Interview: Hillbilly Cider
Sometimes life throws us 'moments'. The times when every detail spins together to create a moment that sticks in your memory as being special. I had one of those moments on a trip to the Blue Mountains recently, which involved sitting on top of a mountain, looking at a whole row of other mountains, with the warm winter sun on my face, and a glass of cider in my hand. And that cider just happened to be Hillbilly Cider.
It tasted of real apples – a taste so clean and pure, it complemented the natural view I had in front of my face perfectly. I wasn't surprised to find out it was a local cider brewed in Bilpin – just around the corner from where I was standing.
The people behind this brand are Shane and Tessa McLaughlin. Shane is a winemaker who, after a move to Bilpin – the land of the apple – decided to have a go at making cider. They started Hillbilly cider about three years ago, and they've won awards each year since launching, including a 'best in class' in the 2014 Australian Cider Awards, and they were the highest scoring Aussie cider in the 2015 International Cider Challenge in the UK in June.
The thing I admire about their business is that they've embraced the uncomplicated 'hillbilly'ness of their lives, and celebrated it within their branding. Simplicity is the thing that makes their brand stand out – from the way they describe their hillbilly life (check it out on their website), down to their packaging and the quality of their product. A true reflection on how the simple things in life are often the best.
Tessa tells us more about their story here:
What was the tipping point that made you decide to start Hillbilly cider?
We’ve been running the family wine company for the past 18 years – Canonbah Bridge at Shane’s family property at Warren, NSW. We moved to an orchard in Bilpin nearly 10 years ago and Shane dug a cellar under the house and started experimenting with making cider. It was a natural progression from there.
Hillbilly Cider is made using no sugar and no artificial flavours. What influenced you to make this decision?
There was no question about doing it any other way. We’re passionate about making the best cider we can, and the quality of the local fruit makes all the difference to our cider.
In what ways is the consumer getting a better product because it’s all natural?
Well, they’re not having to contend with any artificial additives or added sugar for starters. Also, a genuine cider is as high in anti-oxidants as red wine is – so there’s a health advantage too!
Has marketing your business come easy to you?
I think it’s been pretty instinctive, so I guess it’s come to us naturally as opposed to easily! The name Hillbilly is in honour of 'the simpler life' we feel we lead in the Blue Mountains, amongst World Heritage National Parks, rather than in the big smoke. I think our marketing reflects our lifestyle and attitude.
What marketing skills have you had to master to get your business out there?
We launched Hillbilly on a shoestring budget, so we built our first website ourselves, which did a great job for the first couple of years before we were able to afford a professional to do one for us.
What’s the biggest marketing lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Launching the right products to suit the environment you’re selling in is crucial.
Tips on how to stay on top of everything?
Lists, lists and more lists!
What does a good day look like for you?
A good day is when everything gets done and there’s still time to enjoy a cider. It is very easy to get too busy and forget what we're doing it all for.
What about a hard day?
A big day for us is physically demanding as we are hands on with logistics and production, combined with the constant demands of working on the business.
Career highlight so far?
Winning medals with both our apple and pear ciders at the International Cider Challenge in England, and being the top-rated Australian cider at that event.
What advice would you give to yourself if you were starting out again?
Grow to the extent of your resources – i.e. financial and production capacity.
One piece of advice for other business owners?
If you are sitting down, you have forgotten something!