“I’ve been into cider in one way or another since I was probably about eight….. and I love it!”
Warwick knows his stuff, as you would if you’d been making cider for decades! Warwick once won CAMRA’s best cider award in the UK, and that was when he was just a teenager. Yes, this guy is the real deal and an expert at cider making. He makes some of the best apple cider that we’ve found in Australia and his Perry, alcoholic pear cider, is on another level.
Born and bred in Somerset, one of the homes of cider in England, Warwick was immersed in the industry from a very young age. He has a wealth of knowledge about the history of cider making and the culture behind it and he makes a whole range of cider drinks, including some top notch dry cider.
Warwick came to Australia to learn about wine making so he could return to England to make better cider. He loved it so much here that he never left! He’s the Vice President of Cider Australia and one of the most experienced cider makers in the industry.
In this conversation we touch on all sorts of things, including:
and a few things in between.
Full transcription follows:
Nathaniel: Thank you very much for joining us again Warwick for this interview, I really appreciate you taking some time out. Now, some of our listeners are going to be people who are novices to the cider world, there’s going to be people who probably know quite a bit about cider, there are probably people who are making cider and there’s probably going to be some people who are thinking about making some cider, so the audience is quite diverse. So, with that in mind, can you just give us a short intro into who you are and your background?
Warwick: Okay. So, my name is Warwick, Warwick Billings. I’m the cider maker and part-owner of Lobo Cider in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia. I have a few other day jobs as well, part of which involves wine making, but I began as a cider maker in Somerset in England quite a long time ago. Essentially, I grew up in Somerset and Somerset is one of the heartlands of cider. So, I’ve been into cider in one way or another since I was probably about eight, and you could say it’s a fairly deep love and here I am in Adelaide Hills making cider again and I love it!
Nathaniel: Great. And I’m keen to explore a little bit more about your experience of growing up in Somerset, because I’m also from the UK obviously, from the neighbouring county actually, and cider’s quite a big part of life there, really, and culture, and there’s a lot of history that comes with that. So, from your perspective, what was that like, growing up in the cider county of England?Check the full transcript of this interview
I grew up on a farm in Somerset. We had an orchard. If you looked at an org map, there used to be a lot more orchards in the old, old days, say by the late 1800s, early 1900s, people used to get paid in cider for doing agricultural work, and the story is that if you made good cider, you got better workers. I think they made all that illegal at some point but it was still a thing that people had cider. I can remember when I was 10 or 12 taking lunch out to people who were working in the fields and everyone drank cider. As I got a little bit older, they used to have cider lemonade for the younger people. And that was just the way it was.
People had cider apples on their farms. Historically, they took them to somebody who made cider if they didn’t make their own. A lot of those farms had a cider press somewhere in the back in some state of disrepair and some of those people still had those traditional cider presses that they use. So, where I lived, probably within three kilometres there would have been five people who had always made cider in one form or another, and cider was part of life.
Nathaniel: So there’d be lots of small, kind of niche cider brands – or not even brands, I suppose, more just small operations making their own homebrew?
Warwick: Yeah, that’s right. It was homebrew that was more than homebrew. It was homebrew that came from a culture where people used to drink alcohol instead of water, because alcohol was healthier for you at that time, and they still drank it and it would become a part of life. Cider goes well with food. A glass of cider over lunch is a lovely thing, and people still did that. I suspect that there are probably fewer of those traditional people now 30 years on where I live, but I also suspect there’s a couple of people that I used to go around and help, and their children would still be making cider, and that cider would still be very nice.
Nathaniel: Yeah. And you still do find that, if you walk into a country pub in that part of the world, quite often you’ll find a cider which you probably never heard of unless you’re from that area.
Warwick: Yeah, absolutely. They’re out there. They’re all over the place, and some of them, they make cider, they sell it from the farm door, and they sell it to local pubs, and that’s enough. It’s not what they do for a living, it’s what they do for a lifestyle, and it’s what they’ve always done, and they don’t really see too much reason to change their ways. And on a small scale in the UK, and I think there’s been a bit of argy-bargy about the laws with the EU, but there was sort of a grandfather right that meant that there was a minimum of tax and a minimum of bureaucracy, if you like, in order to let tradition continue.
Nathaniel: Yeah, I think it was if you produce less than 7 thousand litres, then I don’t think you had to pay any tax. Something like that.
Warwick: Yeah. And everybody was fairly relaxed about it. But 7 thousand litres was more than what most families would drink, so there was obvious trade going on.
Nathaniel: Yeah, that’s quite a lot of cider if you’re going to drink it yourself! And how does that contrast to your experience of cider culture in Australia?
Warwick: Well, we don’t really have that tradition here. It’s funny, every so often you unearth a little bit of it because 100, 130 years ago there were people trying to make cider in Australia very much in the same vein. I went to visit somebody the other day purely by coincidence and they said, “Oh yeah, our ancestors used to make cider here 100 years ago,” and I’m trying to find out a bit more about that because that’s an amazing continuity. That’s in the Adelaide Hills. It’s an apple-growing area, and those early pioneers, they were growing apples, and the obvious extension is to make cider.
I’ve seen pictures of an apple mill somewhere in New South Wales that I recognise, because I know the village it’s made in in Somerset and those mills were made in around 1880s. So, there were obviously people trying to make cider way back from the very beginning. And if you look in the newspapers of the day, you can see that there were people exporting cider to the UK
Nathaniel: From Australia?
Warwick: Yeah. The colonies were very much about “What can we send back to the mother country?” And that’s how it was back then. Now, it never really took off, and wine did. Probably because wine kept better on the journey, I would guess. But the famous college in South Australia called Roseworthy, which is kind of where the wine industry learned science, there’s a professor from there saying, “There’s a great future in cider in this country, because we’ve tasted some, we’ve made some, and it’s great.” So, there is this sort of little current of culture and history that sort of got swamped out by the wine boom.
So, cider culture is kind of on its way back at the moment. There’s more and more people making cider, there’s people making more interesting ciders. There’s people with very strong winemaking, technical backgrounds making ciders and then discovering they can make more interesting ciders and more complex ciders and more fun ciders, but there’s also plenty of people making some pretty down to earth, commercial ciders because they can sell it and people drink it, and that’s all good too. People sometimes go all like “Where do you sit as a bit of a cider nut on this?” I kind of go, “Well, people drink instant coffee and people drink barista coffee. And you’re really extreme, people drink coffee made out of some sort of civet poo in Indonesia. But that’s a whole spectrum of coffee and if people will drink it, someone else is going to make it, and that’s great.”
Nathaniel: Yeah and the two are really closely related because the growth of the commercial brands are bringing cider back into the mainstream and getting people more interested in it, and then people are starting to get more interested in the more unique ciders because they’ve been drinking some commercial ciders for the last couple of years.
Warwick: Yeah, of course. There’s a synergy between the two. So, absolutely. And exactly the same thing happens in wine. People start with easy wine and they discover more interesting wines and kind of the same happens with beer too. Like, the whole craft beer things, like people start on the regular, easy beer, and then they go “Oh, that one’s nice,” and they try some other beers and they develop an interest in other beers. And cider’s in that place at the moment. There’s plenty of cider out there, but there’s people who go, “Oh, yeah, there’s more interesting cider, too,” and that’s good.
Nathaniel: Yeah, and your cider’s very much in the more interesting cider category and you’ve got a bit of a reputation in the market for someone who is pushing the boundaries, I suppose, of what you can do with cider making and I know in the last interview that we did with you, you talked about combining traditional methods with the science from Australian winemaking. Could you tell us a little bit more about what that means?
Warwick: Yeah. It’s kind of like, why not? The knowledge is there, so some of my friends in England who have made cider because their parents made cider because their parents made cider, they don’t actually know what they’re up to, but they know that if they do what they do, then they’ll get nice cider. That’s a great philosophy too, to be honest, and some of the great wines in France are made like that.
Nathaniel: If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
Warwick: Yeah. Like, if it works, it’s a good thing. But we’ve got the benefit in Australia in all of these people who’ve got a good winemaking science background, and they can apply some thought to the cider making, and that brings a different take on it. And it also expands what’s happening very quickly, because lots of people are doing lots of experiments and you learn from that. And, if you like, my return to Australia was a little bit – I went to Roseworthy to learn about wine science in order to go back to England to make better cider, and got waylaid and stayed.
Nathaniel: Okay. Never returned?
Warwick: Yeah. Which is lovely. There’s plenty of stuff that the winemakers think is new and exciting and not quite splitting the atom, but there’s people out there making natural wine and making pet nat wine and all of the stuff, which is like, that’s a bit like traditional cider making, really.
Nathaniel: So, what’s a natural wine, for someone who doesn’t know?
Warwick: There’s a natural wine movement out in the winemaking world at the moment, which is fairly like “We’ll grow grapes and then we’ll do as little as possible before we put the wine in the bottle” which is a great philosophy if you grow good grapes but we made some cider that’s made pretty much along those lines. We grow some apples, we blend those apples in order to get a nice balance, we ferment them, and we put them in a bottle. So, the winemaking people, it’s cutting edge to be natural wine and things like that, but really it’s just reinventing, and I guess people say, “Oh, Lobo’s pushing boundaries” but actually, we’re just probably replicating the old ways with slightly more hygiene and care. It’s a cool application of the science, frankly.
And a bit of the same reinvention thing, if you delve back into cider history, you’ll discover that cider makers were making sparkling cider in bottles before champagne was. Now, the Champagnoire won’t ever fess up to that in public, but it’s a fact of life. The English made the bottles first because it was the bottles that they needed and they made sparkling cider in bottles before France made champagne. So, there’s big overlaps and bringing the knowledge and the science of the wine industry back to cider is cool.
Nathaniel: Yeah. So, similar to what’s happening with organic farming, for example, where all the big push to organic and that kind of sustainable farming and the methods that go with that is actually just going back a hundred years but doing so in a way that’s still productive.
Warwick: That’s right. But it’s not going back a hundred years and throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There’s a lot of lessons to be learned in that last hundred years that are applied to modern organic farms, which give you more reliable outcomes, meaning you can make a living out of doing it. You don’t get quite the same level of pests and famine that you used to and everyone lives slightly better for it. But yeah, it’s a little bit of there’s nothing new, you’ve just reinvented a bit.
Nathaniel: Yeah. And so, from a cider perspective, some of the results that are some of the ciders that you have, that don’t have any sulphites in them, for example?
Nathaniel: Which pretty much almost all the ciders would have that as a preservative.
Warwick: Yeah. I mean, they work well, but if you make more traditional ciders with a bit of tannin and things like that, you can do it without. So, why not? And people appreciate it like that. There’s oodles of people out there looking for preservative-free stuff. We can make it in a very presentable form, and again, I hark back to my older friends in England who have never heard of it. It’s like “Why would you add stuff like that to the cider?” There are good reasons why you could and why a lot of people do but in actual fact, there’s plenty of ways of doing it without doing that as well.
Nathaniel: So, what, from your perspective, are the key factors that go in making really good cider? Like, if you’re looking to make a really top-notch cider, what are the critical things that need to happen?
Warwick: Good apples. Good hygiene. That’s probably the essence of it. Good apples can be eating apples or they can be cider apples. They make different ciders – they make quite different ciders. But good apples is a very good start.
Nathaniel: What makes a good apple?
Warwick: Flavour and balance would probably be my two things. Flavour, meaning flavour. Quite a lot of apples – and we can go onto cider apples here, cider apples have more apple flavour quite often. Eating apples have often been bred so they have some flavour, but they’ve also been bred for sweetness and for crunchiness and for acidity, because they’ve been bred for eating, and people have been breeding apples for a long time and they’ve discovered that this is what works. And cider apples have also been bred for different reasons for a long time, and they finished up with what works.
And the cider apple thing is fascinating as well, because, again, if we go back to the culture in Australia, my understanding is that there were probably some cider apples that came out on the early boats, because people who are out colonising the world when the world was an unknown place took a kind of picnic basket of survival gear, which included a few animals, a few chickens, a few trees, a few vines, a few barley seeds, a few wheat seeds, and when they got somewhere they chucked it all out on the ground to see what would survive and what would work.
So, there’s probably a few cider apples that have arrived in Australia then. And then somewhere in the 50’s, my understanding is that the DPI went, “Ah, cider’s an industry that goes quite well in England. I wonder if we can make it go here. We’ll import some cider apples”. And they imported something like 20 English cider apple varieties and something like 20 French cider apple varieties, and possibly a few Spanish apple varieties. And this sort of stock of cider apples sat around fairly unutilised, except by one or two people who were fairly keen cider makers but probably couldn’t find too much market until very recently.
So, at the moment, there’s a lot of interest in cider apples again but in 1995, if you went around Australia looking for cider apple orchards, you could probably have counted them all on just over one hand. So, cider apples make good cider, or they make a different style of cider, and the analogy with wine is: it’s like making wine out of table grapes or making wine out of cabernet sauvignon wine grapes. They make quite different beasts, which people who are into the more interesting thing prefer the thing that’s bred specifically for the purpose.
Nathaniel: Yeah. And so, for someone who maybe doesn’t understand the distinction between, or hasn’t yet experienced a cider made of cider apples versus one that isn’t and is made with table fruit, what’s the difference? What would you notice when you drink it?
Warwick: So, the cider apple fruit often has more flavour, not necessarily as much primary apple flavour. So, it doesn’t immediately go, “Oh, this is apples,” it goes, “Oh, this is cider,” and that’s different. Again, I’ll go back to the grape analogy because people are more familiar with it. It’s like you don’t expect your wine to taste of eating a grape, you expect it to taste of the transformed grape into wine. And so, cider apples tend to taste like that. They have quite a lot of flavour but it’s not necessarily a flavour you’re familiar with. And then they often have tannin, which gives structure and mouth weight, mouth feel and quite often colour as well.
People look at some of our ciders and they go, “Oh, great colour!” because some of them can be quite a brown colour, which if you’re a wine person you might find a bit off-putting, but it’s actually quite an attractive colour. You don’t find brown beer off-putting generally. Yeah, those are the things you generally see first.
Nathaniel: Right. But if you were going to eat the apples, a cider apple probably wouldn’t go down very well?
Warwick: No. Most of them have been bred for making cider. Most of them taste pretty not nice. They can be texturally quite dry and cardboardy, which means they’re no good for eating, but they’re quite good for getting the juice out of. It’s just the way it works. People are more familiar with quinces in Australia. Not very many people try and eat a quince like an apple but a lot of cider apples are a bit like a quince, in that they’re quite tough, quite dry and not very appealing raw.
And they’re often a bit smaller, they’re often a little bit gnarly they’re not blemish-free. And often they taste quite good initially, so you grab one off the tree, you bite into it, you suck the juice out, you go “That’s quite nice” then you spit it out because it’s drying out your mouth and it’s not very nice. But that’s the tannin.
Nathaniel: Yeah. If you saw one in the fruit shop, you probably wouldn’t pick it up.
Warwick: If it was in an organic fruit shop, you’d probably pick it up because it looks pretty, and then you get it home and wonder what on earth you’re supposed to do with it.
Nathaniel: We were talking earlier about cider with food and food matching and you’ve likened cider to wine a few times. That translates into matching with food as well, so can you talk a little bit about that? Like, for someone who maybe is new to cider or learning about cider, and not necessarily thinking of it as a drink that you’d drink with food, are there any kind of rules of thumb or basic principles that you might look for when looking to match up a cider with your dinner?
Warwick: So, the basic principle is to try it. And I kind of say the same for wine and I say the same for beer as well, but the wine industry has kind of hijacked us, and everybody thinks that wine and food is a match thing; you should be careful about matching. But in the places where people drink cider a lot or regularly, or traditional ciders regularly, they’ll eat it with everything. I have been on farms in France where there’s just a glass of cider with everything, and at the end of the meal there might be a glass of Calvados—which is distilled cider—but they’re not fussed about how well it goes. It goes better with some things than others, but it goes quite well with a lot of things and the important thing is to try and to experiment.
Ten years ago, not many people thought about beer and food matching, but it’s becoming quite a bigger thing at the moment, and cider is, once again, the poor cousin – it’s the Cinderella story. But cider comes from the Southwest of England. I say to people: cider comes from Somerset, cheddar cheese comes from Somerset: try them together they’re lovely. Brie and Camembert come from Normandy, cider comes from Normandy; try them together they’re lovely. In Northern Spain, where cider comes from, they eat a lot of seafood and oily fish and cider is a lovely combination. And it’s kind of a bit like wine; lighter ciders- lighter food, more robust ciders- bigger, richer food.
And there’s a really good way at looking at food and wine matching that I came across in a beer place in Melbourne actually and I think it goes, “Look for cut, contrast or complement.” So, cut is something acidic or astringent, which cleanses the palate after the food. Contrast is this kind of sweet and sour thing. So, if you’re having a sweet thing then a sour thing sometimes refreshes or changes, or vice versa. So, if you’re having something sour to eat, then something soft and sweet to drink is good. Complement is if you’ve got something rich and buttery, then sometimes a rich and buttery drink goes well with it.
It’s quite a good way of considering it, but it’s also a broad spectrum. So, they are three quite different views of a way of matching but it’s a good way to think about it because there’s lots of different foods and even a food has many variants. And I could say, “Apples” and people will go, “Oh, that tastes of apples,” and my almost always inclination is to go, “What sort of apple?” But if you’re trying to match something with a food, some people make the same food salty, some people make it sweeter. So, there’s a huge amount of experimenting with it, but the thing is not to be intimidated by it and just to get out there and try it. And if it doesn’t work, well open a different bottle. That’s my philosophy on that one.
Nathaniel: Yeah, and it’s a great way of thinking about it. There’s no hard and fast rules, just try something and see what you think.
Nathaniel: It’s definitely something I’m starting to see a bit more in Melbourne. You do start to see some interesting ciders on menus paired with food. We were in a restaurant last week, actually, in Melbourne, which I’m going to mention because it was an amazing experience, it was a restaurant called Hell of the North up in Collingwood. And they had – so it’s kind of a set menu and I think there was five or six courses. In one of the earlier courses there was a Pommeau on that, which is a fortified cider drink, and yeah, absolutely fantastic. Delicious. And it worked so well with the food. Just like an aperitif, just to start it off. It was great.
Warwick: Sounds excellent. And we’ve had several quite top-end restaurants who do similar things with our ciders in a matched flight. You see, part of the problem with cider in a restaurant scenario is that people are less familiar with it but where you’ve got a sommelier who’s matching the wine and the food and you’re paying a set price and you’re going to get the drink that he’s already chosen we’ve had a few sommeliers who have branched out and tried that and said, “Great feedback. People have gone, “I would never have thought of that, but it goes really well.””
Nathaniel: Yeah. So, from within your range, so for people who haven’t tried your ciders or maybe tried one or two, you’ve got quite an extensive range, and it covers all the bases from session-type ciders that you might knock a few back on a summer’s afternoon, to quite, I want to say upmarket products, that are very much top-end kind of – you could give them away as a gift or serve them at a posh dinner party. Yeah, there’s quite a broad range of stuff in there. What are some of the key pairings that you might suggest to people if you were recommending a good way for people to drink your ciders? What might you say would pair well with something?
Warwick: So, the Norman’s exceptional with roast pork. The Norman is sort of English-style, quite dry cider apple content cider. So, it’s got some astringency, it’s got a reasonable acid balance. It’s quite dry. It’s not for the first-time cider drinker usually, but for people who drink wine, they usually get it. And roast pork just goes sublimely well with it. There’s a cider we make called the Royale, which is, again, it’s got some cider apples in, so it’s got some astringency and some acidity, but it’s also got some sweetness because it’s made in sort of a French style. That’s quite good with a dessert. With an apple pie, for example. It’s a very nice complement, from what I was talking about before. The Trad – I’ve enjoyed the Trad with some roast chicken; just a classic chicken roast. But I suspect it would be good with a Kentucky too, to be honest. Our regular apple I quite often have as a pre-dinner cider. That’s just a nice way to start an evening.
Nathaniel: So, something for everyone, really. And for whatever you’re eating, there’s a cider that will match it.
Warwick: Yeah, and the important thing is to try it. And if it really, really doesn’t float your boat or whatever, stick a cork in it or put a lid on it and try it again with whatever you’re having tomorrow. But you’d often find that they’re all gone by the time you’re not sure, which probably means that it’s working.
Nathaniel: Now, again if we could talk a little bit about perry making as well because you’ve also got a reputation for making really, really good perry. And I’ve got to say, I’ve never been a big perry drinker, or I’ve never found one I particularly liked—I’ve always been very keen on cider—but then when we tried your perry, which was actually the first one of your products that we found in Australia, it converted me. It was amazing. It was something completely different to what I’ve tasted before, and after doing a bit of research after that, I discovered you were actually quite well known for that. It would be good if you could talk a little bit about that. What’s the differences there? Is it exactly the same making a perry as a cider, is it just different fruit or is there anything else to it?
Warwick: Yeah. I mean, essentially it’s similar. Pears are a little bit fussier. Pears go rotten very quickly. Pick a pear and it’s gone squidgy a couple of days later. A lot of pears are quite bland. We go to quite a lot of effort to find a certain variety of pear called Lemon Bergamot, which has a beautiful aromatic, jasmine, wildflower kind of aroma, and when I’ve got them sitting around, everybody that comes past, has a taste and goes, “Oh, those are fantastic, those pears.” But you don’t see them enough in the shops anymore because the supermarkets don’t like them because they don’t keep very well, which is a bit of a sad tale because they’re a great pear when they’re in season. They also make great perry.
So, there’s not very many traditional perry pears in Australia, full stop. There’s only a few varieties that have ever been imported. And perry pear trees take a very long time to grow, and they also can quite often make a perry that isn’t all that friendly to drink. They can be quite harsh and/or acidic, so they need to be treated with care anyway, so at the end of the day, there’s not much perry pear being used to make ciders, so we’re back to using the eating pears. And then, the range of eating pears that are available gets smaller and smaller nearly year by year, as the pear market seems to get simpler and contract. I do place quite a lot of importance on this Lemon Bergamot pear.
We also use a pear called the pound pear, which is a pretty crazy cooking pear from the olden days. And that came about – someone I was working with said, “Oh, you want to make some pear cider? I’ve got a pear tree at home, awful pears. You can’t do anything with them. Would they be of any use?” And I said, “Well, bring a few in and I’ll have a look.” And she brought these pears in, and they’re tough, they’re not nice. Again, they’re a bit like a quince. But it turns out if you cook them, they’re sensational eating pears, and that’s what they were. So, a hundred years ago, this was a tree variety of pear that we’ve grown because it kept well, unlike most pears, and you could cook it and it was lovely. But it wasn’t a pear that you went out and ate. And they’re about – some of them weigh a kilo, it’s a one kilo pear.
Nathaniel: Wow, they must be huge.
Warwick: Yeah, they’re enormous. They’re bigger than the bottles. And so, we use some of those as well, because of this friend having shown us this tree. We gave a couple of these pears to a pear expert and said, “What’s that?” And he told us, and we put the word out and we found a few more and we use some of those. They make good perry as well.
Nathaniel: Must be a bit dangerous trying to shake the pears down.
Warwick: Yeah, you don’t want to stand under that tree.
Nathaniel: Right. So, I imagine that’s something not a lot of people know, that there’s actually perry pears.
Warwick: Yeah, that’s right. There used to be lots of them, again, in Europe. I don’t know if there’s much in France; I’ve never actually seen perry pears in France, but there must’ve been some. But they’re slightly more Hereford and Gloucester in England. So, more west than southwest, and for many, many, many years in the UK, the older English people will remember a drinking called Babycham.
Nathaniel: Yeah. Legendary to some.
Warwick: Yeah, that’s right, which was made out of perry pears, and was a massive, massive drink in 70s and 80s England, and I suspect it’s no more now. And I can remember those orchards being pulled out in England. Probably late 80s, they were decimating the orchards. And part of the problem with perry pears is that they take a long time to grow. They always say you grow them for your children or your grandchildren.
Nathaniel: Oh, so a really long time to grow.
Warwick: Yeah, it’s just not a commercial prospect these days.
Nathaniel: Right. What a shame.
Warwick: Yeah. I think they call it progress don’t they?
Nathaniel: Some do, some do. What’s your thoughts on some of the kind of weird and wacky ciders which are coming out now that are still craft ciders, they’re not mass produced – I’m not talking here about some of the weird kind of fruit flavours that you get, but things like ciders that have ginger in them, and there are some people putting hops now in cider, and they seem to be really, really popular. We’ve even heard of someone making pineapple cider, which we haven’t managed to get hold of yet, but I’ve heard good things about it. What’s your view on that sort of thing?
Warwick: I’m a bit anti the pineapple cider because it’s not made from apples, and cider, fundamentally, should be made from apples. So, if someone wants to make apple cider and put some pineapple in, I can kind of get that, but if they want to make something by squashing pineapples, they shouldn’t call it cider. I draw the line at that; I don’t believe it’s cider. I don’t believe it should be allowed to be called cider. If they want to prove me wrong, that’s nice, but at the moment, my view on that would be if you make it out of pineapples, it’s not called cider.
So, the other ones, the ones where they make some cider and they add some stuff, like the hops or the ginger, or to an extent some of the fruit ones where people use real fruit, I think that’s probably really cool. People have been doing that to a limited extent for yonks. There’s some weird stuff that they add in Europe to improve ciders or to make the local cider. So, the Germans have been adding quince juice for some time. There’s people in Eastern Europe who add a thing called a sorb apple, which is, I think, some kind of a rowan berry. I’m pretty sure that people have been chucking a few raspberries in cider for a very long time.
Yeah, if it’s well done, that’s nice. If it’s not well done then it’s a novelty and it might not be nice. If it’s well done, who am I to judge? I think if you make a good drink that people like, good on you.
Nathaniel: So, we’re drawing towards the end of this conversation. So, for people who maybe want to find out more about making cider and kind of getting into it, have you got any thoughts, recommendations on where people could look and what they should be looking for?
Warwick: There’s a fairly definitive website – I can’t remember the name off the top of my head, but if you want to find out about cider making, the way it’s interpreted in England at any rate, and the fundamentals are all very, very similar, just google Andrew Lea—L-E-A—cider. And he’s basically got a book which his webpage is, and it’s got the answer to every question you’ve got. There’s also a couple of quite good blog discussion things, which Andrew Lea’s thing has links to.
Nathaniel: And he was a scientist, right?
Warwick: Absolutely, yes. So, he, in a previous life sort of 30-odd years ago, 20 years ago perhaps—at some point earlier in his career anyway—he worked for an organisation called Long Ashton Research Station, which was the government-funded research station in England that researched cider. Cider was an important industry and they put funds into it starting in the early 1900s, I think it was, until the government cut funding for all that kind of stuff—I think it was probably in the early 80s—at which point Andrew went off and became a food researcher in his own right, but in his spare time he’s kept up a huge interest in cider. And he’s published this amazing book, which is also available as web pages on the web, but you can order his book—I think it’s in print again at the moment—that is the definitive guide to all things you want to know about cider.
There’s half a dozen reasonable books out there as well. Like, if you’re really interested in cider, read all the books, because they do all tell a slightly different story. But at the end of the day, if you want to make cider, get some nice apples, squash them, get the juice out, ferment the juice. That’s the basics and really, that’s what it is. And it’s the execution of that that makes the difference. Clean is good, balance is good. Like, if you don’t have any acidity in your apples, you finish out with very flat cider. If you’ve got too much acidity, like you use crabapples, you finish up with very tart, unpleasant cider. But at the end of the day, you’re still squashing apples and fermenting the juice. And then probably the third thing that people start getting wrong fairly quickly is keep air out of it. And as soon as it’s finished fermenting, you need to treat it more like a beer than a wine, in that it’s very fragile and it will start to deteriorate more quickly than homemade wine. That’s the two minute guide to making homebrew.
Nathaniel: That’s great. That’s a good start. So, keep it clean and Andrew Lea is the man.
Warwick: Yeah. Keep it clean and keep the air out.
Nathaniel: Yeah, great, okay. And last question then. So, what about any events that you might recommend? So, if people actually want to go somewhere and try some really good cider in Australia, where would you recommend that they go and have a look?
Warwick: Oh, there’s more and more of them. I think there’s probably one in each state now, just about. There will be a beer and cider fest of some description. Cider Australia, the national organisation, runs an annual cider festival which tends to be Melbourne or Sydney. Fromage a trois, which is in Melbourne coming up in March, is a good event. Last year there was a beer and barbecue event in Adelaide, which had a fairly good cider contingent. The beer festivals tend to have cider tacked on, and I think every state would have at least half a dozen ciders at a big beer festival. So, that’s probably where I’d head.
Nathaniel: All right, great. Well, thank you very much for your time and all your thoughts and musings. That’s been really interesting. Thanks very much.
Warwick: No worries.