When he’s not down in the beautiful Huon Valley, organising mid-winter festivals and coming up with new products, Sam is fighting the good fight, working to protect Australian agriculture, in the form of apple growers and cider makers, and trying to level the playing field for craft producers, in Australia’s small rapidly growing cider industry. Yes, he’s a busy man!
As the Managing Director at Willie Smiths, one of Australia’s most popular craft cider brands, and the President of Cider Australia, the industry body that promotes the craft cider industry, Sam is one of the Australian cider world’s best known faces.
We cover a broad spectrum in this interview, including:
And much more.
Links from the interview:
Full transcription follows:
Nathaniel: Sam, welcome to the interview.
Sam: Hi, thanks for having me. Good to be here.
Nathaniel: Yeah, no worries, now we were talking a little bit before and we kind of realized that there’s actually probably too many things to talk about because you are actually a very busy man. You are running Willie Smiths, you are President of Cider Australia, you are also putting on festivals. You must have been busy?
Sam: Oh it’s been a busy time definitely. Not many cider producers would say they are that busy over the winter, but we decided to have a mid-winter festival down in the Huon Valley in Tasmania, which is to wake up the dormant apple trees and scare away the evil spirits. Something I picked up from my travels around South-Western UK. So that’s been keeping us really busy and we’re through the pack up of that now and I suppose it’s starting to … spring is coming upon us now actually. So I am starting to think about this coming summer. So, exciting times.
Nathaniel: Yeah. And all reviews from the festival have been really positive so far; it seemed to go down very well.Check the full transcript of this interview
Sam: Yeah, we had a … Yeah we blew our minds. We had 14,000 people there this year over three days. We were hoping to get 10, so yeah, it was great. And we are continuing to get more and more people down to Tasmania from the mainland which is great news. And getting Tasmania re-established as The Apple Isle or The Cider Isle, as we would like to call it.
Nathaniel: And so that festival was at the Apple Shed, which is the home of Willie Smiths, and that’s obviously the cider company that you are running. And it’s probably safe to say, I mean, it’s difficult to … I haven’t seen any numbers on it, but it’s probably safe to say that Willie Smiths is probably one of the most successful of the craft cider brands in Australia. Certainly in terms of where you can find it. It seems to be fairly well-distributed. What’s the story there, like how did that come about, how did you end up running a craft cider company?
Sam: Yeah, well I think it comes down to, I was working in corporate for quite a while. I was probably finding that I wasn’t necessarily the right fit for the corporate mould, as some people do tend to find over time. It’s not for everyone. And so I started thinking about what else I could do outside of that. I was actually working in a drinks company. And friend of mine came to me and said, well, let’s do a cider. And I am a very big fan of alcohol in general and the alcohol industry. And I thought well, you know what, I love craft beer too but there’s a million craft beers out there and they are doing a pretty good job, a lot of them. There’s a fair bit of room for improvement I thought in the cider category in Australia.
So that probably is what excited me to make, you know, give Australians better drinking experiences through production of a really high quality cider, of which there are more and more starting to get out there in Australia, which is exciting. And just, we want to obviously make a cider that is made using Australian apples and supports Australian agriculture. There’s some of the big brands that are importing concentrate, mostly from China, and just making, I suppose, what you consider cheap manufacturing, that’s producing a cheap product that is sweet and is probably perfect for the mainstream.
Nathaniel: And so why Willie Smiths? I mean their family business has been around for a few generations down in the Huon Valley. Are you friends with them or how did that kind of come about?
Sam: Yeah, well, this friend of mine who came and said let’s do a cider, he knew Smithie and he put us in touch. I’m from Tasmania, so that made a lot of sense to do something in my home state I guess. And yeah, I mean, Smithie and I and Glennie, got along really well. He’s a really great bloke. It’s an amazing family, the Smith family, and really passionate about making, growing the best apples they can and they grow probably one of the largest organic apples orchards in Australia. And I was really interested in doing a quality product, the best possible product we could do. And it just seemed to be a really natural mix I suppose.
I remember we went out to the Mona museum one day and we were wandering around having a look around there. It’s an amazing place, if anyone ever gets to Tasmania, which hopefully many of your listeners will, check out Mona museum for sure. Really, lots of interesting, new and different stuff and quite challenging stuff. And that would just seem like a really good setting to talk about what we might get up to in the future. And I suppose the rest as they say is history, albeit a very short one but yeah.
Nathaniel: So, roll forward four years, Willie Smiths is winning awards, you’ve got single varietal ciders coming out. It seems like it’s been a fairly rapid progression really from those early beginnings.
Sam: Yeah, well, I think both Smithie and I both are from the school of; if we are going to do something, we might as well fucking do it, excuse the language. But no point messing around. And we are both, neither of us are very good saying no. So we are pretty good just saying yes to everything, and that just kept us really bloody busy. But at the same time I suppose that’s how you grow a business as well.
Nathaniel: And did you find there were things which you brought over from your corporate experience into the craft world or was it completely kind of starting from scratch for you, in terms of the way you went about growing the business?
Sam: Yeah. It’s interesting. Look I think when I started, I think I used to ask myself, what would I have done in my previous role or what would by previous organization have done, and try and do exactly the opposite of that. And when you are trying to make the best possible product you can, you got to have a pretty clear vision and it’s got to be fairly single minded and you can’t compromise. And, you know, I just found I suppose in the corporate world that a lot of people needing to make decisions, a lot of stakeholders and you end up tending to compromise a lot.
So I suppose from that perspective I just thought: let’s do the opposite of what you do in the corporate world, but obviously you do get a lot of good learnings about the industry and I suppose how to be, you know; setting a clear vision and strategy and for what you want to achieve definitely. But yeah, it’s not, you might just make slightly different decisions fairly regularly I suppose, yeah.
Nathaniel: Yeah. And you mentioned a couple of times the quality of the product and that’s obviously coming through very strongly as something which is absolutely core to the Willie Smith’s approach. What else, for someone who may be or is making some cider and not yet commercialized it, not really selling it and is thinking about doing that. Have you got any kind of hints or tips about things which maybe they need to consider if they are serious about actually turning it into a business?
Sam: Well, I think you’ve got to really be clear about what you want to achieve and where you want to go with it I suppose. There’s a lot of amazing cider producers in Australia who are very happy to make cider themselves and wholesale it themselves and they are making some amazing cider. I think of Clive Crossley from Red Sails, just down the road from us, he’s been making cider for 40 years. I don’t think he’s got any aspiration … and he’s making amazing ciders using cider apples as well. Clive is very happy to produce the best ciders he can with his orchard and sell them to people who really appreciate them.
I guess when we started, we wanted to, we were a bit more, I don’t want to say aggressive, maybe the wrong word, but we wanted to probably change drinking culture in Australia, through taking some of these great ciders that are being made by maybe some smaller producers. And getting them into the hands and mouths of people Australia wide, so that we can actually make an impact on the category and also on, I suppose, agriculture in regional Australia. Because there’s a lot of apples in Australia and a lot of them get wasted each year. And there’s a lot of concentrate brought into Australia that probably doesn’t need to be and if less was brought in we would have a much more sustainable apple industry around Australia for sure.
Nathaniel: Yeah, and it seems like that tide is turning. I mean it’s still quite hard to find good craft ciders but it’s becoming more visible I suppose to people who are looking for it.
Sam: Yeah, I think that’s definitely the case. I mean, you know, I’ve been President of Cider Australia for about two and a half years now and Cider Australia has been around for four years. We kind of keep trying to step up each year. We’ve been fighting the good fight on labeling and making people aware of the differences between the ciders using imported concentrate, and how ciders are using Australian apples impact regional communities around Australia. And I think that’s really an important message to land with people, with politicians as well, so they can understand that. Because cider is a lot like wine.
The WET tax was basically set up to support regional agricultural communities and that’s, and we do the same, because the apples aren’t grown in Central Melbourne or Central Sydney obviously. They are grown in regions. And I firmly believe that the true soul of the nation exists in the, and heart of the nation, exists in the countryside, not necessarily in the inner cities, which are probably becoming reasonably homogenous around the world these days. So we are passionate about supporting that and so are many.
And I think Australians are too if they start to hear that story, they start to want to support that as well. So it’s just about, for us it’s been about hand telling, hand selling and at every festival and event, and all the other members of Cider Australia, telling people at events and educating people about what real cider is made from Australian apples is like vs cider that’s made from imported concentrate and it’s just just one drink at the time, I suppose is the way we’ve been taking it.
Nathaniel: Yeah, and I think that’s a really important distinction and it’s something which we find we are talking about all the time now is what is a real cider? Because there’s lots of products on the shelf that are called cider and they are not all the same. So what’s the view from Cider Australia on that, on what is a real cider or a craft cider?
Sam: Well, we are very clear that cider is made from the juice of fermented juice of apples, or pears if you are talking perry. And so it’s not to say, it’s not to say cider isn’t concentrate. Cider can be made from concentrate because that’s a very relevant part of the market. I think what we’ve been vocal about and advocating is really making sure people understand where the source of the fruit going into the cider or Perry comes from, and I think that’s … because we believe consumers have a choice to know, a right to know and can make their own informed choices if they do know. But currently, labeling is pretty poxy in Australia in cider. And you can’t actually make an informed choice, which I think in 10 years time when we look back at this, we will be shocked that that was actually the case. But yeah, it is what it is at this stage. We have defined Australian craft cider as a cider that is made from 100% Australian apples basically. So …
Nathaniel: Yeah, and the country of origin thing is an interesting one; for pretty much any product in the supermarket you are going to know where the ingredients come from, or at least it will tell you if it’s imported or not. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with cider. What do you think that is? What is the barrier there?
Sam:There’s some pretty strong lobbying in the alcohol industry going on with some pretty deep pockets I would suggest.
Nathaniel: And so given that, I mean, do you think that is something that’s going to change at some point?
Sam: Yeah, I think it can’t stay the same I absolutely think it will change. I think we are always after more truth and more honesty in labeling, in anything. It’s the way the world is going. People don’t want to be bullshitted to anymore I believe. And so it will change in the future, I am very confident of that. When it will change, I can’t tell you that.
Nathaniel: Yeah. But from a Cider Australia perspective, I mean is it fair to say that is the main kind of objective of that body is to be driving that agenda.
Sam: Well, yeah, we’ve driven that outside … That’s the one thing we’ve been focused. Well, the major kind of … Well, no we’ve got quite a few, sorry. I should just take a step back. That’s the one thing we’ve been focused on heavily for the past year, or for the last 18 months, because there’s been a big inquiry into labeling. We’ve made a number of submissions. Obviously, lobbying for, to maintain the WET tax for ciders, particularly ciders made from Australian apples, is another big key part of our agenda. And otherwise obviously the Australian cider awards which are obviously the main Cider Awards in Australia. Obviously, open to Australia and international ciders and running that every year is a really important part of our role, to make sure we are continuing to benchmark and improve the quality of ciders that we make in Australia. Because the better quality ciders we make, the more people are going to want to drink them and the more sustainable the category will become.
Nathaniel: Yeah, absolutely. And I am keen to talk about that in a bit more detail shortly. But just to come back a step on what you said, so, for someone who isn’t really aware of the WET tax and what the implications of that are, in layman’s terms, like why is that important to the craft cider industry or the cider industry?
Sam: Well, I think the difference between say brewing and cider-making which a lot of people don’t necessarily, we get called brewers quite regularly. We ferment fruit and so we are generally, 99% fruit ciders, to make them, 99% fruit juice or more. And so what you need to produce fruit are trees, obviously that’s not rocket science. But trees require planting and then they take three years before they are bearing fruit, and five years before they are getting to a mature stage and seven years before they are totally mature and bearing.
So in the same way that vines take time to be put in the ground, and mature, you know, that’s kind of working capital and money that you are putting down but you don’t see a return on for five years, seven years. And that’s why the WET tax and the WET rebate really tried to enable and counter for to say, well, we recognize that your industry is very, very capital intensive because of this need to graft trees or plant trees in the ground. And so you guys need to be compensated for that with the WET rebate I guess, and so that’s what that’s all about.
Nathaniel: Yeah, so, it’s about protecting farmers and giving them some flexibility in order to be able to play a longer game, which is needed if you are planting orchards.
Sam: Well, that’s it. I mean cider is agriculture, in the same way that winemaking is sexy but it’s still agriculture. Because until you grow the fruit you don’t have anything to make your product with. Obviously beer being 90% water, you can get hold of that fairly easily. And then hops are grown on a very annual basis on bines, from nothing to growing again. So it’s not like there’s a hugely capital intensive industry there in the hops I suppose you would say.
Nathaniel: And so making a play on that and having an impact on that, I mean that’s effectively talking to the treasury about the tax rules. I mean, it’s a quite big …
Sam: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Nathaniel: It’s quite big project to be undertaking.
Sam: Yeah, absolutely. We are obviously, we are representing the cider industry and we make the policy submissions, and whenever they are calling for tax submissions or white papers, which they’ve done quite a lot of white papers, and green papers and other papers in the last few years. And we’ve obviously made sure we’ve been making submissions clearly on all of them for all of those things, and representing the cider industry definitely.
We are fortunate to have a lady called Jane Anderson working with us on a part time basis. She’s got a really, really strong policy background. She basically runs Cider Australia and makes sure we put together really good papers and submissions to all of these governmental I guess questions. It’s not the sexy stuff, I will be honest with you. Having festivals and awards is a lot more sexy and people love that and can see that. But we think, and particularly as a young organization, we’re only five years old in Cider Australia, getting very, very clear on what Cider Australia’s policies and points of view are was really important to do in the early days. Hopefully we are going to see ourselves being more front footed in terms of marketing activity and consumer engagement moving forward.
Nathaniel: And I mean you’ve mentioned publicly and in the last few months that this year 2016 is going to be the year of craft cider. What does that mean to you?
Nathaniel: Yeah. What’s that about?
Sam: Well, to be honest, I think it’s about, we used to be … Cider Australia used to be, say we represented the whole cider industry. Now, I think it’s fair to say that we represent the craft and international parts of the industry.
Sam: And the, we are probably saying we are a lot more focused on our agenda, and have a much clearer agenda. Now we are focusing on that kind of, you know, quality end of the market with the craft and international ciders. Because there are so many great products out there, and it’s also a lot easier for us to write policy papers where we’re are focused on quality products, supporting farmers whether it be in New Zealand, UK or Australia. That just makes a lot more sense to us now actually. So we can proudly be out there and market ourselves that way.
Nathaniel: And so you mentioned marketing out to consumers as well, I mean, do you see that as the next stage really for Cider Australia? What’s that going to involve do you think?
Sam: Well, I think it’s just being clear about how we position ourselves with journalists and with obviously press releases. But, I suppose, the biggest thing we will be doing this year is our Australian cider festival which is going to basically have, which is actually open to everyone but it’s going to predominantly focus on craft ciders, with 25 Australian and international craft cider producers. It will be held on the 8th of September, October sorry in front of the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne just 5 minutes’ walk from Southbank.
Nathaniel: Yeah, so let’s talk about that in a bit more detail. And so that is it’s a festival, it’s a competition as well. It’s really showcasing the best of the best really in Australian ciders. But that’s a fairly recent thing, isn’t that? How long have you been doing that?
Sam: The awards?
Sam: I mean it’s been going a … Cider Australia was essentially formed to start running a festival … sorry not festival, an awards program.
Sam: That was being judged by cider makers, cider producers and people who are passionate about the industry. The first year was a … It was actually set up by James Kendall from Small Acres Cyder and David Pickering, who are both based out of Orange and very, very passionate cider makers. James obviously doing commercially and David is, I suppose, an incredible resource from cider apple perspective, and very passionate about the industry and making his own cider for home consumption of course. And so that’s where it started about five years ago out in Orange and the first awards were held out there out there, I think, it was out of James place. I wasn’t actually there, and judged out there and that was really the impetus for Cider Australia forming.
And each year we kind of since then had an international judge come out and help us. It’s been really, really useful getting the perspectives of judges from Canada, from the UK, from the US as well to get their points of view and understand how judging happens in their parts of the world. And it was actually Gary Awdey from the Great Lakes in the US who gave us a lot of great feedback and we’ve kind of taken the Great Lakes guidelines, and they’ve formed the basis for our kind of show and judging guidelines.
So the US being more of a new world style cider market in the same way Australia is. The UK is obviously very developed now with about 13 to 14% of the market, alcohol market being cider in the UK versus Australia’s 3%. So US is probably a bit more similar, bit more similar like that.
Nathaniel: Yeah. I mean, and that’s a great mark of creditability and respect for the market I suppose to be able to get international judges to come here to judge in Australia. And that’s fantastic.
Sam: Yeah, I mean the beauty of the cider industry is that it is so small, it’s not really like beer which is dominated by some massive, massive companies. I mean it’s regional producers at best generally and that just makes it I guess a bit more family, a bit more friendly. And people are willing to share I guess so, which is great, and very passionate about it too I suppose.
Nathaniel: Yeah, absolutely. And like you say, bringing in some expertise from a different environment and different judging criteria and things like that.
Sam: Yeah, we got Bill Bradshaw coming up this year from the UK who wrote, co-wrote World’s Best Cider with Pete Brown. So Bill was … I met him when I was over there. He’s a bit of a legend actually. He takes amazing photographs and very well-respected cider photographer and writer. So he will be judging this year and he’s not short of an opinion either. So it should be great to hear what Bill’s got to say.
Nathaniel: Yeah, it’s really exciting but Bill is from my neck of the woods as well where I am from in the UK.
Sam: Yeah, right okay.
Nathaniel: We’ve got an interview lined up with him as well actually coming up in a few weeks, so yeah, really excited about that. And that book has been mentioned by previous interviewees on here and is a fantastic resource for people that are interested in cider. And like you say, beautifully shot by Bill as well. So pretty much they’ve gone all around the world, tried as many ciders as possible and made a book about it. I mean, amazing resource.
Sam: Yeah, definitely. And I think what’s really exciting about that is just to show that cider isn’t cider. I mean everyone knows that there’s IPAs and pale ales and Pilsners and you know they all started in one country or another. And if you look at the cider industry there’s a bunch of different styles from around the world. That’s never really united in one country and one category yet at this stage. But I can see that happening in the future you know when you start … And that’s where our awards are going too. You will start to see some Ice Cider with some Pommeau in the awards and next door you’ve got some New World cider and then some traditional French style ciders sitting next to English Scrumpys. It can be such a broad category and just my big thing is trying to broaden people’s knowledge of the category because that’s what makes it fun really. And unfortunately cider is probably still seen as a little bit one dimensional in Australia.
Nathaniel: Yeah, absolutely. And that was one of the things that really shocked us when we first came here was most ciders that we found all tasted the same. And a lot of people that we talked to about cider have said exactly that: cider isn’t it, isn’t it all the same? And actually when you put something like a, something using cider apples in their mouth or something that’s really dry or completely still and people are just completely blown away that that’s a cider. They don’t expect it at all.
Sam: Exactly. I am super excited to see more and more cider apples hit the market. Obviously, we won the Cider Awards last year with our first ever full cider apple cider, the 18 Varieties. And I am hoping we are going to see quite a few more in the award this year. And hopefully, even more importantly, showing up at the festival the following day, so we can really start to show people the depths and breadths that can exist in cider.
Nathaniel: Yeah, and that itself is quite a big topic, the whole topic of cider apples. But just from your perspective, why is that important? Why should people be thinking about ciders that have got cider apples in them?
Sam: Well, because I think they just make a better and more interesting product really at the end of the day. So not to denigrate all the ciders made from culinary apples because our cider, our main cider Willie Smiths organic is made from culinary apples. But there’s just certain things that you are never going to be able to extract from culinary apples that you can get, certain flavors and tannins and mouth-feel that you just may, just not going to be able to get from culinary apples. So it’s just going to broaden the category and make it open to more occasions, partnering with fine dining restaurants and instead of having a wine, having a cider with your meal and things like that.
Sam: I think that’s what excites me.
Nathaniel: And that’s what people have been doing for thousands of years in some parts of the world. It definitely wasn’t super sweet.
Sam: Exactly, they didn’t have grapes. They had to ferment apples instead.
Sam: Yeah. Now that’s what I … One of the humans, one of the best things about humans is doesn’t matter where you are in the world, we’ve worked out a way to ferment something and get drunk on it in every part of the world. So yeah.
Nathaniel: Yeah. So for someone who maybe hasn’t been to the awards before or been to the festival and thinking about coming, what can they expect, what’s going to happen, what’s a good reason for them to get along and come to Melbourne and get involved?
Sam: Well, I think we are getting a company called Bottle Shop Concepts helping us run our festival this year. We are expecting about 1500 people and it’s going to be pre-buy the tickets. I think they are $35. That enables you to unlimited tastings throughout the day. We talked about a token model which we’ve done in the past. We have thrown that out the door this year, they won’t be big tastings but at least you get a chance of trying all these different styles and varieties of ciders out there. So with 25 different cider producers there’s likely to be well over a 100 different ciders on show there. So that’s pretty exciting in itself I guess. So yeah, get on, well keep an eye out for that. It will be getting promoted fairly shortly and we will be launching ticket sales for that fairly shortly. And so I suppose that’s what’s really exciting about that.
The awards have generally been quite an industry specific evening. That’s not to say we can’t open them up to other interested onlookers. So if you really are interested in coming along, just go to our website and send us a note, and I am sure we can get you along. This year we are hosting the awards at upstairs at Craft & Co. in Collingwood, which is a fantastic venue that one of our sponsors actually has put together, Della Toffola, which showcases some of their brewery equipment, distillery equipment and obviously they make great food and have great beverages on tap and in bottles.
Nathaniel: So you are saying for $35 you can come and taste all the best ciders in Australia.
Sam: That’s pretty much what I am saying. It’s fairly compelling proposition.
Nathaniel: When you put it like that, I mean, why wouldn’t you go? That’s great.
Nathaniel: Now, earlier on you touched on the growth of craft beer. And it’s fair to say that, just like craft cider is booming globally, the same is true with craft beer. And craft beer probably, well, certainly bigger, but a similar trend and the whole kind of craft movement itself is booming. I wonder if you’ve got, what your perspective is on any similarities or differences between the way the craft beer market is evolving compared to the craft cider market?
Sam: Well, I think it’s fair to say that craft beer has been going longer. And has been … yeah, and has been a thing for much longer. The cider category in Australia is about the same size the craft beer category in Australia in reality. So that’s a total cider category, so it’s taken some time for craft cider to get going and we think there is still a long way to go. There are still many, many bottle shops, bars and restaurants out there that may not have any or maybe just have one or two craft ciders. So there’s a long, long way to go. And we are about, I would say about five years behind, but overall look, I think it’s driven by the trend towards wanting better quality, less drinks but better quality drinks. People aren’t necessarily wanting to go and smash themselves with 10 stubbies of something a night, a day or a night, when they could actually have three or four and probably get the same amount of enjoyment from those three or four and wake up feeling a lot better.
So yeah, I think that’s part of it. And then as people’s tastes evolve as well as well. I mean I do remember a time when I used to think that Carlton Draught was the best beer in the world. That time has well and truly gone as my tastes have evolved over time. And I think the cider category is evolving like the beer category. But perhaps instead of people wanting more hops and more flavour, people are asking and looking for something a little bit drier and with a little bit more interesting character to it as well. So yeah. I guess we talk about it as on an axes of sweeter at one end and drier at the other, and kind of new world clean crisper flavors at the bottom, and traditional style ciders at the top that have a lot more interesting character.
So you can imagine the category evolving from the kind of, so to speak, bottom left corner up to the top right corner as more and more interesting flavours come into the market. Because I think the longer people spend in the category, they want to keep moving on, they want to keep looking for something. They will often come back to their favorite, but they do keep wanting to explore, you know the alcohol category is exciting. People are looking for new experiences in it and that’s what craft beer has given to people, and I think hopefully craft cider will be able to do the same thing.
Nathaniel: Are there any particular examples or specific examples that come to mind for you that someone who, let’s say someone listening to this, who is quite into craft beer, but maybe they don’t know much about craft cider, or maybe they haven’t even tried a craft cider. that are kind of comparable or where there’s a crossover? Like for example if you are an IPA drinker, would you particularly like a certain kind of cider, like is there anything like that which comes to mind?
Sam: No, I am afraid I can’t help you with that one. But I think if you were craft beer drinker, then you are generally going to like … And it depends what kind of craft beer, let’s be honest, there’s a thousand different types of them as well, but if you like something really, I think, it’s probably people who like sour beers more are probably going to like some of the more interesting ciders out there and particular the cider apple ciders you know. People who like those kind of sour beers and maybe even say some of them are potentially going to like really interesting craft ciders more so.
Nathaniel: Yeah, it was put to me recently that cider apples are to cider what hops is to beer. And that kind of added complexity and the added flavour component that’s where someone who’s quite into craft beer could be quite tempted by craft cider. Because it offers the same kind of characteristics in the way that it tastes.
Sam: Yeah, well, and I think that makes perfect sense. I think I can … if you had to look for an ingredient, then definitely cider apples would be the one for sure so, yeah. But I mean I tend to think of it probably more as dryness, what hops or bitterness instead of being, it’s more bitter. You get drier so I probably, I tend to think about more of the output more than anything else. So bitterness and dryness I think goes together for me as well. And both of them are driven by hops, but not necessarily cider apples I suppose.
Nathaniel: So for someone who is looking to learn a little bit more about craft cider, have you got any thoughts on resources, useful websites or producers or places to go for someone to actually learn a bit more.
Sam: Well, first of all I would say go and get Andrew Lea’s book. I think it’s called craft cider making. And read that because that’s pretty darn helpful. He’s got a website there as well. It’s actually Craft Cider Making by Andrew Lea. Amazing book. Breaks it down very, very clearly and simply and he’s one of the most renowned cider authors in Australia. He’s very responsive actually as well if you wanted to call him up, he’s in the UK. But call him up or send an email, he would generally get back to you. And so that would be my first starting point.
There’s obviously The New Cider Maker’s handbook as well which came out and was a book released by Claude Jolicoeur, who came out last year and was a judge, and Andrew Lea was a judge three years ago. So we’ve had both of these guys out as judges, which is great. So that’s another book worth having a read of. And yeah, I mean once you’ve read that I would say have a go. It’s pretty step by step. But if you really want some guidance, try to find someone locally and see if you can find a bit of a mentor I suppose.
But there are in the Huon Valley where we are from, one of their friends had a … There’s obviously a lot of apples in the Huon Valley, it used to be called the Apple Valley. But one, you know, there is kind of craft cider makers or home brew cider makers out there, all having a crack and a lot of it just a bit of trial and error you’ll get there. But Andrew gives you a fairly good step by step process to make it the best way you possibly can.
Nathaniel: And so what’s next for you? Obviously this year big year for the craft cider industry. What does the future hold for you and Cider Australia and Willie Smiths?
Sam: Well, we are really hoping to announce a partnership with Horticulture Innovation Australia, HIA, at the Australian Cider Festival where we can hopefully announce that all of our members would be who can go through the certification process will be able to license the 100% Aussie apples logo and put that on their pack. So that should make it a lot easier for people to find Australian craft cider.
We are really working hard with some retailers to educate them about the category and say cider isn’t just cider, how about you think about a craft cider category. So it would be nice to think we could actually get some retailers thinking about craft cider. Because that will make it more widely available, which will then obviously support more growers and support more cider makers to go and put more cider apples in the ground and make more interesting styles as well. So that’s obviously probably one of the main goals of what we are trying to achieve this year.
And then I guess, the other thing is we recently put a still in at The Apple Shed, a 16th Century cognac still that we had hand built for us in Tasmania by Peter Bailey which … the whole purpose of that is actually to make Calvados. We are really hoping to put down as many barrels of that as we possibly can. It’s a slow process and it’s a slow process to age it. But that’s kind of my next big passionate project to get something exciting happening with that. We’ve got … we will be launching some of our, some of that this year that’s been down for three years already. But unfortunately we have got very, very limited supply, having only done a couple of barrels a year for the last few years. So getting something, so most of that just probably sold at the Apple Shed. But yeah, that’s pretty exciting. It’s just a long horizon stuff really.
Nathaniel: Yeah. That’s really exciting. So Calvados being apple brandy for those who haven’t tried it, which is a pretty hard thing to get hold of in Australia, isn’t it? I can’t say I’ve seen one actually.
Sam: Yeah. No, there’s a few around actually. It’s quite surprising if you go into some boutique bottle shops. There is obviously a market for it. But it is very niche still obviously have to know what to look for and where to look for it. But a lot of really good cocktail bars will always carry at least one on the back bar. We are just thinking it would be nice if we could not have it being French and have it being Australia instead but yeah.
Nathaniel: Oh good, that’s exciting. Something to look forward to.
Sam: Yeah. Definitely.
Nathaniel: So next thing is the Cider Awards. So just remind us again what’s the date of that and the location.
Sam: Yeah, so the awards, well the judging is going to be taking place, mid to late September, at the William Angliss Institute. Then we will be having the awards announcements and dinner on Friday the 7th of October at Craft & Co. like I said in Melbourne in Collingwood. And then the festival will be the following day on Saturday the 8th of October in the Malthouse Theater Courtyard down in Southbank. So really excited about this new location for the festival. Really hoping we can have a great turnout there. I am expecting we should. And I am expecting we should sell out. So I would advise people to get in early and get the tickets.
Nathaniel: Oh great. We are very much looking forward to it and hope to see you there.
Sam: Yeah, definitely. And look I would just probably like to say a big thank you to all of Cider Australia’s sponsors and I am probably not going to remember all of them. But they’ve been very, very good to us over the years supporting us. We are a volunteer based organization. We still need funds to run these awards and run these festivals and also to be able to employ someone part time to help us keep getting our message out there. So Summer Snow Juice, Della Toffola, Vintessential has been a good supporter of ours. Kegstar of course has been a big supporter of us for a long time. Appledale Processers. There’s a number. If you just bear with me, I will just keep remembering what we’ve got. And yeah, so we really value the contribution that they make. Because without them … Johnston Packaging of course, how could I forget Johntson Packaging, they’ve been incredible. And then Laffort of course as well. So some really good … And Alepat Taylor as well. So some really good supporters of ours have helped us continue to get the message out there. They are all on board again this year. They are very excited about the direction we are taking. It means that more cider will be made in Australia if we can get the message out there, more cider will be made in Australia using Australian grown fruit. So that really benefits everyone. I think that’s … some of which we will be aiming for and hoping can happen.
Nathaniel: Yeah. It’s a good message I think. The agenda and the things which Cider Australia is trying to achieve are massive, and they have very wide impact and also very long term impact on the industry and a lot of people. It’s important to recognize that that doesn’t just happen by accident. That needs a lot of effort and it needs funds and it’s awesome to see companies stepping up to sponsor. So yeah thanks for the mention.
Sam: Yeah, no worries. So I will thank them again for sure.
Nathaniel: All right. Well, thank you very much. And we look forward to seeing you at Cider Awards.
Sam: Yeah, no worries, sounds good. Thank you.