Fruit is obviously the main ingredient in your cider making process, and it can also be one of the most frustrating aspects to the new cider maker. Unfortunately not all of us who wish to make a cider have the option of using fresh apples or other circumstances arise so that we can’t take the time to do so. If you don’t have the room or cannot collect and press your own apples, you can buy juice at your local orchard or at the store.
If you choose to go the custom route and want to experience cider making at its fullest, from the whole apple to finished product, follow along as we take our journey down Cidery Lane.
What type of apples make a good cider? This a broad question and one that cannot be easily answered, in European countries only traditional apples such as Kingston Black, Yarlington Mill, Foxwhelp, and Porter’s Perfection, to name but a few are used. According to The National Association of Cider Makers (European) these apples and others are characterized by flavor notes such as Sweet, Bittersweet, Sharp, and Bittersharp. Don’t get me wrong I am sure there are quit a few makers that use “sub-par” apples in Europe however I am sure accesses to traditional apples is a bit easier than here in North America.
Unfortunately in North America few farmers grow the traditional “bittersharp“ or “bittersweet” apples with tannic qualities that can be found across Europe. We have a very short supply of these types of cider apples. However I believe that in some ways this is fortunate as it has given us North Americans an opportunity to do what we do best: “Innovate!” We have a long tradition of using what we have here in the USA to make our own styles, with what we are given. In the early days we would use sub-par apples and fortify the juice with such things as raisins, sugar, molasses, and other fruits to make ciders, allowing the early settlers to make a fuller bodied and stronger drink with apples that may not have had much sugar content or flavor. These additives are not “traditional” to our European cousins and in fact if they added them they would no longer legally be able to call their beverage cider. In the new American cider boom, we have continued this innovative tradition and have been producing very fine ciders from common and new variety apples. We have moved forward in our craft and have been creating unique blends, using such tasty ingredients like ginger, fruits, berries, hops, chili peppers and so many other ingredients creating truly unique and wonderful ciders. I only have to look at the tasty beverages that are produced locally by companies such as Reverend Nats (Portland, Or), Atlas Cider (Bend, Or), and 2 Towns (Corvallis, Or) to see wonderful innovative styles. I say wonderful yet the cider purists out there are now aghast at my comments and are closing their pages. We will have more posts about this fantastic and very controversial subject “What is CIDER?”
I live in the Northwest and am lucky enough to be part of the resurgence of the hard cider movement, and have access to regional orchards. Check out Orange Pippin for orchards in your area, this is not an exhaustive list but is pretty good at least here in the Northwest. However finding true cider apples even as close to the apple capital of the United States (Washington) as I am can be nearly impossible, so I rely on what some would consider sub-par fruits. Because of the phenomenal growth of the hard cider industry in the United States there have been several reports such as this one found at the Modern Farmer about not having enough cider apples. I know this is a profit stream that many orchardists are looking at and are working towards developing. So what do we use if we don’t have access to dedicated cider apples?
We use what we are give, here is a list of apples that are available in the Northwest and I am sure regionally in your area that make great ciders. On the resources page I have included links to some wonderful books such as The New Cider Maker’s Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for Craft Producers by Claude Jolicoeur and great sites like Orange Pippin that will allow you to dig deeper into all the wonderful apple cultivars that make up American Cider fruits. Oh, and don’t forget about the venerable crab apple, those great random apples trees that may be taking up residence in your neighbors yards, some of these can make great additions to your mix as some are high in acid and tannin.
I believe a good hard apple cider can be made with any type apple, however you will probably not make a good, well-balanced cider without using additives or doing a really good job of blending your varieties for sugar and acidity (more on this later). There are some orchards in North America that are producing cider apples and if you have a chance to get some you should. Often times it just takes asking around to locate the orchards that have them. Yeah I know it takes stepping out of your comfort zone, but a damn fine cider is worth it.
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