Hugh McKellar, the man behind Real Cider Reviews, has been reviewing ciders for the last two years and so knows a bit about what’s happening in the cider market in Australia! A self confessed cider geek with a passion for learning as much as possible about cider and sharing that knowledge with others, he built his website as a practice project and two years later he’s reviewed over one hundred different ciders from across the world.
Realciderreviews.com is a goldmine of useful information and independent, objective reviews on the ciders that are available on the market in Australia. It is the go-to place if you want to learn more about how different cider styles compare or to read about a cider before you buy.
We cover lots of things in this interview, including:
And much more.
Links from the interview:
Hugh’s site: Real Cider Reviews
Pete Brown and Bill Bradshaw: World’s Best Ciders- Taste, Tradition and Terroir.
Full transcription follows:
Nathaniel: Hi, Hugh. Thanks for joining us.
Hugh: Hi, how are you doing?
Nathaniel: Now, there’s going to be some people in the audience who are aware of you and what you’re doing, there’s going to be some who aren’t, so I thought as a start it’d be good if you could just give us a bit of an introduction as to your background.
Hugh: Okay. So, I am the creator and writer and general dogsbody of Realciderreviews.com, an Australian website dedicated to reviewing mainly Australian craft cider but educating people about cider from all around the world.
Nathaniel: And how long’s that been going?
Hugh: It’s been going just over two years now.
Nathaniel: And so, you’re an Aussie guy, and craft cider is still quite an emerging market here. How did you get into craft cider? What got you going in the industry?Check the full transcript of this interview
Hugh: So, about 10 years ago I was living and working in the UK and I’ve never been a big beer fan. So, when all boys were going down to the pub I couldn’t really afford to drink rum and coke so I found that I quite like ciders. Started off with pretty cheap and nasty stuff and I ventured deeper into the more obscure drinks since then.
Nathaniel: And that was based over in the UK? So, how did you bring that back here? What prompted you to start investigating the ciders back in Australia?
Hugh: So, when I got back from the UK, this was at the time when Magners had just launched their big “over ice” campaign. That was sort of just reaching out over here so it was a bit special treat to be able to track down and find a bottle of Magners back in Australia. But after that, it sort of grew and grew and you’d see one little craft brand popping up here like Hills out of Adelaide then probably Willie Smiths out of Tasmania just emerging here and there, and then all of a sudden it was everywhere. So, the company I worked for is a little software start up, asked me to build them a website. And I really didn’t know how to build a website so over a weekend I did a bit of research and thought, “Well, if I’m going to build a website, I need one to practice on,” so I built Real Cider Reviews.
Nathaniel: And so, really it was built as a bit of a practice session and a hobby?
Hugh: Yeah, basically. It was really a practice session that turned into a hobby that keeps me very busy these days.
Nathaniel: And so, what’s kept it going, if it started off as a bit of an experiment and a bit of a hobby? Two years later, now it’s got some momentum. You’ve got loads of reviews there from Aussie ciders and other ciders around the world. You’re also blogging about some of the events that are going on in the space. What’s driven that momentum for you?
Hugh: So, I just want to learn everything I can about cider. One day I’d like to plant my own trees and make my own cider. But yeah, it’s a great industry to be involved with. All the producers are really friendly guys. So, yeah. I’m just trying to absorb as much knowledge as I can and pass my knowledge for as many people who I can get to read my blog.
Nathaniel: And that’s quite a lot of people now.
Hugh: It’s growing. It’s growing slowly.
Nathaniel: You called your blog Real Cider Reviews, and that’s quite a hot topic in the industry at the moment, like, what is a real cider? And I wonder what, for you, what prompted that name and how do you define that? When you’re looking for real ciders, what are you looking for?
Hugh: So, it goes two ways. Real cider, as in proper, craft cider, which I’ll come back to, but the other interpretation is I want my reviews to be honest and educational. So, yes, there’s a little bit of wine wankery speak in there, but it’s just trying to be honest and communicate what I’m seeing in the bottle to the average consumer, so they know that this is something they should buy or something they should avoid. But in terms of what I define as a real cider, if you process your own apples, it’s probably the best definition I’ve heard. So, if you mill the apples, extract the juice yourself, and then make your own product. That was what I was running with for quite a while, but there’s so many little upstarts that are sourcing juice from around the country, it’d be unfair on them not to write about them because some of them make some pretty decent gear.
So, these days I try and avoid at all costs talking about ciders with concentrate. I’m yet to see a very good cider that’s made from concentrate. I honestly believe it can’t be done.
Nathaniel: And how do you know that? Because it’s not always clear when someone picks up a bottle of cider or a can of cider in the shop what’s in it. So, how do you know?
Hugh: It’s very difficult to tell if a cider’s based on concentrate or not. There’s got to be a lot of research. A lot of the times I’ll straight up ring the producer and ask them that question. A lot of the time they’re very honest and say, “Yes we do use it, and these are the reasons why we do use it.” If I’m dealing with bigger multinationals, they won’t answer my phone. So, yeah. Just lot of research. In some countries around the world they have to write that on the label, which is a good source of information. Unfortunately in Australia, you don’t have to write that on the label at the moment. So, I’d really like to see that changing in the future so people could know exactly what they’re drinking.
Nathaniel: Yeah. I mean, it’s pretty common in most other foods and drinks, but in the alcohol space it’s not quite got there yet.
Hugh: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, I don’t know of any legitimate reason why they shouldn’t put it on there. If every other food and beverage—like, for soft drinks, has to write it on there. I don’t see why alcohol products should be any different.
Nathaniel: Yeah. And certainly from a consumer education perspective and giving people the right information to make an informed choice about what they drink, you would expect that to make sense.
Hugh: Yeah. Recently I wrote about a cider that had more sugar in it than a can of coke did, and that’s more sugar than raw apple juice has in it before it’s been fermented. So, if people could get access to that type of information, they probably would choose an alternative. The alternative, hopefully, is a home-grown bottle of Australian produced cider where they can support the local producer and support their local farmer.
Nathaniel: Yeah, absolutely. But for you, you’re not actually limiting your reviews to Aussie ciders, are you? You have some international ciders on there as well?
Hugh: I have got a handful of English ciders, a couple of French ones up there, and recently, a handful of American ciders as well. In the coming weeks keep your eyes out for a cider coming from Luxembourg, which would be a first for me. I think it’ll be a first for many people, actually. Yeah.
Nathaniel: Yeah, I’ve never heard of cider from Luxembourg, I must admit.
Hugh: Yeah, I think there’s one craft producer there and they’ve been around for six months. Yeah, looking forward to trying that.
Nathaniel: Yeah, sounds interesting, and I suppose that is yet another indicator of the trends that are going on in the craft cider world, where it’s having a bit of a global renaissance.
Hugh: Yeah. The thing that I’ve found quite interesting about a lot of these little start-ups is a lot of them are in non-traditional apple growing regions, as we define them today. But they’re from apple growing regions that were quite productive 20, 30, 50 years ago. And so, they’re discovering all these old apple varieties and rescuing old orchards and rescuing species that we thought were lost forever or even never identified in the first place. That’s a whole world of flavours that no one’s experimented with in the cider game before. So, there’s going to be some interesting results there.
Nathaniel: Yeah, and that’s one of the really interesting things about apples, there’s such a huge variety in what’s out there. And most people can probably name a few, a handful of different names that they might see in the shop, but actually there are literally thousands of different types of apples and they all make for a different cider. And actually, most ciders are blended as well, so the possibility for different styles and flavours is just massive.
Hugh: Yeah. I’ve recently read about a research station in, I believe, Kent in the UK. They’ve got over two thousand different apple varieties growing there. If you’re looking for a diversity of flavour, there’s no need to be going and adding artificial lime and blueberry and whatever you like in there. There’s got to be a world of flavours in that type of place that are just untouched.
Nathaniel: Yeah, and I suppose that’s one of the things which, when we’ve been looking at your blog, for example, and reading some of your reviews, that’s one of the things which really starts to come to life is that a lot of people think cider is cider, and that it’s quite a narrow kind of perspective of what’s possible in the world of cider. But actually, when you start getting into the craft space, there’s a huge amount of variation and all sorts of styles.
Hugh: If you just think about the combinations, you’ve got however many thousands of apples. Granted, there’s probably a dozen that are growing in Australia. You’ve got all the variation in yeasts, which people are just starting to experiment with. Then, there’s probably four or five recognized different production techniques. You times all those combinations together and you’ve got a practical limitless flavour profile that you could hunt for.
Nathaniel: Yeah, it’s massive. And I think actually, from people I’ve talked to in the industry as well, there is actually quite a wide variety of apples now in Australia, and have been for a while, but only in limited supply. But for example, talking to the guys up in Borrodell, Borry Gartrell up there in Orange, they’ve got 170 different varieties of apple, most of which are cider apples. So, they are there, but it’s still not quite widely available, yeah.
Hugh: Yeah, I think as time goes and this market grows, those trees would be planted more and more so there’s legitimate commercial quantities of those trees out there.
Nathaniel: Yeah, and I think that’s starting to happen but how long does a tree take to grow? You’re looking at five years at least before you can get a decent amount of fruit off it. So, it’s coming, but it’s an evolution.
Hugh: Which is a good thing, because there’s three schools of cider makers in this country, I think. There’s winemakers who make cider, there’s beer brewers who make cider and then there’s cider makers who make cider. And you give them a very limited palate which they have at the moment with Granny Smiths, Pink Lady, Royal Gala, that type of thing. They’re forced to experiment with those and come up with different flavours. By the time these other trees come online, you’re going to have a lot more knowledge and a lot more skills to get the most out of those new flavours.
Nathaniel: Yeah. It’s quite an exciting thought really of what’s the potential to come in the Aussie cider market. All right, so just going back to the naming of your blog, Real Cider Reviews. So, one part of it is about real cider, and we talked about that, but the other part of it is about the real reviews as well. And I think that’s something that’s quite interesting, especially to us, being a cider retailer, is that you are one of the only people that’s actually doing objective reviews out there in the market on cider.
Hugh: So, when I started the blog, I read a lot of wine magazines and they seemed to be a big fan of the hundred point system. And I’ve always wondered, give somebody the same wine in a blind tasting test today then again in a month’s time, would they give the same marks and what else is affecting that? As my palate changes, is a high score I gave two years ago, is that going to be as good as a high score I give today? So, for that reason I very intentionally shied away from a points-based recommendation. So, I went down this other path of, okay, let’s talk about how the cider is made, let’s do a bit of history on the company, that type of thing, then some tasting notes.
So, I crack open the bottle, I pour it into my pint glass, stick my nose in it and give it a sniff, and then write down everything I can think of that’s coming out of that smell. Start drinking it, and then write down all my tasting notes. By this stage I’m starting to form an opinion on the cider, and because I don’t use a point system, I try and give a recommendation in the end. So, would I recommend you drink this with food, and what type of food would I drink it with or is this a cocktail party drink or should you just sip it slowly on a cold night at the pub in front of the rugby, that type of thing. So, I think that pretty much all ciders have a place, just like any beer or wine, there’s a time and a place to drink them so that’s why I try and recommend when this cider should be drunk or even sometimes don’t even bother and just leave it on the shelf.
Nathaniel: And so, when you crack open the bottle or the can and you pour it into the glass, what are you actually looking for? What are the things which you’re aware of and thinking about when you’re going through that process and you’re writing your review?
Hugh: Often, first thing you notice is the colour. I don’t often write about the colour that much because a lot of them tend to be fairly similar, but if they’re a bit out there, I’ll make note of it. How fizzy it is. For whatever reason, maybe it’s the Aussie hot climate, our ciders tend to be a lot more bubbly than, say, your French or your English styles. Then, I’m looking for, in terms of smell, I’m want something big and powerful, if it’s just a bit humdrum, that’s a bit dull, so give me something bright and powerful and interesting. Same again with the taste. If it’s just going to be high sweetness and high acidity, everyone’s doing that. Show me something different, whether that be some type of weird, different type of yeast you’re using to give it some, like, vinegar flavours or some really earthy flavours, that type of thing. Sometimes you can see ciders that have been aged for a little while, so they get a bit more caramelly and baked appleish. That can be interesting if it’s balanced out as well.
Nathaniel: And you mentioned acidity. That’s one thing which is one of the key differentiators, I suppose, in different types of cider and different types of apples. What is that, for someone who isn’t really sure of what that is when they’re tasting a drink? How do you know if something’s acidic or not?
Hugh: Okay, so along with acidity, there’s a couple main flavour profiles. You get your acidity, your sweetness, your bitterness and your tannic flavours. So, the acidity is, think lemon juice, think a Granny Smith apple you bite into and you get that big hit of acidity then. There’s salad dressings, that’s the type of acidity that you’ll most often see. In terms of sweetness, that’s what you’d expect – how much residual sugar is left in there. Sometimes that can be quite sweet, but if they’ve got a bit of acid that can balance it out. If they’re too sweet and don’t have enough acid in, you get some really sticky, like your tongue gets stuck to your mouth top feeling—
Nathaniel: Like a lot of the commercial ciders, for example.
Hugh: Yeah. Like imagine drinking a warm can of coke. That’s the type of feeling you get in your mouth. The other main flavour that we probably don’t see a lot of in Australia just yet because of the apple varieties I was mentioning that we don’t have is tannic, which is a bit of a hard thing to describe. You sometimes see it in big bold red wines, or the best way of describing it, and this is how I went about was basically make myself a cup of black tea, leave the tea bag in there for too long and then drink it. And you get this effect where it sucks all the moisture out of your cheeks and you want to make a face like a cat’s bum. And that’s basically what a tannic flavour is. If you get all of those things balanced, you’re going to have a pretty decent cider.
Nathaniel: Yeah, and like you said, most people would be aware of tannins from a wine perspective and what that does to wine. The same thing’s true for cider. Cider is to apples what wine is to grapes. It’s the same process and the same kind of effects coming through.
Hugh: That’s why so many Australian ciders are made by Australian winemakers. The basic techniques are almost identical.
Nathaniel: But not something that we see, or the tannic flavour profile is not something that we see that that commonly in Australia because of the fruit that we’re using.
Hugh: Yeah. Well, essentially, most Aussie ciders are made from eating apples that weren’t fit to get on the shelves of the supermarket, so instead of them going to waste, they’ve been repurposed and juiced and made into cider, which is good because the farmer still gets his, he never gets as much if he’s going to the supermarkets, but at least he’s making something off those apples.
Nathaniel: Yeah. And I mean, it’s an interesting dynamic because that’s actually one of the driving factors of the kind of resurgence in cider in Australia, isn’t it, that actually farmers seeking to use up their excess stock have gone into cider, and that’s where some of the pretty well-established craft cider brands came from, like Hills for example.
Hugh: Yeah. So, it’s going to be interesting to see down the line is it going to be a viable business model to exclusively grow cider apples, or do you need your best apples to go to the supermarkets and then your seconds to go to juicing? So, it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out in the next five years or so.
Nathaniel: And even some of the people that are using cider apples in their cider, they wouldn’t be necessarily exclusively be using cider apples. They would probably have some dessert fruit in there as well. And that’s a fairly common thing whether you’re here or in the old world as well.
Hugh: Yeah. And that’s not a bad thing either. Eating apples have a lot to bring to a cider. A lot of your English ones may not have the acidity levels that your crunchy eating apples have.
Nathaniel: Okay, so when you’re doing a review then, you’re looking for that balance of acid and sweetness and tannins as well?
Hugh: Yeah, and I suppose bitterness to a certain extent, but that’s fairly similar to the tannic profile.
Hugh: Then you’ve got the feel of it in your mouth. Some of them, Custard and Co has a great expression. They call it the fat of the cider. So, some of them have a really light texture. One of their ciders, it feels fatty almost in your mouth, it’s thick and custardy! So where does it sit on that spectrum and how does the carbonation level, how do the bubbles in it affect that? Yeah, you can get some quite heavy ciders that are broken up because of the bubbles, other lighter ones that are quite still, have like a white wine, like a Chardonnay feel about them.
Nathaniel: Yeah, there’s kind of two things there. So, from the mouth feel perspective, part of that is tannin-based, but also cider is filtered or unfiltered as well, and that can have a massive difference in terms of what the flavour profile is and what the mouth feel is.
Hugh: Yeah, yeah. So, you can see some cloudy ciders out there. Cloudiness is not a bad thing. Those particles, if you can physically see that it’s settled, don’t be afraid to mix those back through, roll the bottle around a bit before you open it up, because that’s flavour – you can choose to go without if you want, but you’re probably going to miss out on a little bit there. Don’t be afraid of cloudy ciders. It is a more traditional way of serving cider. It’s only more recently that filtering techniques have come in, particularly in English ciders. The French have had other ways of making a crystal clear cider, but they’re a lot more labour-intensive. I don’t think anybody’s doing that in Australia on a regular basis. They’re the one-off specialty types where they do the keeving process. It’s not particularly common.
Nathaniel: Yeah. It’s an interesting thing, actually. It’s one of the things I’ve noticed. I’ve been back in the UK recently and it was springtime there, so coming into cider season and lots of adverts for cider. That in itself was interesting, actually, adverts for cider everywhere! So, the trend is still going over there, but interestingly, some of the big commercial brands are starting to bring out cloudy variants and positioning that as more authentic or something like that. So, starting actually to go back into the mainstream as well.
Hugh: It’s interesting. I like the term craft washing for that. You know they’re not made by hand. They’re probably still making the same concentrate that their regular editions are made from, but they seem to wrap it in brown paper and call it a craft product, which makes it difficult for your average small-scale producer to compete. But on the other side of that, if that brings somebody new into the market, like me 10 years ago, who’d never tasted a cider before, they try something like that, sparks their interest, that’s fine for them to drink to get them into the game and then slowly find themselves into something slightly more obscure and expand their horizons that way. That’s probably a good thing.
Nathaniel: And then another thing you touched on was carbonation. It’s probably worth just talking around that just a little bit. So, again, it’s not a one-size-fits-all style in terms of carbonation. Obviously many of the commercial ciders are quite fizzy and quite highly carbonated. But from when you’re reviewing, what kind of different variations do you see on that front?
Hugh: Most ciders are force-carbonated. So, it’s basically a still cider until it gets to the stage of bottling or kegging, and when they bottle it, they inject the CO2 into it. But then there’s this style called method traditionelle or bottle conditioning. Two different styles of the same basic technique. And these are my favourite styles where there’s a little bit of live yeast still in the bottle when they put the cap on it, and that yeast is still active in there and it’s chewing up the last of the sugars. And as it chews up those sugars, it’s turning the sugars into alcohol, but the by-product is CO2. So, that gives you some bubble. As soon as you open that lid, the CO2 comes out of the liquid into bubbles and starts frothing away.
If you ever get the chance, try a bottle-conditioned cider against a regular carbonated cider. There’s a slightly different mouth feel. The bottle-conditioned ones are a little bit like champagne. Sometimes there are smaller bubbles that are really spiky or there are really big, generous bubbles, that’s really foamy. It’s almost like eating chocolate mousse, that type of mouth feel. Whereas a regular carbonated one, it’s going to have the same bubble profile as your average lager at the local pub or a soft drink. And of course you’ve got still ciders where they just let all of that CO2 escape as it ferments.
Nathaniel: Yeah, and that, again, is something that’s not that common in the Australian market.
Hugh: No it’s not. I’ve got one or two coming out the next month or so that are focusing on still ciders out of Orange, so I’m looking forward to trying those. That, again, is not something that I’ve had much exposure to just because there’s just not that many of them out here. So, yeah. Hopefully I can learn a bit more about still ciders too.
Nathaniel: Yeah, and it’s interesting one, from my perspective, obviously, coming from UK, it’s much more common to find still cider over there just like it is to find flat beer as well. Warm, flat beer, which obviously Aussies have a good laugh at. But the carbonation process is actually a bit more modern. It’s a natural process, like you say, but actually being able to capture that in a bottle, that’s actually more recent in the evolution of the drinks than when they first started making it. Flat cider’s been around since the start of cider.
Hugh: Interestingly, they reckon that it was English cider makers who invented the thick glass walled bottle that let them do bottle conditioning. Then the French caught hold of it and that’s where champagne comes from. So, apparently English invented that one first.
Nathaniel: Yeah, I’ve also heard that recently. I’m not sure what the French would make of that. But yeah, at that point that was a new technology to make glass that could actually withstand that, because you see what happens when you pop a cork on a bottle of champagne or a bottle conditioned cider. I mean, there’s a lot of pressure in there, and that was actually a technological feat at that point to be able to make those bottles to withstand that.
Hugh: Yeah. It was only the English who had the access to coal to make the glass hot enough to make it strong enough I think was how it worked.
Nathaniel: Yeah. Cool. So, there’s a few different things then that you’re looking at and I think already people would be hopefully getting a bit of a sense of some of the sheer amount of variation there is out there in the cider world.
Hugh: Yeah. That’s not even getting started on some of the weird fringe ciders out there, like Cysers where they mix it with honey, and ice ciders and dessert ciders. They’re like sticky dessert wines that are made from apples, not grapes.
Nathaniel: Yeah. And there’s a few people in Australia starting to dabble in that kind of thing, but again, plenty of room for that to grow.
Nathaniel: So, I mean, you’ve obviously been into cider now for a while and you’ve been actively reviewing and publishing reviews about cider in Australia for the last couple of years now. What are some of the trends that you see in the market?
Hugh: Volume! I think when I started this I thought, “Well, this will go for six months and then I’ll have covered everybody.” But it seems like every other month there’s a new producer out in the market. Just about every fortnight there’s a new product being released, especially coming into summer. There’ll be a heap coming on into the market. But in terms of styles and flavours, I think the trend is definitely away from super-sweet ciders. I think the industry got a little bit of a shock after the first generation, which everyone expected ciders to be sweet because of apple juice and apple juice is sweet. People had it for a little while and thought, “Well, yeah, okay. Now I’m going back to beer.” And I think now there’s a few dry ciders coming out. A few of those people are coming back to drinking cider. And I’m personally very happy about that because I really like dry ciders.
Nathaniel: And are there any that really stand out for you in that space in the market? They’re pretty few and far between actually but are there any that you really enjoy from a dry perspective?
Hugh: In terms of dry ciders?
Nathaniel: Yeah, in terms of dry, yeah.
Hugh: Yeah, so Willie Smiths Bone Dry is definitely a go-to dry cider. I often, if I’m having people around I’ll grab some of that because it’s a really good one to introduce people into dry ciders. I quite like Two Meter Tall from Tasmania. They do a farmhouse dry cider. I believe at one point in time they were barking about the same – I think it was these guys who said, “Yeah, it’s a dry cider. If you want it sweeter you can add your own sugar.” But it doesn’t need it, it’s pretty good the way it is. And a brewery out of Melbourne, who make the Golden Axe cider, they have a variant called Big Hardy Woody cider. It’s pretty dry. I think they use a lacto bacillus I think, I’m gonna get strung up here if I’ve got the strain of yeast wrong, but basically it sours the cider as it ferments so it’s almost like a salad dressing vinaigrette mixed with the cider. It’s going to appeal to beer drinkers who like Lambics and maybe even some of those sour styles of Beer.
Nathaniel: Oh, that’s interesting. I haven’t heard of that one. We’ll have to suss it out. It’s a good comparison actually and that was one of the things that I just wanted to touch on briefly was, when we look at what’s going on with craft beer in Australia, I mean, again that’s booming. It’s one of the best-performing sectors within the liquor market in the last couple years, and it’s really experimental. Like, there’s some really weird stuff going on in that. And that seems to be okay, that seems to be encouraged. Whereas cider seems to be a little bit behind that. The experimental side is starting to emerge in cider. It’s massive in the US. I don’t know if you follow some of the US ciders? I mean, they’re doing all sorts of stuff over there, but were starting to see that coming through here as well.
Hugh: Well, I don’t mind that we’re not experimental either. Because I look at some of the stuff in the US – pineapple cider. You’ve made a fruit wine, you haven’t made a cider. I really believe that it should be almost all apple juice. Maybe pear juice. If you want to go and add strawberries and whatever else, you’ve made a lovely drink, but I don’t think it’s a true cider. So, I think I’ve only reviewed one or two drinks that have other fruits added to them. Yeah so, in terms of experimentation, I’d much rather see Aussie producers experimenting with techniques, with yeasts and rare apple varieties, because I think there’s a world of flavours out there we’re yet to discover. And if you’re going to add all those other things in there, it’s almost the lazy way out.
Nathaniel: So, do you see that happening here? When we look forward at some of the future trends which are going to come up in the Aussie cider market? Where do you think it’s going to go? Do you think it’s going to go down the route of the US with all these weird and wonderful combinations or do you think it’s going to be a different evolution in this part of the world?
Hugh: Well it certainly depends on our tax laws. If you start to add other things in there, you’re sort of venturing into the alcopop space, and if that happens you’re going to incur a massive tax burden on your product. So, I think that’s restricting some people from going down that route. I think other people, like the Batlow guys, they’re starting to do some experiments with French yeast strains, so that’s giving them a different flavour profile which is great. I tried that recently at the GABS Festival and I thought that was one of the best ciders on show. So, there’s plenty of room to experiment without going down chucking mangos in it or, whatever else you like in there. Now the thing about that as well is that until we get some decent labelling laws, how do you know that it’s a real mango that you’re throwing into it, not just some chemical essence of mango?
Nathaniel: Yes. And what’s your prediction on that? Do you think that will come at some point?
Hugh: It’s going to be interesting. Cider Australia’s doing some really good work at the moment with some big chain retailers to try and get a cider section and a craft cider section in their stores and I’m wondering, if that gets adopted, how are the big boys going to react to that? And if they react badly to that and start trying to make spinoff brands that pretend to be craft, is that going to force them into actually putting a proper label onto their drinks?
Nathaniel: Yeah, I mean, the whole debate about what even is craft cider, that’s a whole another conversation entirely, isn’t it? There’s no actual definition for that at the moment.
Hugh: Well, there’s not really a good definition, really, for cider, full stop. I mean, in theory, you could make a 100 percent carrot juice drink and you could call it cider.
Nathaniel: Yes. You just couldn’t imagine that happening in the wine world could you? It’s staggering that it’s actually still in that state at the moment.
Hugh: There’s already products out there that are served in a 330 mil bottle that is made from grapes and they write on the label, “Inspired by cider.” Congratulation, boys, you’ve made a sparkling wine. It’s not a cider.
Nathaniel: Yeah, so, interesting times ahead for the industry. And so, what’s next for you? I mean, you’ve been going out for a couple years. Is your plan to continue reviewing all the ciders that come up, or what’s next for Real Cider Reviews?
Hugh: Certainly is. I’m just about to head overseas, so I’m planning on getting stuck into some British and hopefully some Spanish ciders, because I know absolutely nothing about Spanish ciders apart from they’re served in really little glasses from a great height. So, I hope I can learn more about that. Other than that, I am slowly developing a few more features for the Real Cider Reviews site. I have a map of all the Australian cider producers that I could find on the site and yes, I want to expand that out and introduce some more features to help users find if they want to try a specific cider that use a specific apple, that type of thing, they’ll be able to find ciders based on searches like that. So, yeah. A lot more to come, so stay tuned and subscribe.
Nathaniel: And have you got any thoughts on other resources that people can use who are looking to learn a bit about cider and get a better understanding? Obviously there’s your website and the material you’re putting together. Any other thoughts, any resources that you’ve used?
Hugh: Yeah. There’s a great book that everybody who’s even slightly interested in cider, just interested in the craft beverage world. Pete Brown, who’s – actually, hold on one second. Let me check this one.
Nathaniel: Yeah, it’s Pete Brown and Bill Bradshaw.
Hugh: Bill Bradshaw, yes, that’s it. They, together, the two of them, wrote a book World’s Best Ciders. So, they travel all around Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, looking at how the different styles have evolved over the years. They look at how the basic processes happen and how they taste ciders. That book for me is very influential in the way that I read and write about cider. Yeah, definitely get out there and have a read at that one. I believe Bill Bradshaw is going to be one of the judges at Cider Australia awards later in the year.
Nathaniel: Yeah, that’s cool. He is, and that is another indicator, if we needed another one, of the way the industry’s going – the fact that we’re got international cider gurus like Bill travelling the length of the world in order to come to the cider awards, which is great.
Hugh: I really hope to see in the next few years some Australian ciders making it out of Australia, to see how they stack up at places like the Bath and West Royal Agricultural Show. They’ve got probably Europe’s biggest cider competition there, and some of the North American cider expos as well, just to see are our styles going to be accepted in US. Probably pretty well in the US. Might be a bit touch and go in the UK, just because they probably don’t understand our style. But we did it 20 years ago with our wines, so, why can’t we do it with our ciders today?
Nathaniel: Yeah, absolutely. Cool. Okay, so if people want to follow your blog and find out a bit more about you, where should they go?
Hugh: Yeah, realciderreviews.com. I’m also on Facebook at Real Cider Reviews, and Twitter @realciderreview.
Nathaniel: All right. Well, thank you very much for that. I appreciate your time and your thoughts and your insights. It’s been a good conversation and we hope to see you soon.
Hugh: Thank you very much.