Celebrating Cider at the Kellybrook Cider Festival

Darren Kelly, Kellybrook Winery’s patriarch and self-confessed cider lover, has been making cider since the 60’s. He has since passed down his methods and recipes to sons Phil and Gus Kelly. To celebrate their cider-making, Kellybrook Winery started its own Kellybrook Cider Festival and has been going strong for 25 years.

Kellybrook Winery vineyard

The festival began in 1989, borne from brainstorming ideas for a marketing project while Phil Kelly was still studying at university. “Dad said: ‘Why don’t you hold a cider festival, like the ones in England?'"

As part of the idea for Kellybrook Cider Festival, brothers Kelly embraced the traditions of English cider festivals, such as Morris folk dancing, and brewing their popular scrumpy exclusively for the occasion – a traditional, rustic farmhouse cider that’s been prepared in England for centuries. “The scrumpy that Dad started making was always a drawcard, so people wanted to come along and pick up a couple of containers as it is a very rare product.”

This marketing project has since flourished into a popular annual event on the Yarra Valley’s calendar. Albeit its intimate surrounds, Kellybrook Cider Festival attracts many visitors each year. The Kelly family have now contracted out various hands-on roles so they can finally enjoy themselves at the festival instead of working. Some visitors to the festival are newcomers, and there are the regular old-hats who come every year. Some festival-goers have been coming for over ten years. These are the visitors who accentuate the cider festival’s family spirit and its place as a local cultural event. "It’s definitely a family affair with grandmas, grandads, mums, dads, kids, teenagers and 20 to 30 somethings,” Phil confirms.

Kellybrook Winery cider barrel

Numbers to the event are growing each year and part of this growth lends its thanks to the current popularity of cider. “A younger demographic interested in boutique ciders has spawned. This is a new demographic – educated 20 somethings that are really into microbreweries, craft beer and unique ciders. There are many showcases in Victoria that have appeared recently dedicated to cider, to keep up with this new demand.”

Not only are cider fans drawn to the Kellybrook Cider Festival, they’re drawn to Kellybrook’s unique cider products that are made using timeless techniques. “Our apple cider is a dry style. After fermenting the juice we add more juice. So, it’s all made of fresh juice. Sometimes, the turnaround from squeezing to fermenting to bottling can be a week, so customers are drinking extremely fresh fermented apple juice. Our pear cider is a little sweeter, but not too sweet. Because we ferment the juice and add more juice, it gives you that real pear taste. Both the carbonated apple and pear products have no added sugar and water and are gluten free and vegan friendly. The Kellybrook Champagne cider is an extremely unique product and it’s one of the finest bottle fermented ciders on the market.

Kellybrook Cider Festival cider apples

People are drawn to cider because it is a nice alternative to beer or wine. Its traditions stretch as far back as 55BC, making it one of the oldest beverages to be consumed. Not many people know that! Boutique cider is becoming quite popular again and producers are looking at the past when thinking about producing in the future."

Phil insists that another benefit of Kellybrook’s cider products is that they’re brewed from local produce. “We source all of our apples form the Yarra Valley region as we have been producing so much of late. We do have a small nursery orchard on the property with one of the oldest and rarest of English varieties, which we use for some special release ciders.”

Kellybrook Cider Festival toffee apples

While cider-lovers have emerged in their numbers in recent years, cider-making is actually an artform that’s been fermenting away in the Yarra Valley region for years. The Yarra Valley is more known for its rolling vineyards (Kellybrook being one of them) but cider is now attracting a niche visitor base to the region. “We were the first to be really noticed for unique cider making in the Yarra Valley, with our champagne cider in 1969. But, the first commercially produced cider was made by Captain George McGowan in 1932. Proprietor and cidermaker Captain George McGowan purchased the Olinda Park in 1932 with cider in mind, with the property already home to rare cider apples from Devon stock. In the same year McGowan converted an old packing shed into a cidery and installed a capstan screw wine press from Paul’s Cellar at Yering and several large oak vats from Baron de Pury.

Kellybrook Cider Festival Morris dancers

The first pressing of apples was in March 1934. The cidery produced a carbonated, 10% alcoholic version labelled Lilydale Cider with the biggest sales to motorists at the weekends. Ironically with cider apples available on site, Captain McGowan used table apples; Jonathans and Five Crowns to produce cider, having to press the fruit a little harder to extract enough tannin. The business was eventually sold in 1961 and Captain McGowan retired to the Mornington Peninsula. Before he did though, Darren Kelly spent a considerable amount of time with the captain.”

The Kelly family are proud of their festival, and the fact that it brings their community together in celebration of cider. It’s understood that the Kellybrook Cider Festival was the first of its kind when it started, and continues a local tradition that Phil assures will be around in the years to come. “There is nothing like it. Even in Australia, we’re certain that there are no festivals of this kind that have been running this long. The Yarra Valley is such a unique area and people love to come to the region. The Kellybrook property where the festival takes place is magical and picturesque, especially when the vines are looking golden like they were this year. The Yarra Valley embraces this festival because it’s a part of their history and identity. The festival brings lots of people to the Yarra Valley and it also brings business to the [area]. Our very special Morris dancers have been at the festival from the very beginning. They are very unique and just love entertaining all of the festival goers. There’s a lot of scrumpy inspired dancing – that’s pretty special!”

Kellybrook Cider Festival cider mug

The Kellybrook Cider Festival will be held at Kellybrook Winery from 10am to 5pm on Saturday May 3 and Sunday May 4. Fulford Road Wonga Park Victoria 3115. Phone: 03 9722 1304.

There will be cider tastings, demonstrations and purchases, scrumpy, farmhouse food served in the restaurant, kids’ activities, live music and Morris dancers. Entry is $15 and children under 14 gain free entry. Tickets can be purchased from moshtix or on the gate. Download your flyer here.