Hillbilly Cider's owner, head brewer and RFS (Rural Fire Service) veteran Shane McLaughlin defended first his home at Bilpin in the NSW Blue Mountains and then his brand new cider shed a few kilometres away from the fires that raged throughout December. The fourth-generation Akubra wearer says the only casualty was his trademark Sombrero, which now greets the world minus a band.
Tell us some of Hillbilly’s back story.
We moved to an orchard in the heart of apple country at Bilpin in 2007 and I started making cider in a cellar I dug under our house. We opened a cellar door three years ago and last year we planned a much larger venue that also served food. We've rebuilt an old shed and used recycled material. Everything in it has a story whether it's tin I picked up on the side of the road, old tennis court lights from my family's sheep property out west, or timber from the 2013 fires on our property It's very Hillbilly!
What was the impact of the bush fires?
We spent most of December fighting fires: Our cellar door was closed, the road was closed and our local Christmas markets were cancelled. I was fighting fires and recurring spot fires on our road both on our property and our neighbours’ for about a week before the fires hit the new cellar door that we’d been building since June.
How close did the fires get?
Way too close! An 80-metre wall of flames hit the shed and everything was on fire. A mate had stayed with me to help and the two of us managed to save the building. To be in the epicentre like that was unbelievably hot — I was fully kitted out in fire gear — but still felt like I was melting. My trusty Akubra survived the night, but sometime later I realised the hat band had melted off.