from New England Cider Co, Australia
Why New England?
Wine geeks turn into cider heads! These guys know their wine and decided to have a crack at making some cider. It was good, really good, so they jumped in with both feet and are testing and tweaking and coming up with new ciders all the time. Sam is the wine blogger and aficionado and Shaun, the man behind Merilba Estate wines, makes the cider. They bring a sophistication to the game and are actively engaging to help educate the market on the appreciation of cider. Single varietal ciders, limited editions and small batches. We don't know what is coming next from these guys but we know it's going to be good.
The New England Cider Co. was born out of an obsessed wine geek and a meticulous winemaker, collaborating on what will be the New England's first Cider brand. The New England, located in the north of New South Wales, is where all the magic happens for the Cider Co. With the Cidery based in Kingstown, approximately 70kms from Armidale, this provides challenges. The winter's are cold (they didn't call it New England for nothing!) and the summer's are short, but intense. You could always refer to the region as "the Nosebleed Section" of the state, with a fair whack sitting 3000ft above sea level…that's damn high…but we love it!
Shaun Cassidy is known in the wine industry as a winemaker with great passion and precision, and this is the same with his cider making. Shaun and his wife Kassy, own Merilba Estate, a premium winery located in the southern part of the New England Wine Region. Merilba Estate is also the home of New England CIder Co., featuring a top-notch restaurant and function venue. Shaun's concept on cider making… "Let's make something people want to drink!"
Listen on the go - Interview with Sam Watson
Sam: I've got a wine business, The Vino Geek, and that sort of led to, I suppose, the whole cider production, the two industries being relatively similar, but my background's actually in corporate operations so I worked overseas for a few years in North Asia, and then back in Australia in operations in different companies, and really developed a love for wine which then transferred into a love for, I suppose, all things craft, all craft beverages and products. We then joined up with Merilba Estate and Shaun Cassidy, who's a winemaker by trade, and came up with the idea to start producing some cider, not for any particular reason, I suppose. Both having a background in wine, we really liked the appeal of cider, in that it was a relatively informal drink compared to wine, and sort of gave you a license to be a bit more experimental in your methods and what you wanted to produce, and some room to differentiate your product there and differentiate, I suppose, ourselves as a brand and as people.
So, yeah, we started on the cider venture then in November 2014, and got our first batch of apples in and started to experiment. So, the first cider we did was actually the Icebreaker, which turned out really well, and then we tried a couple of other ciders and actually come back to the Icebreaker then as our standard cider we do but yeah, look, both myself and Shaun have I suppose a big passion now in cider industry and seeing it develop. For us to see craft cider or boutique cider blossom and start to really kick some goals is great, and I suppose that's part of our passion, to try and help that process in what we do and create some products that are different and out there and are potentially not going to suit everyone but I suppose that's what craft cider's all about, isn't it?
Nathaniel: Yeah, absolutely. So, what is different when you say you're making some different products? What is different about your cider or about what you do?
Sam: So, I suppose really, obviously using fully fresh fruit. I don't think we'll ever use concentrate or flavours to bulk up our cider. To really, I suppose, represent the fruit that's in that cider and being from a wine background that's really important to us is not to just call it an apple cider or pear cider, it's to really represent what is in there because with wine you don't just buy a white wine because it's a white wine. You might buy a Sauv Blanc or a Chardonnay or Riesling and I think the same should potentially go for cider in that there are people out there that like cider made from Granny Smiths more than they like a sweet cider made from Pink Lady, so I suppose it's a bit of an education to market around that. And also, just in terms of our product, you know? Not conforming to what has been done in the past and willing to take a bit of a risk.
So, the limited batch cider we did recently was the Granny Smith juice in a French oak barrel for 16 weeks on Chardonnay lees with continual stirring to make it super textural and funky and uncarbonated, which I suppose for the Australian cider market is pretty out there, but in the world cider market probably not as much.
Nathaniel: Sounds delicious
Sam: Yeah, obviously you know all about Scrumpys and things like that, so I suppose the education of the market that there is more to cider than it being sickly sweet and overcarbonated, or really carbonated. Yeah, so I suppose that's how we're trying to provide a difference in what we do.
Nathaniel: So, how would you say your cider should be best enjoyed?
Sam: We would recommend over ice, or ice cold, just because of the acidity in it, it does need that ice. But certainly, the Icebreaker nice and cold. And the limited batch we did, we typically said to just chill it slightly, so put it in a fridge for 15, 20 minutes and enjoy it like you would almost like a Chardonnay. Yeah, so, we're not overly concerned about serving our cider on ice, so we think it's served better that way.
Nathaniel: Yeah, okay. And then, my last question, what does the future hold for you and for the business?
Sam: Yeah, it's really exciting. So, we've got a new product coming on pretty early next year. We've got obviously our 330ml bottles at the moment, and we've got kegs coming on, so you'll see us on tap more. And then, some really exciting limited batch sort of seasonal brews, which will be available through different stockists and yourselves, and they're going to be in all sorts of sizes, 750ml bottles, 500ml bottles. And then, if they're really popular, we'll listen to the public and potentially bring those on as permanent products as well.
Nathaniel: Okay, sounds great. We look forward to that.
Sam: And certainly, around the apple cider things, we want to get a little bit more experimental with different varieties, so that's going to lead to some pretty exciting things.