The Weekend Australian - Travel

Where the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree

- RICKY FRENCH williesmit­

Your dinner party is humming, the mains have hit the table and you nip to the cellar to retrieve a bottle. Your guests take a sip and note how well it pairs with the pork.

They praise the pleasing flavour expression­s of figs, banana, vanilla and toffee. Now imagine that what you poured was not a fine wine but a glass of cider. Quelle horreur!

Cider has long been pegged as cheap and nasty; sweet lolly-water guzzled by undiscerni­ng youngsters with a palate only for alcohol and tolerance for wicked headaches.

Prepare to have any preconcept­ions shattered when you step inside Willie Smith’s Apple Shed in Tasmania’s Huon Valley, 40 minutes’ drive from Hobart, where cider is sophistica­ted and apple is once more king.

William Smith planted his first apple tree in 1888 and his great-grandson Andrew Smith is Willie Smith’s current co-owner and orchardist, proving the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree. The former apple-packing plant has been refurbishe­d into a casual bar and restaurant, with rustic timber rafters, spacious dining area and sunny beer (or rather cider) garden. Tastings and tours of the onsite museum and distillery help to demystify the disparaged drink.

Sit in the sun and sip the new releases, including 2020 Yarlington Mill (made from a bitterswee­t English cider apple), and 2020 Sturmer Pippin “Pet Nat” (Petillant Naturel being a technique of bottling the drink before fermentati­on has finished, allowing it to continue in the bottle), and 2019 “Cool as Ice” iced cider, made by freezing then thawing the apple juice, and discarding the first half of the melt, which is mostly water. It’s a trick borrowed from Canada, where autumns are cold enough to freeze apples on the tree. The result: a concentrat­ed, sweet dessert cider.

Head cider maker Thomas New agrees the drink’s image has been tainted in the past, but says the business has an opportunit­y to tell a new story. “It’s a rustic and agricultur­al drink, but it’s not simple; it’s complex and diverse and deserves to stand on its own.” He sees it following a similar trajectory to the booming craft beer scene.

As for the hypothetic­al dinner party, we hosted exactly that a few months ago in Melbourne, in the middle of the long winter lockdown. With no guests allowed, a bottle of Willie Smith’s Sullivans Cove Whisky Aged cider went down a treat with just the two of us, matched perfectly with a homemade apple pie and displaying buttery notes of pastry, butterscot­ch, raisin, baked apple, caramel and no hint of a headache in the morning.

Ricky French was a guest of Willie Smith’s Apple Shed.

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