Cider seems to be gathering momentum in the Australian market. I say this not just because I’m told it’s true, but because a lot of my friends seem to be jumping on the cider bandwagon, even after the years I’ve spent offering them shotgun-seats in the craft beer stagecoach.
It was therefore with a little trepidation that this particular beer-drinker toddled off to his rival’s home turf, Paddington’s famed Four in Hand bar and restaurant, for the launch of Batlow Premium Cider.
Upon entry we were greeted with a Cider ‘Sangria’ cocktail, a concoction based on Batlow Premium Cider devised by Ed Loveday from the Passage Bar & Restaurant. After introductory drinks and remarks we were ushered upstairs to the private dining room.
Brief occasional addresses were given by brothers Sam and Rich Coombes, whose passion and charm are driving the Batlow Premium Cider venture, as well as the General Manager of Batlow Fruit Co-Op, John Power.
The Coombes brothers spoke of their time spent in the UK from 2000-2005 where they fell in love with real cider and the family-owned businesses who made it. Two years ago they developed the kernel of an idea to make the same thing here: a wholly Australian-owned cider brand – in short, to become to cider what Cooper’s Brewery is to beer.
The brothers, in seeking to build a premium brand, thought first of a potential partnership with Batlow Apples, who are “synonymous with apples” in the words of GM John Power. Fortuitously, Batlow Apples were at the time also planning a foray into the cider market, and both parties seemed to be on the same page, so a partnership was born. The product has taken 18 months from conception to today, because in the words of Rich Coombes, “we wanted to get it just right.” But after the long inception process, the cider is now out in the market, and we were there to be among the first to sample it.
Four in Hand’s chef Colin Fassnidge was given a brief to construct a menu to match the cider. He achieved this with a shared entrée including crisp school prawns, Alaskan crab salad, and a pig’s head terrine to provide fresh, light flavours. The traditional pork and apple marriage was taken to its logical conclusion with a whole suckling pig carved up for main course, with various sides cooked using the cider itself. For dessert, another of Ed Lovejoy’s concoctions – a dessert cider cocktail made with star anise and egg whites – was paired with a cheese platter to cut through the sweetness.
As for the main event, the cider: the marketing around the product focuses on the ‘premium’ label, with a minimal intervention process involved. The cider is unpasteurised, with no concentrates and no added sugar. While I’ve heard the same marketing spiel before, even the cynic in me couldn’t fault the product itself. The cider is refreshingly sweet, with a crisp dry finish and minimal tartness. It’s naturally carbonated rather than force-carbonated, allowing the apple flavours for come to the fore and speak for themselves.
In NSW, the Batlow brand is deeply engrained in the fruit market – John Power cited market research that showed “Batlow” was more closely associated with apples than “Pink Lady” – and the cider should theoretically sell itself in its home state. And while the cider tastes good, the challenge for Batlow is to distinguish its cider in an increasingly crowded market. Convincing an audience who are accustomed to ciders currently on sale to make the switch to a ‘premium’ quality product will be helped by the Batlow reputation, but there are hurdles in the way, such as trying to sell the cider outside NSW where the brand is less familiar.
I wish them good luck, and hope that she’ll be apples.