Friday, 17 May 2013

Hillbilly - Crushed Apple Cider


 
Right oh, after country hopping the past few reviews from France, England and then to South Africa, I’ve come back home to Australia. I’ve found myself landing in the area of Bilpin in the New South Wales highlands, well known for its apple growing prowess. Hillbilly cider, a name which founders Shane and Tessa Mclaughlin believe encapsulates life they lead in the mountains, is relatively new to the Australian cider market only being released in September 2012. But in that short time, I have had a score of cider lovers emailing me, or telling me “You have to try Hillbilly” so the reputation had already become apparent. The cider is based around Shane and Tessa’s country living, enjoying the simpler and finer things in life and becoming one with nature. To quote the back label of the cider: “A simpler life, called for a simpler drink”. It’s a far cry from the busy life they used to live in the big smoke of Sydney focusing on their wine business. It’s also appropriate to mention that the Hillbilly logo of the gun dog is a direct tribute to Tessa’s English heritage which is a nice touch. You really can get a sense of place, pride and simple living from Hillbilly cider, and isn’t that what life is all about?
Shane Mclaughlin is a Winemaker by trade, and what do you get when you cross fermentable sugars from a fruit with the ever growing curiosity of a Winemaker? Well the equation I get is: Pure Bilpin apples and pears x Winemaker of 15 years = Cider. It’s also really cool to mention that Shane has experienced a harvest in Herefordshire, England. He believes it was this experience in cider country that helped him combine traditional techniques of cider making with Australian innovation. The traditional techniques and Australian innovation thrust upon apple varieties of Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Sundowner, Fuji, and a new variety called Julie is what makes the Hillbilly cider. I am told by Tessa that the Julie apple which was developed by Bill Shields of Bilpin, is a very floral apple. Sounds good to me!   

So now let’s see if this cider practises what it preaches, and is indeed perfect for simple living and not taking life too seriously.
The colour is a little darker than some of the 100 per cent dessert apple ciders (especially from NSW), shining a nice dark yellow straw. The carbonation, which is all natural, is quite aggressive on pouring but fades super fast. On swirling in the glass, an eruption of bubbles is whipped up into a rage, but again fades fast to a nice bead.  Nose wise; in my eyes it is too different and interesting to be a cultured yeast ferment. It has lovely complexing notes along with hidden nuances which keep you intrigued. I am tipping a wild ferment here, and this would of course fall into the ‘traditional techniques’ along with Australian innovation method of the making of this cider. If so, it’s a nice twist for this cider, and raises it above some of the more standardised and lifeless dessert apple ciders available in the market. And hey, if it is fermented using cultured yeasts, I’ll eat my hat! But the nose offers fresh up-front primary apple aromas along with some earthiness, pear, apple core notes and wet cardboard characters. The fresh apple aromas reminded me of a crunchy apple which is about to be bitten in to. It’s very reminiscent of a Granny Smith skin character which was nice to see. But along with nice crispness and cleanliness of fruit, an almost out of place cottage cheese note was evident. Very wild ferment like and hence what raised my suspicions, but by no means was this a bad thing as described earlier.  

Coming off the nose which offered up interesting characters and aromas, I was expecting to see some of these transition over to the palate. What I tasted was actually quite restrained yet surprisingly very interesting. There was a pleasant up-front natural sweetness which hit the front palate nicely. A huge whack of Granny Smith and Pink Lady malic acidity gave off an unusual tang which actually gave nice structural support. What I absolutely loved was the tannin structure of this cider. A lovely textural grip was a huge surprise packet, most likely coming from the apple skins. A nice creaminess from the Fuji’s and Sundowners also added to the complexity. Some nice light juicy apple flavours and citrus notes also rounded out the palate and added freshness. But unfortunately the problem with all these nice features on the palate was they were all watered down. When I see a cider at 4.5% I begin to worry. The back palate was dominated by a watery acid combo, with all the fresh fruit characters being diluted out. A nice cheesy angle did appear as the cider warmed up almost to room temperature, but the palate was let down by this watery mouth feel and really hindered the fruit.
What you can take from this cider is the assurance that absolutely no artificial material was added. It’s a cider which has charm and will win you over with its subtlety and different nature. It’s very drinkable and is made with only the purest intentions – maybe just don’t drink it with ice! A funky little cider from the highlands of New South Wales which is perfect for simple life – can’t go wrong with that! The beauty is they also have a pear cider in the arsenal which I will review in the near future.

*The Hillbilly Apple Cider recently won a bronze medal at the 2012 Australian Cider Awards which is a huge effort. Congratulations to Shane and Tessa on this big achievement in such a short period of time.  
Producer: Hillbilly Harvest Co.
Country: Australia (Bilpin, New South Wales)
Alcohol: 4.5%
Website: www.hillbillycider.com.au

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Cheers!  

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