from Lobo, Australia
We are extremely excited to be working with Lobo and for good reason! Michael's family has been growing apples for generations and Warwick, the cider maker behind this exquisite range, is originally from Somerset, the cider capital of the UK. He has been involved in making cider since he was 8 and once made a cider that was regarded as the finest in England at the time. That's quite something and you can check out his exciting journey in the makers' profile section.
Lobo means wolf in Spanish and Portuguese and is also a variety of apple they grow in SA - this is the reason behind the quirky wolf illustrations on all their labels. Each label has been designed by a different artist and the wolf embodies the characteristics of the drink itself. Each Lobo product is a true masterpiece and brings joy to the senses! If you are looking for a gift - look no further, there is something for everyone.
Listen on the go - Interview with Warwick Billings
Nathaniel: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Warwick: Okay. So, my cider making comes from growing up in Somerset in England where we were still in the cider culture in my youth. We all drank cider, we grew cider apples, we delivered them to the local cider farm. That evolved into me making my own cider and then me selling my own cider, and that's kind of I'm a long way into the cider culture.
Nathaniel: Wow, sounds like it. So, you've been into it your whole life, then, by the sound of it?
Warwick: Yeah, yeah. I think that I was probably sort of being sent up the cider apple trees when I was about eight to shake the apples down so we could bag them up and take them to make the cider.
Nathaniel: Oh, wow. So, how long have you actually been making cider?
Warwick: I started making cider when I was about 15, just at home. And then I started making cider commercially in the 80s in Somerset. I made the CAMRA cider at the exhibition in about 1989, I think it was. So, that's kind of effectively the best cider in England at the time. And then, somewhere along the way I decided I should study winemaking in order to make better cider, and then stayed with winemaking for a bit. And then, some apple growing friends told me into making some cider again.
Nathaniel:Right, okay. And did the winemaking help you with the cider in the way that you intended?
Warwick: Yeah, it did actually. So, it's given me a good understanding. So, if you take the craft principles from England and then overlay a bit of Australian winemaking science you finish up with a pretty good combo.
Nathaniel: Yeah, yeah. That's definitely a good combo; one of our favourites for sure. So, that kind of leads onto my next question, which is what is different or unique about what you're doing in the cider market in Australia? I know you've touched on it there.
Warwick:Well, we were one of the first people to go out with a cloudy cider. We stuck to that. We ferment a little bit different to many people. We have got a reasonable-sized block of English cider apples growing, so they start to feature in our blends more and more. And yeah, we basically take our inspiration from English—and to a certain extent French—cider making, because we think that makes a more interesting and more complex drink.
Nathaniel:Yeah. Yeah, I'd agree, and certainly your ciders stand out as some of the more complex and different ones that are out there on the market, which is great.
Warwick: Which was a strategy, if you like, because back in 2008 you could see that cider was going to take off, but there's also quite a lot of "just-another-ciders" out there. And so, our plan, the other half of LOBO – so, you've got me making the cider since I could walk, and you've got Michael, who's been growing apples since he could walk, and it was like, well when the cider boom has come and gone, we want to still be making cider. So, we started slowly, and we probably could have made a heap more money if we hadn't.
Nathaniel: It's not just about that.
Warwick: But we'll still be there when everyone else has gone, "This is too hard, we're not making enough."
Nathaniel: Yeah, I'm sure. Okay. So, now this might be a little bit of a simplistic question, given the fact that you've got a wide range of different styles, but how would you say people should enjoy your cider? What's the best way—
Warwick: Say that again?
Nathaniel: So, my question is—
Warwick: What's the best way?
Nathaniel: Yeah. Like, how should people enjoy it? What kind of different occasions, I suppose, or – if you were going to drink your cider, how would you drink it?
Warwick: With a smile. You drink cider because it's a nice drink. We have quite a broad range of ciders these days, but our cider goes well with many things. There's a bit of a saying in the wine world that it's all about the context and the occasion as well as what's in the bottle. So, that's why I say drink it with a smile, because you should be having fun and enjoying yourself when you're having a drink.
And yeah, we've got some cider that goes supremely well with food, the Trad, the Norman, the Royale, but our regular apple is also good on a hot or cool afternoon. It'll go which one you prefer, and I go kind of depends on what I'm doing. If I'm just going out and I want a quick drink, a regular LOBO is a great drink. If I'm cooking something at home, I'm more likely to be drinking a Norman.
Nathaniel: Yeah, okay.
Warwick: Does that make sense?
Nathaniel:Yeah, absolutely, and it's kind of what I'm getting into, because I think one of the evolutions which I see, again, coming from the UK and coming into the Australian cider market, is that there is a growth and the understanding of cider as not just something which you drink in the pub to get drunk or that you drink in the sun for a giggle, it actually is comparable to wine in a lot of occasions, particularly with different types of food and that's something that I can kind of see happening, and I suppose that's something which your range of cider is a real good evidence of, because you've got such a wide range of completely different drinks, basically.
Warwick: Yeah. And there's a whole beer and food matching that has come of age in the last three or four years, and cider and food matching is beginning to come of age. I kind of go to people, "It's not rocket surgery. Like, Cheddar cheese comes from Somerset, the ancestral home of cider, and Brie comes from Normandy, ancestral home of cider. Cider goes well with cheese, get it?" And people go, "Oh, yeah."
Nathaniel: The lightbulb flicks on.
Warwick: Yeah and like rich things, and then you go, "Well, roast pork. Roast pork and apple sauce. Try roast pork and cider, it's sensational" and then Spanish ciders and anything rich, they all go together and surprisingly well with cider and chorizo or, cider and mussels. I never thought cider and mussels would work, and it's lovely.
Nathaniel: Yeah. I have to say I haven't tried that, actually, so that's next on my list. Okay. And so, what's the future hold, then, for LOBO Ciders? What's next?
Warwick: We're going to carry on exploring the world of cider. We have a little journey if people care to come on it. There's plenty more to do. The apples will get better, they'll get older, they'll get more refined, we'll get some other apples. We'll keep working on our blends, see what we can do. I'm not a huge fan of varietal ciders, but there is quite a lot of interest in that at the moment because—
Nathaniel: Do you mean single varietal ciders?
Warwick: Yeah. We don't do them because I think it's a bad idea, but lots of people ask for them, so one day we may have a crack if we think we can.
Nathaniel: Yeah. Okay, interesting.
Warwick: That's not where we're headed.
Nathaniel: No, okay.
Warwick: We're interested in more interesting blends.
Nathaniel:Yes. Yeah, okay. And then the last question I had for you on this was one of the things which really stuck out about your ciders before we'd even tried them was the logos and the bottles. We went into a bottle shop, particularly where some of the bottle shops that have actually got a few of the range on there, and they're obviously all completely different and that's one of the things that caused us to pick them up, because they look so different and unique and I just wonder where did that come from? What was the thinking behind that?
Warwick: Cider's nice, so it deserves a nice label. It's a sort of respect thing. The cider's nice, why would we put a bodgie label on it? Lobo means wolf in Spanish, so we've got a very strong theme, so there is a wolf in every label and hopefully the labels make you smile because it's all really just a bit of fun. Why not have some nice fun?
Nathaniel: Yeah, definitely
Warwick: Some of our marketing says "Cider with style." It's a nice thing to do.
Nathaniel: Yeah, definitely. And the other thing which made me smile when talking to Michael about this was that you're actually using different artists—is that right? —for the logos. You've actually got different people contributing towards that.
Warwick: Yeah, absolutely. So, we've got a fairly loose brief, which is, "We want a wolf." And then we want a spirit of the cider. So, if you like the Cyser, the pink one, with the honey—
Nathaniel: The mead?
Warwick: Yeah. So, that's sort of a slightly Picasso-y kind of a wolf, which suits the nature of the drink. The Perry label, when we're trying to explain to the artist what we wanted, we sort of had a bit of a Frank Sinatra wolf. I mean, he nailed that.