Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Willie Smith's - Organic Apple Cider

Willie Smith’s - Organic Apple Cider
So along comes another Tasmanian cider hailing from the Huon Valley, located just 35 minutes from Hobart (Tasmania’s capital). But this little cider is different and when I mean different I mean in a very good way. It boasts four generations of apple growing history, it’s made entirely with organic fruit and is made replicating the methods of traditional Normandy cider. Willie Smith’s Organic Apple Cider was founded by apple grower Andrew Smith and Sam Reid, a Sydney Businessman. The Huon Valley is fast becoming cider country in Australia with superior apples growing in perfect conditions. Couple this superior fruit with a producer like Willie Smith’s who are willing to push the boundaries of style, and then you have a cider revolution. What do I mean by revolution you ask? I’ll explain a little later, but I am really excited by this cider and excited to what the future holds for this company.

The Willie Smith’s Organic Cider is made using an arsenal of methods which only aid in strengthening the complexity and originality of the product. The apples are milled and pressed with the juice left to oxidise (which is a common technique to gain colour and minimise harsh tannins). Cold fermentation is in stainless steel tanks using white wine yeasts which usually have higher alcohol tolerances and are more often than not powerful fermenters – such as EC1118. I was surprised by the cultured yeast choice, as using wild yeast (or wild ferment) is a very traditional technique in Normandy. Post ferment, portions are divided into brand new French oak (which impart wood tannin structure and complexity), with the rest being able to undergo malo-lactic fermentation. What fermentation you say!!?? Malo-lactic fermentation (or MLF) which is most commonly found in wine is very and I mean very, uncommon in Australian ciders. It’s considered a ‘secondary’ fermentation, which converts malic acid - which is very sharp and found in copious amount in apples, to lactic acid which is much softer. Hence it leaves a softer mouth-feel on the palate. It also gives off some buttery/creamy or diacetyl characters in the cider, aiding in complexity. After six months, all the differing components are blended together, with the cider sweetened up with fresh natural juice and NOT concentrate and carbonated in bottle.
Now all these processes and procedures really do amount to an amazing product, with tonnes of complexity and originality. Revolution? I think so! The term ‘real cider’ is getting thrown around fairly loosely right now on products which don’t warrant the privilege. Willie Smith’s Organic Cider however can proudly wear this ‘real cider’ badge with honour, as this is truly the future of Australian cider.

The immediate thing you’ll notice about this cider is the classy and very informative label. It’s beautifully presented with no flashy gimmicks, whilst proudly displaying its organic heritage. The cider pours a deep cloudy golden orange with a light, but persistent carbonation bead. The nose is just layer upon layer of complexity and excitement. Were do I begin? Juicy apple characters along with orangey citrus notes of guava, grapefruit and tangerine all burst out at you. There is a nice level of wood integration too which is by no means overpowering or domineering. Other lovely aromas consist of fresh pears, ginger spice and apple/cinnamon pie. You’ll also find hints of an earthy mould which compliments all the fresh, ripe fruit aromas. This is a serious nose, and continues to open up its secrets as each minute goes by.
The palate was just as exciting and full of little surprises which make you sit back and go ‘Ahhhh’. I was expecting to see a real thick and rich palate but was surprised to see that the mouth-feel was actually quite light. The whole palate feel did seem just a little watery, but this is not a deal breaker by any stretch of the imagination. There was no real bitterness to speak of, but a tiny bit of textural astringency did shine through. The balance between the carbonation, sweetness and acidity was really good, with the acid levels being a little lower to what I am used to. The alcohol (at 5.4 per cent) gave off a little heat on the back palate too. I can only really describe this palate as biting into a juicy apple. This sweetness, combined with the acidity and long apple length all united to make this a truly wonderful experience. There is also some lovely creaminess and woodiness which round out the palate quite nicely. This is seriously delicious, attractive and innovative.

Well what can I say? This cider is made to emulate the traditions of Normandy, and I think its hit the nail on the head. I will go out on a limb here and say that nine times out of ten you would easily mistake this for a traditional Norman cider. I would also describe this cider as being a traditional farmhouse, but with a contemporary edge. It is flavoursome, it makes you think when you drink it and it’s perfectly made. It has been made by intelligent people. This would have to be the finest farmhouse cider in Tasmania currently, and I can’t see it being knocked off this mantle any time soon. Congratulations Willie Smith’s on bucking the trend, and making cider which pays justice to not only the apple, but also to the consumer. At the end of the day, the consumers are the real winners here. Pure Australian (and Tasmanian) magic.
Producer: William Smith and Sons
Country: Australia (Huon Valley, Tasmania)
Alcohol: 5.4%
Website: www.williesmiths.com.au

Rating: 10 out of 10


  1. But only a few weeks (?) in the barriques ? - Hardly time to give oak character - but do love the oxidised color - warm terra cotta tones - restraint on carbonation welcome - but the tartaric acid treatment to push thru the malalocatic could be restrained a bit - a great start -- will follow with interest

  2. No, up to six months in oak post primary ferment. For development and MLF (secondary ferment). MLF takes off the Malic edge, hence i thought the acid feel was a little lower. Especially compared to more commercial ciders where MLF is non existent. Carbonation perfect too. Beautiful and cleverly made cider.

  3. I want one! Food for thought on my next batch of cider... Now if only I could afford some stainless steel tanks! Any thoughts on the difference between new oak and one which has had Chardonnay in it?

  4. Hi Fergal

    Oh yes, stainless is the dream but money is the reality. Regarding oak - massive difference. New oak imparts large amounts of wood characters - such as pencil shavings, toast, smoke, vanilla etc, which over dominate the fresh fruit characters of apples. French oak is more suited than American. Older oak has all this removed and you're left with a vessel which is perfect for ageing cider. If the budget is up to it, a tiny bit of new oak is desirable (such as Willie Smiths), but older oak is best for cider. Some producers have oak vats up to 100 years old! I prefer barriques (225L) over hogsheads (300L) for cider.