Makers of a summer staple talk all things cider to Time Out's Laura Murphy-Oates
Sunshack Cider is run by Anton Balog, 36, and his brother Mark, 33, plus a motley crew of family and friends who all pitch in on the family farm in Mittagong in New South Wales’ Southern Highlands. The Balog family first established the vineyard and winery in 1996 where they made Artemis Wines before branching out into cider production. Time Out has a chat to the boozy brothers for an inside look at a local cider operation.
You’re originally a wine family. What prompted a move into cider making?
We found that, all of a sudden, cider was starting to take off. I was dissatisfied with the market and knew it could be done better. We thought it would be good to make a proper cider rather than this lolly water.
How does pear and apple cider differ (apart from the obvious)?
Perry (pear cider) and cider manufacture is basically the same process, however pears contain high levels of unfermentable sugar called sorbital, which gives the finished perry a nice rounded residual sweetness on the palate. Pears also have a higher astringency and tannin content which is allowed to partially oxidise out before fermentation. It’s also thankfully balanced out perfectly by those unfermentable sugars.
Did you give home brewing a whirl before going commercial?
I made my first lot of cider when I was 15 or 16. Dad is a 6th generation blacksmith and also a boilermaker, so he used to help me make the cider and built a lot of the hand held apple-crushing and wine-pressing equipment himself. All we needed were some apples and pears we found around, and the old apple cutter and wine press. The press basically crushes all the fruit by hand, and then we press it off and ferment it out. It's similar equipment to what they probably would have used around 80 years ago.
How was it?
It was definitely nothing amazing. It was just for us. It would take two or three months to naturally settle before we could drink it and we wouldn’t sweeten it because it was too hard to stop it re-fermenting. It was like a scrumpy cider, it was pretty raw! Now we've got filtration systems, so it takes about 3-4 weeks from crushing the fruit to getting it all bottled and ready to go.
What makes Sunshack different?
It feels like everyone has jumped on the import wagon but Sunshack is 100% Australian. We make our cider from Granny Smith apples and Williams pears, sourced from all around high country NSW. Our water is drawn from our own sandstone spring on the farm in Mittagong.
What’s the key to great tasting cider?
A lot of ciders don’t have a nice firm acidity. It’s getting that fine line between what a wine maker’s palate likes verses what the general public like to drink. You want to have that crisp acidity but you don’t want to over do it.