Cider has come a long way in Australia. Hand-crafted and freshly pressed from local fruit, it’s the latest drink sensation.
Australia’s love of the artisanal has gone into overdrive in recent years. Where once there was coffee – or if you were in a particularly cosmopolitan enclave, cappuccino – now there’s pour-over, cold-drip, French-press and single-origin. And that’s all before you’ve even thought about the milk you’re having. Beer has had a makeover, too, with the craft brewing industry bringing us pale, amber and golden ales, IPAs, saisons and much more on an ever-growing tasting paddle. So perhaps it was only a matter of time until cider got the boutique treatment.
Once seen as the drink of choice for the schoolies set with a catalogue of styles easily ticked off in three words – sweet, dry or draught – cider has come of age, growing in both its complexity and appeal among more sophisticated palates. So much so, in fact, that international market research company IBISWorld estimates the Australian cider industry to be worth more than $350 million a year, with about 120 craft-cider makers in operation around the country today.
Not all ciders, however, are created equal. Those made with entirely Australian-grown fruit account for less than 15 per cent of our cider market; the rest are made with imported concentrate as their base. To that end, industry body Cider Australia introduced a “trust mark” in October last year, making it easy for consumers to identify ciders made with 100 per cent local fruit.
And it’s a boost for regional Australia, where many of these genuine ciders are being made in a number of cool-climate regions. These are the ones worth exploring, their artisan producers having a direct connection to the orchards in which the apples and pears are grown. The most innovative among them are also experimenting with different apple varieties and production techniques that are delivering entirely new flavours. Here are five cellar doors to visit.
Red Brick Road Cider
Husband-and-wife team Corey Baker and Karina Dambergs have a winemaking background but switched gears in 2008, founding cider company Red Brick Road in northern Tasmania. “We started because we couldn’t believe that we lived on the Apple Isle and at the time, nobody was using these amazing apples to make craft cider,” says Dambergs.
The label’s ciders, which are made from 100 per cent local apples, are unfiltered and use minimal preservatives. “This gives you a naturally fermented cloudy cider that is chock-full of apple flavour,” she explains.
The duo have also produced Australia’s first ever hopped cider, using Tasmanian hops, and a Cider Rosé containing six per cent pinot noir grapes. Plus, the business has recently expanded into distilling, creating a gin called Hell’s Gates from a cider base.
“We love that the history of spirits is a map of what sugars are available in various parts of the world,” says Dambergs. “In the Caribbean, you have sugar cane so you make rum; in Scotland, you have malted barley so you make whisky; and in France, you have grapes so you make brandy. It seems obvious what sugar to use for spirits here!”
Last November the pair unveiled their new Ciderworks facility and cellar door in Deloraine. “The cellar door is right in the shed where we make our spirits and cider so if you come on the right day, you’ll get to experience that process firsthand,” she says.
Signature cider: The pinot-blushed Cider Rosé, which delivers subtle, dry raspberry notes.
And while you’re in town… Clustered around Deloraine, you’ll find several gourmet stops on the Cradle to Coast Tasting Trail.
St Ronan's Cider
Badger Creek, Victoria
A collaboration between fruitgrower Eric Driessen and wine professional Troy Jones, St Ronan’s is one of the few Australian cideries practicing méthode traditionelle production. The process gives the cider a fine, delicate fizz by allowing fermentation to continue naturally after the cider has been bottled.
“Eric’s family has been growing fruit in the Yarra Valley for 30-odd years,” says Jones, co-founder of Payten & Jones winery. “We set out making cider using apples supplied by local growers. Then, about seven years ago, we planted our orchard of cider apples, including Kingston Black, Golden Harvey, Improved Foxwhelp, Yarlington Mill and Bulmer’s Norman. We only produce our méthode traditionelle cider from these varieties.”
The St Ronan’s cellar door is hosted by Driessen’s Badger Creek Blueberry Farm in the Yarra Valley, just over an hour’s drive from Melbourne. “You can taste our cider or blueberry wine or sit out on the deck and enjoy a local wine or beer,” says Jones.
Grazing platters and Sunday specials, including homemade sausage rolls, make the perfect accompaniment to a cider.
Signature cider: The St Ronan’s Méthode Traditionelle Pear Cider, which has the sweetness and acidity to match rich cheese.
And while you’re in town… Healesville Sanctuary, just around the corner from the farm, is the best place in Victoria to see native wildlife in a bush setting.
Small Acres Cyder
Orange, New South Wales
The Orange region has been a popular food and wine destination for some years. Its annual FOOD (Food of Orange District) Week, held in April, is the longest-running food festival in regional Australia so it was inevitable that its ciders would attract the spotlight.
“The cool-climate region of Orange is ideal and it has rich, red basalt soils. This produces not only some of the best cool-climate wine grapes in Australia but also the best apples and pears,” says James Kendell, who founded Small Acres Cyder here just over a decade ago. Since then Small Acres has won more than 100 awards, including Most Successful Small Producer at last year’s Australian Cider Awards.
The secret might lie in Kendell’s dedication to doing things a little differently. While the vast majority of Australian cider is non-vintage, Small Acres releases no fewer than eight vintage ciders each year. “We don’t work to a recipe. We work with what each season brings and the flavour profile of that season’s apples.”
The orchard of English and French cider apples along with artisan techniques such as rack-and-cloth pressing (a traditional kind of juicing) have delivered a diverse, characterful range of styles, including unique apple wines as well as méthode traditionelle and fortified ciders. “Some of these take up to six years to produce,” says Kendell. “That’s what our customers travel to taste and purchase from our cellar door.”
Visitors can have a formal tasting at the cellar door, which is open on weekends just outside Orange in Borenore. Or you can buy a bottle of cider to enjoy outside on a picnic blanket, along with a DIY antipasto plate of local cheeses, olives, bread, dips and smallgoods.
Signature cider: The Cat’s Pyjamas, which is aged three years and brims with complexity.
And while you’re in town… Head to Borenore Karst Conservation Reserve to explore the limestone caves.
The Smith family had been growing apples in the Huon Valley, in Tasmania’s south, for more than a century before they made the foray into cider in 2012. That was when fourth-generation family member Andrew partnered with drinks marketer Sam Reid to launch Willie Smith’s Organic Cider.
The label’s early batches made excellent use of the apples that weren’t considered aesthetically pleasing enough to be sold for eating. As the venture grew, the team’s desire “to show people how seriously good cider can be”, says Reid, led them to plant and graft special apple varieties to be used only for making cider. “These varieties have names you’ve never heard of before, like Frequin Rouge and Cimetiere de Blangy, and they bring improved flavour.”
The result? A raft of accolades, including Best in Show at the Australian Cider Awards three times, most recently with the 2017 Kingston Black single-varietal cider. “We also took out the Reserve International Champion award at the Royal Bath & West Show in the UK, which is the spiritual home of cider,” says Reid.
“That’s when we started to think, ‘Why can’t our cider be up there with the world’s best?’ So we are exploring opportunities to start exporting, with the UK and the US high on our agenda.”
The duo’s Apple Shed, just 25 minutes’ drive from Hobart, offers a host of experiences for visitors. “It’s an old apple-packing shed that we converted to our cider house and it pumps with live local music on Fridays and the first Sunday of every month,” says Reid.
Here you can try a tasting paddle of ciders and feast on dishes such as the seafood plate with hot-smoked salmon rillettes. For dessert there’s Willie Smith’s famous apple pie. Or tour the onsite distillery, which produces fine apple brandy under the Charles Oates label.
Signature cider: The Kingston Black, which offers green-apple and sherbet aromas.
And while you’re in town… Enjoy a Friday long lunch at Fat Pig Farm in Glaziers Bay, a beautiful rural property owned and run by chef Matthew Evans and wife Sadie.
The Hills Cider Company
Hay Valley, South Australia
Steve Dorman, co-founder of The Hills Cider Company, believes Australians are becoming more motivated to discover what they are really consuming. “We’re moving away from added sugars and concentrates,” he says. “And once consumers realise that most commercial ciders are made using these additives, they’re usually quick to shift to a cider that uses only hand-picked, freshly pressed Australian apples.”
While the company, which Dorman created with publican Tobias Kline in 2010, started out with a solitary apple cider, it has since grown to produce a core range of apple and pear varieties, along with a regular rotation of limited-release hybrids that hero other Australian produce.
Their most recent – and most popular – hybrid cider was the Tropical ICS, featuring local apples co-fermented with Queensland mango and pineapple. “It sold out within two weeks,” says Dorman.
“We’ve relaunched it nationally on tap and it will be released in bottle at the end of this year.”
Signature cider: The Cloudy Apple Cider, which has crisp fruit, yeast complexity and fresh acidity.
And while you’re in town… The cellar door at Lot 100 in the Adelaide Hills is a 15-minute drive from Hahndorf, Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement, where you can visit cheesemakers and smallgoods provedores and dine at the German Arms Hotel.