5 Ciders worth checking out in Australia
1. Toohey’s 5 Seed Cloudy
Toohey’s is one of Australian brewer Lion Nathan’s giant beer brands, and first lent its name to a cider as Toohey’s 5 Seed, 2-3 years back; I remember tasting it with some local drinkers who all hurled abuse at it the moment the bottle was decanted into the glass.
I seem to remember “that’s disgusting” being one of the more positive reviews. But this was slightly mis-guided; sure, it wasn’t the biggest flavoured, most aromatic or structured cider, but it was clean, actually tasted vaguely of apples and was by no means unpleasant to drink. Lion continue to run Toohey’s 5 Seed as their lead cider brand. When we tasted it, it was much as I remembered, and they now have this addition to the line-up which I rather enjoyed. It has a pale opaque colour and slight citrus aroma. The forward palate is of dry fruit and it offers a creamy full body. The finish is short and clean, which was really the only let down in an otherwise well-made cider.
2. The Hills Cider
Classification wise, Aspall and The Hills share a position within the “boutique” cider segment of the overall category. I’m very pleased to report that as of 2014, Aspall is the lead boutique cider on the Australian market.
Not a massive segment to be fair, but one that is growing and we are happy to be leading. And what good stable mates we have in The Hills Cider Company. I have never met these guys before, but I really like their cider. It was set up in 2010 by Steve Dorman and Tobias Kline “with a goal of producing Australia’s best cider”. And do you know, I think they may have cracked it. They make a big thing of using 100% Australian apples, mostly sourced from Southern Australia. I’ve mentioned before that, on the whole, apples grown in Australia don’t lend themselves to making great cider, so what has been achieved here is seriously impressive. A very pale straw colour offers up a clean, fresh apple skin aroma which verges on being quite heady. It has a sweet juice forward flavour with a very good acid to balance. The mouthfeel is creamy yet light and, unlike most Australian ciders I have tasted, has a decent if not overly long finish. A good alcohol level at 5%, I went back for another. I actually drank this in The Lord Nelson pub in The Rocks – “Sydney’s oldest continually licensed hotel still trading within its original fabric”. Nice pub, good grub, and an impressive cider list that I was pleased to see listed Aspall. A very happy visit all round.
I’ll admit to having a soft spot for Pipsqueak; as part of the Little Creatures stable we used to import it into the UK for them. It was one of the first ‘craft’ Australian ciders to launch onto the market and has had a loyal following of Little Creatures drinkers ever since.
It is made in Healesville north of Melbourne, not far from my cousins’ property as it happens. It is made in the same place as the White Rabbit brand next door to Phil Sexton’s Innocent Bystander winery, so lots of good things going for it. There are two places I would strongly recommend you visit if in Australia; first is the Little Creatures Brewery in Fremantle Western Australia. If I didn’t have an 18th century cider mill to play with, this is the sort of place I would like to make my cider. Ok, so the cider’s not actually made here, but sitting in that beautiful open brewery restaurant, surrounded by huge fermenters and the bay opening up before you is a joyous experience in itself – washed down with a cold Pipsqueak it's even better. Second, if in Melbourne, the Little Creatures Dining Rooms are worth a visit. A 15 minute walk from the centre of Melbourne in the trendy Fitzroy district, it was a sight for sore eyes on this last trip. It does the whole gambit of Little Creatures beers and their cider too. Recently acquired by Lion Nathan, it is to their credit that the brand and the liquid seem to have been left alone when I’m sure there is a huge temptation to have a fiddle and make the profit & loss look better. As for the cider itself, it is pale straw with a good mousse. There is a distant, clean apple aroma, with plenty of fruit coming forward on the tongue. Body and balance are both good, the finish is clean if a little hollow. Not available over here as yet, so if you’re going to make the effort – go that extra mile to Western Australia!
4. Napoleone Pear
I tasted some right pear stinkers on this trip – this not only stood out from the rest, it was one of the best products I tried whilst there.
Pear is a hard thing to get right. It is a very unforgiving fruit; unlike apples, they neither roll nor float in water, making them difficult to handle. They tend to be either bullet hard or soft and mushy, the resulting juice all starchy and thin, or thick and gloopy. They have no acidity to speak of so are extremely prone to bacteria spoilage once pressed into juice. And, assuming you get past all these pitfalls, the resulting perry (pear cider if you prefer) will oxidise at the mere mention of the word oxygen. Often horribly. But when they are good, boy are they good. This was another off the list of The Lord Nelson in The Rocks. Its aroma is light with a distant – yet most importantly – clean pear nose. The flavour is super delicate, a soft sweetness on the tongue that is incredibly floral. Its 4.5% alcohol leaves it a little thin mid-palate, but it has a moreish, clean finish. This is all the more remarkable because it appears to be made from eating pears, not perry pears. Sadly, when perries go wrong, they are usually catastrophically undrinkable. So when you find a good one, it’s cause for celebration. Napoleone Pear is certainly one for that.
5. Kirin Fuji
I’ve not come across many Japanese ciders before; 1 at the last count I think. They don’t have much better access to good raw material than the Australians do, though their apples do have a tendency to a higher acid content due to the climate they are grown in.
But credit where it’s due, this was certainly better than many of the ‘premium’ labelled ciders in the tasting line up. As one would expect from a straight Fuji, it has a very pale white wine colour; the nose has a sweet vinous quality to it; the hint of apple on first taste is balanced nicely by a soft dryness. The acid balance is good from that more northerly climate. The finish is very clean and it has a good drinkability and is very wine spritzer in character. It would perhaps be a little patronising to describe it as "neat and tidy"; but for that reason alone it stood out from many others on parade. Call me a purist, but ciders devoid of faults should always be given a degree of respect and Kirin Fuji certainly deserves that and more. Wasn’t so keen on the Ume and Ginger variants.