It's official: cider is an integral part of the craft-beer scene. Sydney's Malt Shovel Brewery is the most recent high-profile brewer to add a permanent cider brand - James Squire Orchard Crush cider - to its line-up.
''We've been experimenting with a cider for some time now,'' the chief brewer at Malt Shovel, Tony Jones, says. ''It's a category we know customers are enjoying and exploring.''
Orchard Crush joins Pipsqueak Cider from Little Creatures and Matilda Bay Dirty Granny among the cider products from leading craft-beer makers. Matilda Bay is part of the Foster's group, while Lion owns the other two craft brewers. Many other smaller craft-beer makers have also diversified into cider production, including 2 Brothers, Mountain Goat, Wig & Pen and Redoak.
Using fresh local apples is an important element of Malt Shovel's new product, Jones says. The fruit comes from Orange and Mildura, and the cider is brewed using roughly one-third granny smith and two-thirds pink lady, red delicious and other varieties, depending on availability.
''We buy apples after the harvest, cold store them and crush them through the year,'' Jones says. Forecasting how much cider to produce in the course of a year has been tricky. ''It's difficult to predict because sales could explode over summer,'' he says.
Cloudiness sets Orchard Crush apart from most other ciders. ''We add a little bit of cloudy apple juice concentrate at the end, which also sweetens up the cider,'' Jones says. ''It's partly a visual thing but it also adds to the texture and body of the cider.''
The 500-millilitre bottle is a further point of difference; 330-millilitre is the norm for most ciders. ''We're aiming at people who want one or two glasses of cider,'' Jones says.
Further evidence cider is undergoing a serious makeover is the excellent blog, allaboutcider.blogspot.com.au, the work of fourth-generation Barossa winemaker James Adams. His day job is at Hewitson wines but the blog is clearly a consuming passion for the 28-year-old. It has an up-to-date directory of Aussie cider makers, insightful reviews and Cider Apples 101 - so you can know your Improved Foxwhelp from your Bulmer's Norman.
Adams says his winemaking kin are mildly shocked at his ''converting to cider''. This includes planting his own orchard with 30 different cider apple varieties and plans to launch his own cider. In the meantime, his blog is a great source of information for serious cider fanciers.
The inaugural Australian Cider Festival is at the Steyne Hotel, Manly, from October 13-14, 2-6pm, featuring more than 18 local and imported ciders. See moshtix.com.au.
James Squire Orchard Crush
(4.8 per cent)
Milky, opaque/light yellow. Aroma: crisp green apple, fruit tingle/sherbet notes. Palate: soft apple notes at first, a firm acidity carries through to the finish that combines the crunch of fresh apple with refreshing dryness. Overall: crunchy, crisp cider.
Little Creatures Pipsqueak
(5.2 per cent)
Clear, pale straw. Aroma: hints of bruised apple skin and crushed apple pip. Palate: mild carbonation with delicate green apple characters; cleansing, acidic mid-palate and crisp, dry finish. Overall: easy-drinking dry cider.
Matilda Bay Dirty Granny
(5.5 per cent)
Medium-gold, clear. Aroma: cut apple and caramel hints. Palate: full carbonation, assertive apple characters upfront; apple notes dominate mid-palate with medium-dry finish that balances acidity with distinct sweetness. Overall: solid apple characters.