connecting with the land and it tastes good. There is a huge appreciation in the Irish market for our heritage, provenance and craft.
"The market is exploding and people in our cities, towns and villages, the length and breadth of Ireland, are enjoying our great tasting ciders. We are a key producer in the Irish market and our ciders will also soon be distributed in continental Europe and we continue to look towards the American market.
"To ensure that our production capacity keeps up with our sales growth, it is imperative that we continue to reinvest."