Vineyards are getting in on the popularity of the drink by adding local ciders to their cellar doors, writes Tim Richards.
"I don't know if it's a chicken or egg situation – whether we started making good ciders in Australia and people got onto it, or whether people travelling overseas saw how big it was and created the demand."
Whatever the reason for cider's stellar rise in popularity in recent years, Rebecca Duffy is happy to meet the demand using Tasmanian apples.
As co-owner of the Holm Oak Vineyards north of Launceston, she's long been selling wine from the cellar door on the scenic Tamar Valley Wine Route. Now locally produced cider has been added to the region's attractions.
"People like the clean, refreshing character of cider," she says. "It suits the climate in Australia and what we eat, especially the medium-sweet styles. And a lot of people are coming around to dry cider, their palates are maturing quickly."
Cider, let's face it, is seriously hip in the bars of Melbourne.
It’s a harmonious collection of convict-built buildings on gentle green hills, dating back to 1817.
This new appeal has added a string to the bow of Tasmanian wine producers. In the attractive heritage buildings of Launceston's CBD and the picturesque Tamar Valley, bars, restaurants and cellar doors are now featuring local cider.
In a region famous for its apples it's a logical step, and a new reason for mainlanders to visit.
Holm Oak adds its own distinctive twist to the process. As I arrived at the winery, I was met by a chocolate Labrador, Bella, then led to a nearby fence to admire Pinot the pig.
This animal duo appears in playful cartoon form on the labels of the Small Players range of ciders and perry (the correct name for pear cider). Pinot even tweets to the world as @PinotdPig.
It's the sort of folksy local touch which goes down well with visitors to Tasmania, where the scale of operations means you're often able to talk to the makers. I'm doing exactly that at my next stop in the small town of Lilydale.
Attached to a pub, Lilydale Larder acts as both a café and a cellar door for local producers. It's a great place to stock up with local bottles, and it's here I meet with cider maker Damien Viney of Spreyton Fresh, an orchard and manufacturer of juice near Devonport.
"Even though we've been growing apples for over a hundred years, cider is a new part of the business," he says.
As we lean on the timber bar, Viney takes me on a tasting trip through the five types of cider he helps to create. The Dark Cider is a big surprise. Made with hops, it has a familiar bitter flavour.
"I think that crossover is partly why cider has become more popular," Viney says. "It sits between wine and beer."
On the road again, I'm heading towards Woolmers Estate, a World Heritage-listed farm outside Launceston. It's a harmonious collection of convict-built buildings on gentle green hills, dating back to 1817.
Given that six generations of the Archer family lived here until as recently as 1994, it's well worth going on a guided tour of the old homestead with its collection of memorabilia.
Today though, I'm focused on the 1840s cider house, an early example of Tasmania's connection to the beverage.
In the centre of the timber building sits a large circular stone trough, in which apples were once pulped by a vertical wheel pulled by a horse.
The pulp was placed within a nearby press, squeezing out the juice which would then be fermented to make cider. Though it's not operational nowadays, the cider house is an impressive relic of the past.
Old-fashioned ways of cider making are also on the minds of Corey Baker and Karina Dambergs, owners of Launceston's Dickens Ciderhouse, as we chat that evening on seating made from old apple crates.
All their in-house ciders are naturally fermented within bottles or kegs, according to Dambergs. "It gives you a dryer product but you get more apple flavour," she says. "You've basically mucked around with it less."
As we work our way through a flight of ciders, I can see what she means. A standout here is the Scrumpy, a flavoursome drop you could mistake for a chardonnay.
I'm also taken by the rosé cider, a tasty red drink made from Pink Lady apples and blushed with pinot noir wine. It's cider, but not as we knew it.
Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Launceston City Council.
Jetstar (jetstar.com) flies to Launceston from $100 economy return.
Hotel Charles, 287 Charles St, Launceston, hotelcharles.com.au.
Kurrajong House, 17 Adelaide St, Launceston, kurrajonghouse.com.au.
EAT & DRINK
Holm Oak Vineyards, 11 West Bay Rd, Rowella, holmoakvineyards.com.au.
Lilydale Larder, 1983 Lilydale Rd, Lilydale, lilydalelarder.com.au.
Woolmers Estate, 658 Woolmers Lane, Longford, woolmers.com.au.
Dickens Ciderhouse, 63a Brisbane St, Launceston, dickenscider.com.au.
Black Cow Bistro, 70 George St, Launceston, blackcowbistro.com.au.