I’ve been to paradise and it is called Tasmania. An island of 26,410 square miles of which one third is national park, one third planted forestry and one third natural growth. UNESCO recognises six World Heritage sites for their natural and cultural importance to humanity. Tasmania has been called as an island of difference in a sea of sameness. An apt description.
It is paradise for many reasons. Spectacular scenery, unpolluted air, endless forests, tarns, rivers, mountains, valleys, space to breathe, a fascinating art scene, virtually no litter, renewable energy from solar, wind and hydro (working towards 100% renewable), clean streets, a welcoming populace of only 500,000 residents, beautifully presented and delicious food, including island grown saffron, olives, truffles. And as this is a drinks blog, paradise in its cornucopia of libations.
If you enjoy drink and food I urge you to visit Tasmania. As well as a Cider Trail, there are Wine Trails, a Whisky Trail, Beer Trail, food trails and several other tourist focused food and drink experiences. When I say ‘tourist’ that is not to suggest that the place is over-run with visitors, it’s not, especially in Autumn (Spring in the Northern Hemisphere).
Tasmania is the best kept secret for the range of its drinks with award winning whisky, some of Australia’s finest wines and brandy – the sparklers in particular are notable, mead produced with honey containing pollen from trees and plants unique to Tasmania, gin laced with the terroir of local botanicals, liqueurs, and one of the most dynamic craft cider sectors in the world. The latter should be no surprise, after all Tasmania is known as The Apple Isle. The first tree cultivated in what would become known as Australia was an apple tree planted by English mariner Captain William Bligh in 1788 on Bruny Island off the south east coast of Tasmania.
Tasmania produces 16% of Australia’s apple harvest – the majority being dessert and culinary apples – and the major growing regions are Huon and Tamar Valleys and around Spreyton in the north of the island. I had the fortune of visiting as the guest of Cider Australia. The organisation had invited me to speak at the annual conference which was held in Hobart. My host for the visit to Tasmania was Caroline ‘Caro’ Brown, President of Cider Tasmania and a cider maker, with her husband, of prized traditional method ciders though their business Brady’s Lookout Cider.
Cider is widely available in Australia but despite so many beautiful apples being grown in the country, 85% of its cider is made from imported concentrate made by the behemoths that dominate global markets. There is no legal prohibition on the amount of water, additives or sugar permitted in cider which means that most people drink a sweetened carbonated apple flavoured alco-pop and assume that is what cider is. Of course Australia is not the only apple growing cider-making country where apple alco-pops dominate the market – I am writing this blog from the UK where the biggest selling bottled ‘cider’ is a Swedish brand dominated by tropical fruit flavoured syrup, containing the equivalent of 13 teaspoons of sugar in a 500 ml bottle and zero hint of apple. And when I think of all those acres of Kingston Black, Ellis Bitters and Foxwhelp in the West Country…….
But back to Paradise. I spent three unforgettable days with Caro driving through the exquisite landscape of Tasmania and visiting several local cider makers. She enlightened me about the craft cider sector in Australia (dynamic, exciting, and burgeoning with producers making real cider) and introduced me to several makers producing a variety of distinctive ciders, all recipients of the Trust Marque awarded to producers who use 100% Australia grown apples. Many of those apple varieties will be familiar – in the eating category they include Golden Delicious, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Fuji, Granny Smith. Royal Gala. The cider apples include the superstars Kingston Black, Yarlington Mill, Michelin, Dabinett and Redstreak.
Each producer I visited had a USP. Spreyton Cider was soft palate bottle fermented ciders. Red Brick Road Cider adhered to the principle of no filtering, wild ferment and also made a gin from distilled cider perfumed by fresh botanicals. Brady’s Lookout Cider focuses on wild ferment method traditional ciders and is also expanding its orchard of heritage apple varieties and experimenting with them for cider making. Red Sails in the only cidery in Australia to produce keeved ciders. They also make perry from traditional English perry pears – Yellow Huffcap, Gin, Moorcroft and Green Horse. Both the ciders and perries were so sublime I sat with an expression of joy on my face and could think of nothing else but how magical nature is. Simple Cider specialises in ciders made by wild fermenting apple and cherry juice together. The result is tangy, tannic and lovely. Willie Smith’s is the largest producer and arguably the best known with a unique selling point of organic fruit. Their traditional method Kingston Black has won Best in Show two years running at the Australia Cider Awards. I tasted a version aged in Pinot Noir barrels. It was musty, oaky, savoury, caramel and chewy, a dream matched with hot smoked salmon.
During the conference I heard Australian craft cider described as ‘what nature tastes like’. A perfect epithet for the real, natural, authentic cider being produced Down Under. Can you tell I am smitten?