TAKING on Daylesford Cider Company all started with a chance phone call for Clare and Jon Mackie four years ago.
As Ms Mackie is originally from England, where English cider has a long history as a part of the fabric of English society, the pair wished to bring the techniques to the Australian marketplace, but they first had to find somewhere to establish an orchard.
The pair had been looking for a cider orchard to make their own and had not considered Daylesford until a chance occurrence.
“We were looking for somewhere to set up and were originally looking for somewhere around Bright,” Mr Mackie said.
“We started working with the previous owner of this company just to help out and learn the ropes during bottling season when he offered us the property. So we jumped on it right away.”
The established orchard features 17 varieties of heritage-listed English cider apple varieties, including Bulmer’s Norman, Kingston Black, Improved Foxwhelp, Somerset Red Streak and Yarlington Mill. There are also a number of French cider apples.
These apples range in a mix of flavours from sharp, bittersharp, bittersweet to sweet.
“That’s what makes us pretty unique as a cider company – not many people are growing these apple varieties anymore,” Mr Mackie said.
The apples varieties are grown specifically for cider, meaning they are a different type of fruit to that which one would pick up from a fruit shop.
“In the United Kingdom and France, they only make cider out of cider apples, but in Australia, cider is made out of typical table varieties like Granny Smith and Pink Ladies.”
The fruit is grown organically, meaning no pesticides or chemical sprays are used on the orchard.
Mr Mackie said the taste of the apples his company used were distinctive.
“The flavour is distinct. You can think of it like using a wine grape compared to using a table grape in wine. These apples make a much more complex cider with a more intense flavour, a great palate, mouthfeel, structure and aroma,” he said.
As the orchard is Australian Certified Organic, the sprays, fertilisers, input and management techniques are all a bit different to how non-organic orchards operate.
“There is less input so you can’t just chuck a whole lot of fertiliser on the orchard to pump it up. You can’t go and hit the grass with round up to kill the weeds, you have to brush cut. You can’t go and hit copper or winter sprays, but then you don’t have any of those chemical residues on the fruit,” he said.
“And you don’t need all those chemicals to get high quality fruit. We use composting and manures instead of synthetic fertilisers which suits what we are about here.”
Mr Mackie brings in bees to pollinate the trees. With each row of the orchard a different variety, each row tends to flower at a different time, with some varieties flowering sooner than others.
With the bees busy pollinating the trees, some varieties are already beginning to bud and blossom.
“They flower into a beautiful iridescent pink coloured flower. When the flower turns white, that pretty much means the bees are done pollinating,” he said.
Once pollinated, it is hoped each flower will grow an apple before harvest season, which takes place between March and April.
After all the apples have been harvested, crushing begins.
“Then we begin to ferment – that can run anywhere from a short ferment, depending on what we are trying to create, to a longer process of maturing up to six or eight months,” Mr Mackie said.
“Some ciders can be matured in French Oak for as long as a year.”
The idea is that the harvest will be enough to create a year’s worth of cider.
“We are a lot like a vineyard in that way. Every year, even though it might be exactly the same crop, we try to create the same styles of cider, even though they are inherently different because the fruit we deal with is different,” Mr Mackie said.
“Some are a single variety with one type of apple, while others are a variety with a number of different varieties blended into one drink.”
The ciders are produced with minimal intervention.
“Most of it is left pretty natural with minimal intervention. Our blends come from blending different apple varieties, which is why we grow so many different types of apples to create the different styles.
“Right at the end they get a course filter, but normally our ciders are left to settle naturally.”
The cider is not filtered through anything like many commercial cideries use, including milk proteins or isinglass, which is obtained from fish bladders.
Instead, Daylesford Cider Company uses a pad filter.
Even the maturing process is completely natural.
“The kegs are done sterile because there is no sulfur. The sterile filtered is then kept in the fridge. It’s got residual sugar in there so it’s a lot different to beer, which is bone dry, so a lot of cider has residual sugar in it,” he said.
“We pasturise to pull up the ferment. While a lot of other people sterile filter, depending on the system they set up.”
Daylesford Cider Company produces 12 different ciders; seven in the core range, four in the premium range and one for tap.
The range includes still, bubbly, sweet and dry ciders but all of them are made from 100 per cent fresh apples.
Mr Mackie said this sounds obvious, but surprisingly a lot of commercial ciders are made from imported juice concentrate with the addition of water, additives, flavours and colour enhancers.
“A lot of the big companies use imported, reconstituted juice that is packed with sugar and flavours. There is no regulation to combat it,” he said. “But Cider Australia has created a logo that will be a bit like the kangaroo – meaning the cider is grown and produced in Australia. That will come out really soon and will really help us stand out from the crowd.”
Mr Mackie said he prides himself on the natural state of his cider that allows the taste of the apple to shine through, without the need for anything extra.
He said the cider industry had changed rapidly in Australia, especially in the past five years.
“It used to be just two or three different types on the shelf and sweet cider was the biggest category. It has now dropped back to medium-sweet,” he said. “There has been a big shift in the Australian palate with people enjoying more complex ciders.”
Despite only being in the cider business for four years, the couple have taken home a horde of awards for their ciders.
They even won gold with their first batch. This year, the pair entered their ciders in two categories of the Australian Cider Awards, judged by a panel of industry professionals and an international judge. They entered their ciders in the “traditional” category, which uses old-style French or English heritage apples and in the “new-world” category which uses more common varieties.
That’s what makes us pretty unique as a cider company – not many people are growing these apple varieties anymoreJon Mackie
When the pair took on the property, the tavern was open by chance, but the couple have worked hard to get it open and running seven days a week.
“It’s been a long time coming to get where we are – it hasn’t been easy at all,” Mr Mackie said.
The company hosts events, including weddings and birthdays, and regularly brings local musicians to play.
“People don’t just come here for the cider – it’s a package with atmosphere, good food and drink.”