CIDER BOOM

Tassie is be­com­ing the Ap­ple Isle all over again.

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - UPFRONT - WORDS TRACY RENKIN

Tas­ma­nia’s first ap­ple trees were planted on Bruny Is­land by Cap­tain Wil­liam Bligh in the same year the First Fleet sailed into Botany Bay. He an­chored the Bounty in Ad­ven­ture Bay and, pre­sum­ably with the help of his crew, planted seven ap­ple trees. Fire later de­stroyed all but one, and when Bligh re­turned four years later to sam­ple the fruit he de­scribed it as green and slightly bit­ter.

Fast for­ward 170 years, how­ever, and by the 1960s the world couldn’t get enough of the flavour­some and de­li­cious ta­ble ap­ples for which Tas­ma­nia – the Ap­ple Isle – had be­come fa­mous. At its peak, our ap­ple in­dus­try was 1300 or­chards strong. But that changed with the stroke of a pen on Jan­uary 1, 1973, when our largest ex­port mar­ket – Bri­tain – joined the com­mon mar­ket of the Euro­pean Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity. Over the next decade about 700 or­chards were ploughed into the ground. In the end only 60 com­mer­cial ap­ple grow­ers re­mained in Tas­ma­nia.

Dr Tim Jones was born a year af­ter that dev­as­tat­ing Bri­tish de­ci­sion. He re­tains fond mem­o­ries of a child­hood sur­rounded by ap­ple trees. In his case it’s be­cause he and his broth­ers grew up on his fa­ther’s Black­mans Bay hobby or­chard with about 60 heir­loom ap­ple va­ri­eties. “We had a Sun­day night tra­di­tion of sit- ting around to­gether as a fam­ily and Dad would be cut­ting up the weekly ap­ples to stew for our Weet-Bix and he’d slice off a piece and flick us dif­fer­ent ap­ple va­ri­eties across the couch and de­scribe to us what we were eat­ing,” Jones says. “I re­mem­ber walk­ing be­side the or­chard down to the school bus on a cold morn­ing and grab­bing a golden de­li­cious off a tree, bit­ing into it and feel­ing the in­tense flavour­ing splin­ter­ing into my mouth. This might sound like bulls*** but when I was in my early 20s and I tried my first French cider it took me straight back to me bit­ing into those ap­ples on the way to the bus.”

Jones didn’t know it as a child, but his fa­ther’s ram­blings about the dif­fer­ent colours, shapes, sizes and most im­por­tantly flavours and aro­mas of th­ese ap­ples would strongly in­flu­ence his fu­ture. Jones is now head cider maker at Wil­lie Smith’s or­ganic cidery, at Grove, and last month his Kingston Black Lim­ited Re­lease won Best in Show against 260 other craft ciders at the an­nual Cider Aus­tralia awards. It’s the third time in four years he’s brought that par­tic­u­lar tro­phy back to the Huon Val­ley.

“In Tas­ma­nia we have a la­tent de­sire to like good cider as adults,” Jones says. “Be­cause we grew up with amaz­ing ap­ples

all around us. It’s re­ally easy for us to re­con­nect to that if we have a good lo­cal cider that we re­ally like.”

Jones en­joys cre­at­ing tra­di­tional styles of craft cider and draws in­spi­ra­tion from the French. He started grow­ing cider ap­ples on his or­chard seven years ago so he could start blend­ing more com­plex ciders. He says the Tas­ma­nian craft cider in­dus­try has never been stronger. He’s talk­ing about cider made from lo­cal ap­ples and pears and their juice, not mass pro­duced com­mer­cial va­ri­eties that of­ten use im­ported con­cen­trates.

More and more Tas­ma­nian craft cider is be­ing made ev­ery year. It’s boom­ing. Grad­u­ally, as the craft cider cat­e­gory has ex­panded into dif­fer­ent styles, more sea­soned drinkers with more dis­cern­ing palates are ap­pre­ci­at­ing the va­ri­ety in styles and flavours that dif­fer­ent ap­ples can bring. Col­lec­tively, pro­duc­ers from the Tas­ma­nian Cider Trail are bring­ing in close to $6 mil­lion an­nu­ally. Craft cider sales are in dou­ble-digit an­nual growth, and close to 200,000 peo­ple are flock­ing to Tas­ma­nian craft cider cel­lar doors each year to taste the brews that are im­press­ing na­tional and in­ter­na­tional judges. Aus­tralia has just launched a world-first, trust-mark so craft cider drinkers now know if the fruit in their cider is 100 per cent Aus­tralian-grown.

Last month UK craft cider ex­pert Gabe Cook vis­ited Tas­ma­nia for the first time as part of the global launch of his book Ciderol­ogy. He’s made a ca­reer out of tast­ing and pro­mot­ing cider to the world. He dropped into The Ap­ple Shed at Wil­lie Smiths to judge 32 lo­cal, am­a­teur cider brews and was gush­ing in his praise for our com­mer­cial craft ciders. Cook spoke to TasWeek­end af­ter sam­pling Wil­lie Smith’s, Pa­gan Cider and Red Sails, and de­scribed them as “spec­tac­u­lar” and “awe­some”. He says our craft ciders are bold, rich and com­plex with a won­der­ful ex­pres­sion of the ap­ple va­ri­eties used. “What I’ve tried here so far re­ally demon­strates just how good craft cider can be. It makes sense to me that an area renowned for grow­ing awe­some ap­ples should be mak­ing great craft cider,” Cook told TasWeek­end. “Tas­ma­nia is supremely well set up to be recog­nised as the Cider Isle. As well as hav­ing such a strong ap­ple grow­ing her­itage you have such a fab­u­lous mix of skilled fer­menters here.”

Aus­tralian cider has tra­di­tion­ally been made out of culi­nary ap­ples, but Caro­line Brown from Cider Tas­ma­nia – who owns Brady’s Look­out Cider in the Ta­mar Val­ley – says for the first time in Aus­tralian his­tory more Tas­ma­nian craft cider pro­duc­ers are ex­pand­ing their or­chards with cider ap­ples and her­itage va­ri­eties. “The cider mak­ing art that Tas­ma­nian cider mak­ers are glob­ally renowned for is to blend the dif­fer­ent juices to­gether and fer­ment them to come up with their fi­nal prod­ucts,” Brown says. “Tas­ma­nian cider mak­ers have had to de­velop strong blend­ing tech­niques be­cause of our in­abil­ity to ac­cess a wide va­ri­ety of th­ese cider ap­ples and her­itage va­ri­eties that have only been grown in tiny quan­ti­ties un­til re­cently.”

Sam Reid, from Cider Aus­tralia is also co-owner of Wil­lie Smiths, and hopes as more dis­tinc­tive Tas­ma­nian ciders emerge from th­ese tra­di­tional cider ap­ple va­ri­eties be­ing planted, Tas­ma­nia will emerge as the Cider Isle. “Tas­ma­nia is lead­ing the way,” Reid says. “Our cider com­mu­nity al­ready pro­duces a range of ciders that have more depth and breadth than the rest of Aus­tralia put to­gether.”

Re­tired Mid­dle­ton med­i­cal re­search sci­en­tist Clive Cross­ley has been mak­ing or­ganic cider for more than 50 years. He grew up in Som­er­set, Eng­land, with cider mak­ing all around him and stud­ied the art of cider in France. He and his part­ner Lynne Uptin run Red Sails and have been pro­duc­ing com­mer­cially at a nano level (less than 10 thou­sand litres) since 2009. The pair travel to Eu­rope an­nu­ally and are friends with some of the best cider mak­ers in the world. “We’ve got­ten to per­son­ally be­friend most of the top craft cider mak­ers in Eu­rope and Amer­ica,” Cross­ley says. “What that means is we are able to share their knowl­edge and that we have a con­stant stream of top over­seas cider mak­ers vis­it­ing us here in Tas­ma­nia.”

Thirty years ago, be­fore other Tas­ma­nian cider mak­ers were do­ing it, Cross­ley was busy plant­ing tra­di­tional cider ap­ple trees for their rich tan­nin and acid­ity. “Ap­ples grow so well here,” he says. “The trees are healthy and full of vigour and that’s Tas­ma­nian’s nat­u­ral ad­van­tage: it’s the best place to grow ap­ples.” He now boasts the most ma­ture cider ap­ple or­chard in the state. All up he’s got around 550 cider and her­itage ap­ple and pear trees made up of 42 dif­fer­ent, mostly French and English, va­ri­eties of ap­ple trees and 10 dif­fer­ent pear va­ri­eties.

Cross­ley uses a range of mostly French meth­ods that have been in use for more than 100 years and com­bines them with mod­ern tech­niques he’s learnt from his in­ter­na­tional cider-mak­ing friends to make small amounts of award-win­ning, com­mer­cial, ar­ti­san cider more like cham­pagne. “We prac­tise tra­di­tion with in­no­va­tion and our ciders tend to fall in the cat­e­gory of tra­di­tional ciders rather than mod­ern ciders,” he says. “But I be­lieve there’s room for both types. The mar­ket is so huge there is space for ev­ery­one.”

Cross­ley is help­ing other craft-cider mak­ers for free by teach­ing them how to plant their or­chards and to graft from the kind of tra­di­tional cider ap­ple and pear trees he be­lieves are the essence of good cider mak­ing. “When you are plant­ing out your or­chard you are re­ally de­sign­ing your cider,” Cross­ley says. “The amount of trees now be­ing planted in Tas­ma­nia is rapidly in­creas­ing be­cause peo­ple are re­al­is­ing to make in­ter­est­ing craft ciders us­ing tra­di­tional meth­ods you need to start with the right kind of ap­ple va­ri­eties,” he says. “I think it’s ter­rific. We need more trees planted. It just seems such an ob­vi­ous thing for Tas­ma­nia to do re­ally.”

An­other ob­vi­ous thing is to make use of blem­ished fruit that farm­ers would oth­er­wise be forced to dis­card. Flavoured cider is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the big­gest global growth in all craft cider styles just like the more tra­di­tional styles of craft cider mak­ing,

cre­at­ing flavoured cider isn’t easy, ex­plains Cook: “It takes skill to per­fectly bal­ance the in­te­gra­tion of the cider and the fruit.”

Harry Moses from Pa­gan Cider in the Huon Val­ley forged new ground when he and busi­ness part­ner Mick Dubois made Aus­tralia’s first, and one of the world’s first, cherry ciders nearly six years ago. They solved a statewide prob­lem in find­ing a use for un­sellable Tas­ma­nian split cher­ries. They pressed them and added the juice to a new scrumpy, dry style of cider. It al­lowed the cherry flavour to shine and the lessons they learnt from the brew en­abled them to ex­per­i­ment with other fruit in­clud­ing quince, rasp­berry, blue­berry, straw­berry, apri­cot and peach. “Our fruity blends have been ex­traor­di­nar­ily well re­ceived,” Moses says. “This is the first sum­mer we are en­ter­ing with a full sta­ble of ciders be­cause we usu­ally sell out be­fore­hand.”

Moses and Dubois orig­i­nally planned to sell their cider at lo­cal sum­mer fes­ti­vals. “But it took off,” Moses says. “It went nuts. There was a cider boom be­gin­ning and we hap­pened to do some things dif­fer­ently that were re­ally well re­ceived. There was a lot of luck in it, and good tim­ing.” This year Pa­gan has for­ward or­ders from Asia for the cherry sea­son so what they make is al­ready sold.

Patrick Meagher from Sim­ple Cider also makes a cherry cider – it’s his most pop­u­lar cider – but he’s the only one in the state who fer­ments the fruit, not the juice. His prod­ucts are poured in small bot­tles. “We do things quite dif­fer­ently here,” Meagher says. “We fo­cus on a dryer style of cider that is nat­u­rally car­bon­ated and bot­tled. We do some­thing more like a cham­pagne style: we don’t fil­ter, we don’t pas­teurise, we don’t use any fin­ing agents which are things that help the liq­uid clar­ify. A lot of other peo­ple will add tan­nin, and acid and oak pow­der to their cider. We don’t do that.”

Sim­ple Cider bot­tles cre­ate their own bub­bles. “There’s such a nice di­ver­sity of craft cider styles in Tas­ma­nia that are com­ple­men­tary to each other,” Meagher says.

Cook says there is a craft cider for ev­ery palate and oc­ca­sion. “One of the great things about craft cider as a drink is its breadth and di­ver­sity,” he says. He says it’s a cat­e­gory that will draw in wine and beer drinkers look­ing for low al­co­hol drinks.

Wil­lie Smith’s has its more tra­di­tional craft ciders sold in cans but the com­pany has also cap­tured its creations in cham­pagne-look­ing 750ml bot­tles. Th­ese bot­tles have found their way into some of the state’s top restau­rants and are sell­ing for $65 or $13 per 100ml glass. “There is a great amount of skill in­volved in mak­ing a su­per high-qual­ity drink that can sit along­side fine wine but has half the al­co­hol,” Jones says. “If my cider is con­sid­ered a se­ri­ous drink and is some­thing peo­ple will sit on over lunch and en­joy, and get full sat­is­fac­tion from, and then be able to go back to work and ac­tu­ally func­tion then we are suc­ceed­ing. High qual­ity cider can sit be­side high qual­ity sparkling wine but the dif­fer­ence is you’re not half cut at the end of the event.”

In Ciderol­ogy, Gabe Cook — aka The Ciderol­o­gist — shares his pas­sion for all things cider, with an es­sen­tial his­tory of the drink and its pro­duc­tion pro­cesses, and a tour of some of the world’s most sig­nif­i­cant cider mak­ers.

Ciderol­ogy: From His­tory and Her­itage to the Craft Cider Rev­o­lu­tion, by Gabe Cook, $27.99, Oc­to­pus Pub­lish­ing Group

tas­cider­trail.com

Pic­ture: NATALIE MEND­HAM

Wil­lie Smiths’ ap­ple wall.

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