The pedigree of cider on offer makes my mouth water – 100% Tasmanian whole apples and pears, no added sugars and the majority are unpasteurised, which all helps to retain a cleaner, more refreshing, nuanced character. The only additives you’ll likely to find here are the yeasts required to ferment the cider.
I’ve never before been to a place with so many cider houses so proximate to one and other – there might not be another place like it in the world – which makes me, and others for whom cider is their tipple of choice – nearly weep, after years of sugared-up, watered-down apple concentrate of indeterminate origin.
Cider in some form has been around for centuries but the version we’ve come to know in recent years is a far cry from the drink our ancestors enjoyed, earning it a bit of shabby (and deserved) modern reputation. The re-emergence of cider as a respectable drink is due to a passion for traditional, simple styles being brewed in the likes of Tasmania and the taste for it only seems to be growing.
The Cider Trail
Tasmania’s cider makers are, in fact, making the “hand-picked whole apple cider” many of the major players dishonestly claim to make. 2012 is the first time in 130 years that the Apple Isle hasn’t exported any of its namesake fruit as apples from the two dozen major local orchards (down from nearly two thousand) are being put to use at home, fueled by renewed popular demand for cider. Yet outside of Australia, Tasmanian cider is hard to come by, which is all the more reason to seek it out when you’re there.
To slake my thirst for the good stuff while here, we set off from Hobart towards the lush Seussian-named Huon Valley – home to more than 80% of Tasmania’s apples. With only a day to explore the joint, we settle on an afternoon visit to three Huon Valley cider houses (and taste many of the remaining brands at Hobart’s local hotels).
Heron’s Rise Vineyard
An hour’s drive south, we arrive in Kettering just as the sun sets over the D’Entrecasteaux Channel through the windows of our cosy Heron’s Rise Vineyard (a small local producer of Tassie Pinot Noir and, uniquely, a white from Muller Thurgau grapes) cottage.
We’re not quite in cider country yet, but at its doorstep.
After a good night’s sleep, where the silence of the Tasmanian country side is so complete that it feels like a heavy blanket cloaking us, we wake early with jet lag. We hit the road soon after coffee, Our tires crunching across the gravel as we set out for the scenic route to our first cider house. We continue on the Channel Highway around the bottom of the peninsula before rounding the bend, tracking the Huon River toward the small town of Cygnet.
As we drive along the two-lane highway I see telltale signs of our arrival in apple country – stacks of crates at the road’s edge and clouds of netting float above the fruit trees to protect them from the pecking beaks of greedy birds. The sun beating through the car window is making me thirsty, and I am eager for my first cooling sip of cider, just minutes away.
Our destination, Pagan Cider, appears on the left and boasts the most southerly cellar door in the world. The wide blue Tasmania sky wraps around the low green building and the cherry orchard to the side of it, where they gather fruit for their Cerise Apple Cherry Cider.
The space is fitted with the tried-and-true configuration of bar, cider taps and fridge filled with bottles for sale. Alongside the bottles for sale are jars filled with cider experiments, all in various states of ferment.
We try perry (pear cider), traditional apple cider and cherry apple cider. All are uniquely delicious, crisp and refreshing. We can’t decide what we want and end up buying them all.
Moving on to the small-batch ciders, we get a taste of the Woody and have it bottled right before our eyes to take with us, alongside a bottle of fresh-pressed cherry juice from the trees next door.
The staff member manning the cellar door the morning we arrive lets us taste a flight of his experimental ferments after we probe about the variety of jars in the fridge, like the varnish-like Huon pine-tinged cider ferment that certainly showed a welcome “nothing ventured, nothing gained” mentality.
We cleansed our palettes with another sip of pure apple cider before heading to the next cellar door with a box of brilliant (non-Huon-pine-flavoured) ciders in the boot.
We continue on the Channel Highway through the bucolic landscape towards Huonville where five miles down the opposite bank sits Franklin. This is where Frank’s Cider offers up free tastings of its award-winning cider at its newly opened cellar door in the renovated St. John’s Church Hall on the river’s edge.
As is the case with most Tassie cider houses, this one too is family-owned, with generations of local farming know-how behind it. Frank’s apples are sourced from the Woodside Orchard heritage trees planted nearly 100 years ago. They produce higher volumes than some of the other cider makers but still maintain their artisanal quality with pure local fruit and no added sugars.
Before we get to Willie Smith’s, Australia’s only organic cider maker, we mistake a roadside shed for the cellar door. Turns out it’s not the cellar door but it is part of Willie Smith’s 115-acre orchard and happens to be an honesty stand filled with fresh local apples for sale.
We take a pass on the fruit, opting to taste it in liquid form instead as mere seconds down the road we find the (very obvious) cellar door and Apple Shed museum. The Smiths have been growing apples since the 1880s, but they only began making their award-winning cider in 2012 by hand harvesting eating apples from their orchard and double fermenting the juice.
We settle into bar stools on the sunny patio and work through the four ciders in small glasses that have been nestled into the tasting paddle – depending on the apple variety used, fermentation, vessel and a variety of other factors, different apple ciders can have surprisingly different flavour profiles, which was apparent in our tasting.
The region’s apple heritage is in evidence throughout the Willie Smith compound, with touches like Old apple crates incorporated throughout the décor (and construction) in the vast outdoor patio where we’re sitting. Yet there’s a cosmopolitan hum, with groups of young, hip people congregating at low-slung tables – cider, based on the people drinking it on the patio that day – might actually be cool again.
We polish off our paddle and a plate of ham and cheese toasties before lazily basking in the afternoon sun and browsing the providore wares before a short drive back to Hobart to continue the search for even more Tassie ciders to add to our growing collection.
If there’s a tasting flight (or paddle, as it were) that gives you the option to sample the largest variety of ciders at the cellar door, buy it. The sample sizes are just small enough to keep you from getting knackered but big enough to let you really taste them.
The Cider Houses Rule (July 2013, Gourmet Traveller) is an article that captures the essence of the place beautifully.
Red Sails makes award-winning ciders with cider apples from its own estate with more than 50 heritage apples and pears (all without spraying). Co-owner and cider maker Clive Crossley has been making cider for 40 years. The Wild Cider is naturally fermented with wild yeasts and then aged in French Oak.
Pagan Cider (7891 Channel Highway, Cygnet, TAS 7109)
Willie Smith’s (2064 Huon Highway, Grove, TAS 7109, (03) 6266 4345)
Franklin Cider Company (3118 Huon Highway, Franklin, TAS 7113))
The Huntingtons at Two Metre Tall (2862 Lyell Highway, Hayes, TAS 7140) make a cider and a perry (which they call Poire in homage to the French manner in which it’s made), both dry. The cider uses Sturmer cider apples. It’s beautifully handcrafted and completely unadulterated. The naturally soured cider ale must be tasted too. Only open on Fridays and Sundays and completely closed May through July.
4-Coal River Valley
With a proprietor who’s the former president of Cider Tasmania and with ties to the The Grove Heritage Nursery, it’s no wonder that Lost Pippin Cider gets such rave reviews. Sparkling, still sweet, off-sweet and dry ciders pay homage to the classic English, Germanic and French styles of cider making. Both cider and eating apples are used, occasionally wild yeast is used to ferment. Tastings are held at the Puddleduck Vineyard cellar door.
One of the newest, Coal Valley Cider, opened for business in 2014 and makes cider from the apples and juice of the Huon Valley Juice Company. They make early-, mid- and late-harvest ciders, a cloudy one and a popular iced apple cider. A tasting bar is to be opened in Richmond soon.
There’s Captain Blighs (64 Warwick Street, Hobart, TAS 7000) and Dickens Cider now has a Hobart Tasting Room (see below), where you can buy Red Sails Cider too.
6-Northern Tasmania, Launceston and Tamar Valley
Red Brick Road Ciderhouse (63A Brisbane Street, Launceston, TAS 7250) has a hole-in-the-wall tasting room in Launceston with a BYOF (bring your own food) policy. They follow the CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) real cider guidelines when creating their ciders. Try the dry hopped cider or one of the experimental batches they’ll be working on.
Check out Dickens Cider Cider Rosé made with Pink Lady apples and tinted with a touch of Pinot Noir wine. They now have a Hobart cider house too, so you can stop in for a paddle of Dickens Cider whether you’re in the north or south.