Cider Apple Basics
Cider Apples Are Different, especially here.
Bittersweets, containing high tannins and sugars, provide structure, and a certain breadth of aromas & flavors as well as range of sensation, deeper fruit and some of the high tropical perfumes. Varieties such as Dabinett, Yarlington Mill, Chisel Jersey, Ellis Bitter, Ashton Bitter, Somerset Redstreak, Medaille d’Or, odds and ends of many others.
Bittersharps, containing high tannins & acid, contribute considerable flavor as above, but also critically important acid for clean fermentation and stimulating taste. Varieties include Kingston Black, Stoke Red, Foxwhelp. Of these, Kingston Black is the most famous back in Britain, and has long been used for single-variety ciders there. We only ever use Kingston Black by itself, but Stoke Red and other bittersharps are essential to our blends.
Heirloom Varieties: We grow a lot of heirloom varieties for eating/cooking, but a tiny few turned out to be vital for our fermented cider blends. By and large, they would fall into the traditional cider category of ‘Sharps,’ grown for high acid content that makes for clean fermentation and balanced cider flavors. Specific FHC standbys: Esopus Spitzenberg (Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple, reputedly), Ashmead’s Kernel (three hundred years old, fabulous flavor & acid, English), and Wickson (tiny, American, less old than others, and developed for cider). They all contribute fascinating aromas and flavors, and provide the acidity that the bittersweets lack. One of our standby heirlooms does have a long cider history: Golden Russet (colonial American, very commercial for all purposes before Independence and right on up to the early 20th century, known way back for good fermentations).
We’ve tried fermenting dozens of apple varieties growing here, and usually the results are boring, disappointing or even horrible. But the Spitz and Ashmead’s are so good that we’ve grafted over to more. And we’ve planted a few thousand trees of Spitz and Wickson in the last few years.
Other varieties: Believe it or not, Golden Delicious, but not just any Golden Delicious. We use a strain which at our place grows small, hard, russeted, high in acids and sugars and intensely flavorful. Recently also a little Elstar, a Dutch variety of moderate distinction for eating which is helpful with acid, sugar, and nuanced flavor of its own in blending. These newer apples help elaborate and articulate some blends, and of course they help in the quest for acid. We’re beginning to rely on Ida Red, as well.