Variety is a defining characteristic in cider.
We believe that the best ciders are made with cider specific varieties.
Like wine grapes, cider apples have the tannin, acid, sugar and aromatic precursors necessary to make a complex fermented beverage. Unlike wine grapes, these all of these characteristics are rarely contained within one variety.
Thus most ciders are blends.
If you are visiting this page because you are interested in growing cider varieties, we highly recommend Cummins Nursery as a source for trees.
- This chart was developed at the Long Ashton Research Station in the UK. It’s a conceptual simplification, as there are many varieties that could be put in to several categories.
- It should be noted that tannin is a broad category of polyphenolic compounds and that the organoleptic characteristics of individual tannins can range from silky and smooth to hard and bitter.
- It should also be noted that I have revised this chart and replaced the “sweet” category with “aromatics.” These are apples that we grow for their aroma contributions, not their lack of tannin or acid.
- Unlike in Normandy, where the AOC determines which varieties can be used in cider, there is no single widely accepted definition of what constitutes a cider apple in the US. Our current working definition is a variety that is used intentionally for its assets to the fermentation rather than a variety you simply have a surplus of.
- Read HERE to learn more about our ideas on how dessert apples can be grown for aromatics in cider.
APPLE VARIETIES WE GROW
We grow dozens of different varieties on our orchards. Some of them are varieties we have come to know as excellent. Some we have planted in small quantities to test on our cider and in cider. The following is an incomplete list:
- Ellis Bitter
- Bulmer’s- Norman
- Frequin Rouge
- Somerset- Redstreak
- Yarlington Mill
- Chesel Jersey
- Medaille d’Or
- Brown Snout
- Binet Rouge
CIDER APPLE VARIETY FERMENTATION CHARACTERISTICS
In which we describe the cider making assets of varieties we use the most:
APPLES WE LOVE:
Golden Russet. (aroma/richness)
This apple adds a very distinct set of aroma characteristics as well as beautiful richness. As a single variety it lacks structure, but we find at about 30%-50% of the blend the cider will retain the aromatics of Golden Russet, specifically ripe melon and stone fruit. Sometimes peach, unripe peach, white peach, ripe peach or sometimes apricot. In addition to stone fruit, GR (in our fermentations) has a distinctive beeswax/tar/petrol quality.
Northern Spy. Minerality (salt and shale)
We love NS for it’s minerality, however, this is definitely one of those apples that is fairly insipid when grown and harvested like dessert fruit in the wrong location. Our Spy is specifically the original strain, not “Red Spy” which ferments very differently. It has a neutral sort of fresh/unripe apple aroma when fermented, that verges into a salty/ shale austerity. Grown on our dry gravelly ground, it has a refreshing acid-tannin component that is very much wet stone. We often use this as the last blending component…a blend that has the right structure and aromatics will often take on a new level of depth with 10% or 15% Northern Spy.
Kingston Black (tense springy tannin, mysterious and variable aromas)
The defining feature of Kinston Black is the quality of the tannin. A lively play between acid and tannin, the cider feels almost alive. The aromatic component is challenging, and can range from tobacco and wood through intense oxidized apple, but sometimes the cider can be aromatically neutral. We are still learning from this variety.
APPLES WE LIKE:
Akane (early acid, ripe red apple aromas)
Like it’s later cousin Idared, Akane’s Jonathan parentage means red apple aromas plus good acidity.
Dabinett (classic BSA aroma, firm dense tannin)
You really can’t go wrong with Dabinett. It’s got great aromatics of leather and orchard floor. The tannin is firm but not too bitter. This is a variety you can build tannic structure with.
Bedan (soft French bittersweet tannins)
Virginia Crab (early acid, heirloom aromatics)
Binet Rouge (soft French bittersweet tannins)
APPLES TO BE CAUTIOUS WITH:
Wild (hedgerow, cow pasture) apples can have outrageous acid and tannin and potentially interesting aromas. Not all tannin is good tannin, though, so care must be exercised to avoid harsh, bitter tannins. As a group, we find a recurring aroma trait that runs along a spectrum of ripe red cherry to acerola/children’s vitamin. We find the acerola flavors to be unappealing. Read more HERE about our thoughts on the wild apples of NYS…
Crabs can add high sugar, acid and tannin but there is a particular “crabby” flavor that we have come to associate with crab apples as a class, and particularly wild and pollinator crabs. The flavor is a spectrum from canned corn to cherry pit/almond essence. At some level this adds interest, but we find it to be a sort of wild or foxy aroma/flavor that’s kind of skanky.
McIntosh and it’s offspring (Liberty, Macoun, Empire, Cortland etc)
For some reason this class of apples we find tends towards butterscotch very easily, especially with warmer fermentations. A slow, wild ferment McIntosh can yield incredible aromatics of…very ripe McIntosh, a sort of estery apple aroma. The diacetyl flavors are not good. The estery flavors are what people identify as “apple”. It makes your cider taste like eating apples.
This variety seemingly has good cider characteristics…high sugar and acid. However the acid can veer into a sweet tarts/ gummy worm acid out of a bag kind of flavor.