The great Australian cider bubble keeps expanding, writes Max Allen, but when it bursts, who will be left standing?
When I first wrote a feature about the cider boom in these pages three years ago, I was amazed to find about 40 Australian cider producers out there. Now I know of at least 120 Australian-made cider brands - and I'm coming across a new one almost every week. The market for international ciders has grown, too: a good range of scrumpy, cidre and apfelwein from the UK, France and Germany is now available here.
The big multinational booze companies have also been very active on the local cider scene this summer: just before Christmas Foster's (now owned by SABMiller, the world's second-largest brewer) spent more than $5 million relaunching the Strongbow brand; Coca-Cola Amatil took over distribution of the Swedish Rekorderlig brand and launched its own cider, Pressman's, produced in conjunction with the huge Riverina-based wine company, Casella; and Japanese-owned brewer Lion launched the Kirin range of Fuji Apple ciders exclusively in Australia.
Not that any of these big brand products should be called real cider, mind you. Not to this purist, anyway. They're all concocted with water and apple juice concentrate: I think of them as "facsimile ciders". I can see why they're popular: their sweet, juicy appeal (often derived from added flavouring) hides the taste of alcohol, making them easy to drink.
Real cider should be made solely from the juice of freshly crushed whole apples (or pears) - certainly no concentrate, flavouring nor water added. This is how Co-op Pear Cider, one of the most inspiring local brands to emerge in 2013, is made: Packham pears grown in Victoria's Goulburn Valley are crushed and pressed, yeast is added to convert the rich pear sugars into alcohol, and the resulting pink-tinged cider is bottled with carbon dioxide to make it fizzy. Simple. Real.
The cider is made by a new small artisan company called Faire Ferments, in conjunction with the GV Food Co-Operative, a group of Goulburn Valley farmers trying to keep agriculture viable by processing and marketing their own produce after the withdrawal of multinational food companies from the region.
You're most likely to come across some of Australia's best new ciders close to the orchards and cideries where they're made. Red Sails ciders, made at a heritage orchard in the channel country south of Hobart, are a big hit at the city's biennial Australian Wooden Boat Festival; the funky farmhouse ciders of Lobo are barely known outside South Australia, where they sell through pubs and farmers' markets; and Mornington Peninsula's Seven Oaks Farmhouse Cidery has a loyal following at the region's monthly Red Hill Community Market.
When the current cider bubble has burst (and it will) and all the facsimile cider brands have become a distant corporate memory, it's these real ciders, made from real apples and pears, by real people that will endure.
TASTE THIS - SIX OF THE BEST
Top-scorers from the 2013 Australian Cider Awards, open to locally produced and imported ciders - all made from real, whole apples and pears.
- The Hills Cider Company Pear Cider, Adelaide Hills, SA, $5 (330ml)
Heaps of peary aroma, balanced sweetness and a touch of ginger spice. Drink from a schooner with ice.
- Small Acres Cyder "The Cat's Pyjamas", Orange, NSW, $32
Excellent, full-flavoured but refined apple cider. It's like biting into a Granny Smith. Try it in a Champagne flute.
- St Ronan's Pear Cider, Yarra Valley, Vic, $25
With gorgeous rich, complex pear aromas and a lovely soft, creamy texture, this is best paired with an oozing washed-rind cheese.
- Red Sails Dry Cider, d'Entrecasteaux, Tas, $18
Made from traditional English cider apple varieties, this is funky, grippy, satisfying and cheddar-friendly. Drink from a classic English half-pint glass.
- Cornouaille "Manoir du Kinkiz", France, $20
Brilliantly spicy and complex farmhouse cider that's great with stinky camembert and best drunk from a squat, wide tumbler.
- Weidmann & Groh Trierer Weinapfel, Germany, $22
Rich, golden and chewy, ideally drunk from a German apfelwein glass, a straight-sided, diamond-patterned tumbler. Bring on the knackwurst and sauerkraut.
Related link: cocktail recipes.