It has been just over six years since Lenswood apple grower Michael Stafford met English cider maker Warwick Billings. Some might say that the timing was providence, as Australia was on the precipice of a cider revival with growing possibilities for craft beverage producers to enter the market and compete with larger distributors for local taps.
“At first our attitude was to see what we could do with the fruit that we had,” explains Michael, speaking from his Lenswood orchard. “I guess with his knowledge from England and Europe, Warwick saw a niche in the Australian market for ciders to be made using the methods and processes he was familiar with.”
“Having the apples at our disposal was really the enabler, because he was able to select his own fruits and parcels of fruit to develop a flavour profile we were comfortable with and enjoyed. Ciders on the market at the time were fairly similar and quite tame, so we wanted to offer more variety and depth than what was available.”
Over the same period of time, drinking palates have developed too, with punters becoming accustomed to the emerging individualism of small bars and simultaneous diversity of flavours in the craft beer scene. The result is a newfound appreciation of sophisticated drinking experiences, where your local barman is readily equipped with stories of each tap and bottle he offers. The drinker, as well, is more ready to appreciate the nuances of ingredients and production techniques. Similar to the way a sommelier might describe a wine; descriptive yarns have been adopted for beverages targeted at casual connoisseurs, with notably fewer bloated adjectives thankfully.
All of this has lead LOBO to their next evolution. While the development of their existing lines is set to continue, the duo will begin a passion project of small scale keg and bottled products to reflect the individuality of their stockists and emerging tastes.
“We are looking to create better drinking experiences,” Michael states. “Looking at the readiness of people to seek out more challenging and interesting styles of drink, our aim is to offer small batch ciders that we see, going forward, as a better reflection of the variety of venues you now find in the market. We’d like to see if we can work collaboratively with our stockists to design different ciders that will suit their customers.”
As a primary producer, Michael shares an innate understanding of how seasonal cycles of apple growing can influence numerous aspects of LOBO’s final product. It is within these seasonal cycles, that he and Warwick will look to experiment and develop their small batch production.
“I suppose you’re more likely to take for granted what happens in the orchard, with people nowadays quite removed from the seasonality of growing produce,” he says. “The different types of fruit and the styles you can make are always evolving, because how the apples and fruit behave in the cider process isn’t always the same. Changes in the amount of sunshine we receive and the higher amounts sugar we see generally in our apples means that the styles of cider we can create are really fluid and evolving.”
“We’re also experimenting with European apples developed specially for making cider, we grow them now on a small block in the orchard to learn how they perform in the Australian climate – interesting flavours and textures, sometimes quite different to what you would expect.”
To tailor a range for localised customers is a lofty ambition, but LOBO wasn’t founded on a static attitude. In keeping with the renaissance of localised service and providing customers with a connection back to producers, it seems that dialing down their focus to small batch production is the most logical path forward for the brand as they continue to explore the breadth of possibility for cider in Australia. Their willingness to push the envelope, if anything, should certainly make for a whole host of terrific bar stories down at your local as you sip on a cider that’s made with utmost care and consideration for evolving tastes.
Find out more about LOBO here.