Welcome to Batlow, home of Australia’s favourite apples. The bustling town located at the base of the Snowy Mountains has an intrinsic connection to the round fruit, with its past, present and future all dependant on the humble apple’s success.
As one of Australia’s oldest apple growing regions, Batlow’s apple growers are no amateurs when it comes to producing the perfect parcel of fruit. Their history dates back to the mid 1800s, when crowds rushed to the town during the days of the Gold Rush. Although the metal deposits were quickly exhausted, the newcomers discovered the land was perfect for farming. For those who stayed in Batlow, fruit trees quickly became the main source of income.
A group of astute farmers soon realised that what made their apples special was the region itself. They realised there was no point competing against each other, so they joined forces to market, transport and sell their apples as a co-operative. The Batlow Co-operative has been in place since 1922 and has contributed heavily to the region and its identity.
One of the secrets behind Batlow’s amazing apples is the unique climate. Located in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains, it is the highest and coldest apple growing region in Australia. In fact, there are only two other regions in the world with a similar climate. While the temperature during the day is mild, at night a cool change sets in, triggering an enzyme that gives Batlow apples their signature bright red colour. Coupled with the rich soil found in the region, these unique conditions make Batlow the perfect place for apple orchards.
With great apples comes great responsibility. The co-operative has a strict quality control system in place, operating from the orchards to market shelves. By using the latest technology growers in the region have been able to reduce the use of pesticides. They’ve interrupted the mating cycle of pests, changing the ecology of the orchards while allowing beneficial organisms to survive. In turn this helps to control the reach of other pests.
Each year during harvest, the population of the town swells as backpackers and international students move into Batlow to pick the apples before sending them to the Batlow Fruit Co-operative. Once picked, the apples are gently transported along water canals to ensure they are not bumped around. They are then gently cleaned in temperature-controlled water before being graded.
To ensure only top quality apples arrive on your market shelves, the fruit is subject to a rigorous sorting process. Each apple is checked by sight before being photographed 42 times by the co-operative’s revolutionary grading machine. The apples that meet the high Batlow standards are separated and packed with apples of similar size, weight and colour.
But what happens to the apples that are ‘cosmetically challenged’ and don’t meet market standards?
In the early 2000s, brothers Rich and Sam Coombes arrived back in Australia after spending time in England. They had loved drinking cider in the U.K. but couldn’t find a comparable, locally made cider down-under. They talked about starting their own cider company but put the idea on the back burner, pursuing other projects. In 2010 the cider market started making headway in Australia, giving the brothers reason enough to take a giant leap into the business of crafting cider.
When it was time to start sourcing their apples, Batlow was a no brainer for the pair. The co-operative had been trying to find an industry where they could transform their ugly but delicious fruit into other great products, eventually finding the perfect match in the Coombes brothers. Australia’s favourite apples was to become Australia’s favourite cider.
When it comes to the brewing process, the same focus pervades both the apple growing and cider production: quality and minimised intervention where possible. Because the quality of the apples is so high, creating cider is easy – just crush and ferment. No sugars or preservatives are added, keeping the process pure and simple.
Since its establishment in 2011, Batlow Cider has developed a well-deserved reputation and garnered plenty of awards, including Best Specialty Cider in the 2015 Australian Cider Awards. They’ve also carved out a niche in Australia’s regional music scene, becoming a major supplier for Groovin’ the Moo in 2016.
While Batlow has always celebrated their apples, 2012 saw them begin to celebrate their cider. The Batlow Cider Festival is a major event for the apple-growing region. For one day each May, the town’s population increases six-fold as thousands of people travel from far and wide to take part in the street party and celebrate the region as a whole.
The local community is proud to be a part of the event, with plenty of family-friendly action throughout the day. There are stalls from growers, local shops, the RSL and the Country Women’s Association, and locals and visitors dress up in all things apple – whether it be creating outfits from the packaging or dressing up as the fruit itself.
As part of the festival, the town also hosts the Batlow Cider Conference. Experts from all over Australia come into town for this important industry event, offering a valuable learning and networking opportunity for existing and aspiring cider growers, producers and marketers.
However it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the town at the bottom of the Snowy Mountains. In 2014 a huge hailstorm swept through the region, damaging 50% of crops. Luckily, despite cosmetic damage, a large proportion of the fruit was still usable for cider production. Rather than being thrown in the bin, Batlow Cider ramped up manufacturing, crafting more delicious brews for eager drinkers.
Rain, hail, or shine, the way forward is clear for Batlow Cider and the co-operative. Together they’re leading the pack when it comes to apple growing, finding new ways to minimise intervention and creating an innovative product range. One thing’s for sure: the time is ripe for Batlow.