If you have taken a look in your local bottle shop fridge recently, you will probably have noticed a steady rise in the volume and variety of apple ciders on sale. Where once a cider drinker had the choice of ‘Strongbow’ sweet or dry, there are now many different brands and styles of cider available. The rise of cider festivals all over Australia is further testament to the growing interest in this drink.
In May this year, Queensland’s first cider festival was celebrated at Sutton’s Farm just north of Stanthorpe in the beautiful Granite Belt district. This event was particularly significant as it marked the release of Sutton’s first cider made entirely from cider apples grown on-site.
David Sutton, of Sutton’s Farm, has been making cider for 14 years and has spent time in France and England studying the cider production process. Cider can be made from dessert apples, cider apples or a blend of the two. Until recently, David has used commercial dessert varieties to produce his ciders. While he has produced some popular styles with this fruit, David feels that “cider made from commercial eating apple varieties simply does not have the depth of flavour that cider made from cider apples can achieve”.
It was this pursuit for a higher quality cider that led David to trial 20 different varieties of cider apple trees sourced from France and England, in his own orchard. There are some notable differences between growing cider apples in Europe and Australia. David has dispensed with the traditional Northern Hemisphere practice of harvesting fruit from the ground – gathering up rotten windfall apples in the heat of late summer is unlikely to produce quality cider.
A number of harvests later it is clear that some of these varieties, although very successful in Europe, are unlikely to succeed in the Queensland climate, producing low numbers of very small fruit that can be excessively bitter. Other varieties, however, have performed very well and David has plans to expand plantings of these so that he can continue to develop his cider production business. And just in case you’re interested, most cider apple varieties are purely for making cider, however there are a few such as ‘Freburg’ that also make good eating.
Cider would seem to make perfect sense for the Australian market providing a fantastically refreshing alternative to beer, particularly in the warmer months. With interest in cider on the rise in Australia it will be fascinating to watch how this side of the industry develops domestically in the next few years.