Speaking to wine and cider making talent Jeff Aston of Eling Forest winery and Dcider about how Australian cider is becoming more dynamic and is starting to develop complexities approaching those of wines …
Q: What do you think about this new comparison between cider and wine which Australians are starting to pick up on and find similarities with?
Jeff: With such a young market in Australia, we’re still only really learning food
matches and all the sort of complexities that are already established with
wine. So we’re only starting to get our heads around all that. Now
we’re still in that mindset of sweet, dry, or draught when there’s now just
starting to come out, there’s all these varieties and blends and thousands
of new cider variations. There’s a bit of a way to go before we start
treating it almost like a wine, I guess.
Q: Where people try cider for the first time and they try something that’s too syrupy or – to be frank – tastes like dishwater – they can get permanently put off. Is there a risk, do you feel, at the moment as far cider becoming a bit of a trend that people will try a cider that maybe doesn’t quite hit
the spot and it can turn them off for life?
Jeff: I don’t know. I guess it is, but I’d like to think that people are a bit more open-minded than that and would sort of try a few more, I guess. And I think that we’re naturally more like that anyway. In
Australia, in particular, a lot of the big brands and even the beer brands, you don’t have that brand recognition anymore. People are conscious that with craft beers or boutique cider brands, the flavour can vary a lot.
My dad used to drink the exact same beer every day. That’s what they
did. A lot of friends that I’ve talked to, their parents are the same, but
our generation is not like that. Everyone wants to try something new. They
probably don’t drink the same drink twice in a row. It’s very hard to get
that established. People aren’t locked into something, so I don’t know… I
think their mindset is very open to try things anyway.
Q: I’m curious as to the way you’re finding your way into the market, you’re doing a lot with
social media and the Internet with people ordering directly off your website as one of the strategies to counteract the fact that a lot of small brands are locked out of distribution by big companies enforcing anti-competitive practices. But you’ve got a few places in Sydney, you’re breaking into Melbourne and a little bit into Perth now, and also Port Douglas. Where can people find you in Melbourne at the moment, and where
are you in Perth?
Jeff: Perth … we’ve just sent a pallet over to the distributor, and the word literally today is we’re now at Frisk Small Bar, the Inglewood Hotel, Steve’s Fine Wine & Food and X-Wray.
Melbourne, we’re in The Olsen and Spoonbill restaurant and the Cider House. There are a few others down there…
Port Douglas is going quite well, surprisingly, for such a little area. They’re doing quite well. I guess people are going up there to relax and have a drink, so they tend to go through a bit of cider.
Q: And I notice as far as Sydney goes, we see a lot of photos at Snapback of entire tables of ladies sitting there, and there’s barely a drink other than Dcider on the table. So you seem to have found a
bit of a market at the Newtown Hotel.
Jeff: Yeah, I think that is actually. It’s one of our biggest people, the
Newtown Hotel. They go for Dcider. I think Snapback’s a great night. I
think they seem to have picked it up well. It’s a good opportunity to get
out. Until people try it, it’s just
another cider, as you know.
Because we’ve partnered with the Snapback
event on Wednesday night and it’s given more people the opportunity to try
it, and so it’s really been beneficial for us. And it’s good to see that it
hasn’t been a one hit wonder, people are obviously continually
buying it because they’re continually ordering, so I guess that’s a good
Q: Yeah. It’s almost like… I don’t know if I’m a bit biased, but it
seems to be like when you see photos like that of a whole stack of people
drinking it, you think that it’s almost tied in really as the drink of the
event in some ways.
Stewart: It’s amazing what can happen with something like that. It becomes
unique. It does seem quite hard, though, for new products to break into the
established bottle shop and pub network. Are there any challenges there
that you wish perhaps the situation was a bit more supportive of Australian
Jeff: Absolutely. Sydney in particular, and I guess, to an extent, some of
the other major cities, but Sydney in particular. A lot of these big groups
of pubs have signed up on contracts with people like Toohey’s and Fosters and
those sort of things, and they’ve got… they’ve basically signed a five-
year contract that says, ‘We’re providing your cider and no one else can.’
And so, for example, for us to get into the Newtown Hotel, we had to get
So you’re not only fighting to get in the door of places and
impress managers and their staff, but you’re also then fighting to actually
get past contracts, existing contracts. And even, to an extent, some of the
smaller pubs. They have these big companies that come in and say, ‘Oh,
well, we’ll give you all your fridges and we’ll set up your bar for you as
long as you guarantee you’ll only stock our product, and we’ll give you
5%, or you can get other people’s products in, or 20%, or whatever the
negotiation may be.
And so we’re finding, actually, Sydney is one of the harder markets
for us to get into because it’s all tied up with these contracts that
Q: Well, I think, after living in Sydney for 14 years, my feeling is, if
you can make it in Sydney, you can make it anywhere because it is tough for
whatever you try and set up and establish. Yeah, there’s a lot of people
who are very set in their ways in Sydney, and yes, so that’s the bottom
line is, if you crack it here, it’s going to be… the rest of Australia
usually is much easier, as you’re probably finding with Port Douglas then
and places like that.
Q: Yeah, that’s great news about Perth coming up as well that’s going to
Jeff: Perth’s going to be great. I know from other cider
brands and people I’ve talked to, Perth will be very big. It’s a big, big
market over there. A lot of dining. A lot of people spending money on
Q: Yeah, well, you’re so far from everywhere, you’ve got to keep
yourself entertained. So, actually, Perth is a very lively town. Having
spent many years there myself, people are always up for a night out,
Jeff: Yeah. It sounds like a pretty good place, actually.
Stewart: Yeah, it is. It is great, for sure. So, yeah, I guess… Let me think
what else I should ask you. Looking at what you’re currently doing as far
as sort of online and developing a brand, do you-, I mean, are you finding
that people are, if they just simply-, if you just tell them that they
can’t get it in the local bottle shop, are they open to ordering it off
your website? Is that becoming a bit more of a trend, or is it still a
Jeff: No. People are very reluctant to order online. They always have been
and, I think, always will be. They like to make that spur of the moment
decision and just go down to the bottle shop. And I think, ultimately,
that’s where we’re pushing is to have the venue so that we can use our
marketing to push people to the venues rather than push people to the
product, if that makes sense?
I think that’s a better option for us, ultimately, in the long
run. But then just to have that opportunity because we’ve sold a bunch of
cases to, God knows, the middle of Australia, the Outback, Queensland sort
of area. Outback of Western Australia, people have ordered cases. So to
have that option now, I think, is quite nice.
Q: So, you are having quite a bit of success at that real grass roots
community level, which I guess is a counterpoint to the problem that you
might have, where the pubs and clubs and bottle shops are locked into a
long term contract. That you are getting that community vibe happening with
local markets. So can you just let me know which markets you’re currently
in and what days of the week? Or what days of the month you’re actually in
Jeff: That’s a very good question. We’re at the Bowral Public School
market, which is every, I think is the second Saturday of every month.
Itís probably one of the best markets in the Southern Highlands.
Like, food and wine sort of produce type markets.
We’re at Camden Markets, which is fourth Saturday of every month.
Jeff: In Sydney, in North Sydney, Pyrmont, and Penrith markets. I can’t even remember which days they are.They are all Saturdays but I can’t remember which.. .
Q: I’ll check them out, for sure. And I mean, are they, do you generally
find that you are selling cases or six packs or what’s actually happening?
Jeff: Generally, quite often we’re selling six packs the first time we are
there and then cases after that.
Q: Wow, that’s great.
Jeff: Except for Bowral markets because there is a bit of a tourism, it is
more of tourists rather than locals and so we sell a lot more six packs
always in Bowral markets.
Q: So what you’re got there I suppose is people who
might go to the markets regularly and they’ll try your cider and really
enjoy it. And then they go back and buy an entire case of it.
Jeff: Yeah. Like Bowral markets, we still have our regulars that will
come and buy their case a month.
Q: Yeah. So that must be very satisfying. I suppose it leads to the next
question is how much, when you first produce this batch, how many bottles
did you actually produce? Because it’s quite a leap into the market, isn’t
it? It must be in the many thousands? Was it 40,000? Or 50,000 bottles that
Jeff: Bottles, it’s about 60,000 I think we made. It is a big leap, but we’ve got added difficulties in New South
Wales where we’ve only really got one or two facilities that can actually
bottle cider. So there is a real headache in volumes and small volumes, and
price, and there’s, to an extent, when we actually put out the first batch,
there was only one place really in New South Wales that we could get it
bottled. So it cost us a small fortune.
Q: Yeah. I bet, I bet. Does that mean the next time, because I guess at
some stage you are going to have to do another run. Will you do another
60,000? Is that where you’ll stay at at this stage.
Jeff: Yeah I think so. Itís just apple season now, and apple season goes
from now until probably end of August, mid to late August. So we’ll do
another batch. May have to do a slightly bigger
batch this time.
Q: And when would that be put out there? Would that be August?
Jeff: Probably look at putting that out into the market sort of August, the
end of August.
Q: That sounds great. So I guess in the mean time,
have you got enough stock? You’re not going to run out in any shops that
Jeff: No, it’s going to be close though!