This National Apple Day we are celebrating the star of the show; our Cider Apple varieties. Taking a look at why there are so many types of apple, which varieties make the best cider and how we achieve the right blend for our ciders.
Why are there so many varieties of apple?
Apples are not ‘just apples’.
There are over 30,000 apple varieties in the world, with some being cultivated for very specific reasons and uses. Each variety has its own unique chemical balance; affecting the acidity, sweetness and tannins of the cider’s they produce. Therefore, choosing the right kind of apple (or apples) is a complicated scientific business.
To start with the basics, the British Categorization System (by Acidity and Tannin levels) has four main categories:
bittersweet: low level of acidity and a high level of tannin
bittersharp: high levels of both
sharp: high in acidity but low in tannin
sweet: low tannin and low acidity, but doesn’t necessarily refer to its sugar content relative to other apples.
Cider makers, past and present, go to great lengths to perfect the balance of these four characteristics. Over time farms, estates and breweries cultivated apples with unique characteristics desired to achieve their different cider blends. This has resulted in the many different varieties we have today.
What varieties make the best cider?
Some of the most frequently used apples for cider making are:
Yarlington Mill: *Bittersweet. The prominent apple in many blends. Good cropping, nice flavour and it will fill your cider shed with a lovely aroma.
Kingston Black: *Bittersharp. The ultimate cider apple because of the juice it produces, which is acidically well balanced and tannin rich .
Chisel Jersey: *Bittersweet. Don’t be put off by their appearance, they are often rock hard and covered in scab. An old cider-maker once said the apple got it’s name from ‘chesil’, an old english name for ‘stone’.
Harry Masters’ Jersey: *Bittersweet. A nice looking, large apple with astringent juice when squeezed.
Morgan Sweet: *Sweet. A hard to come by apple that was once the Bristolians eating apple of choice. It’s also a great addition to a cider blend as the juice ferments super quick. Perfect for blending or ideal as a single variety for the less patient.
Dabinett: *Bittersweet. Found by William Dabinett growing as a wilding (a natural seedling) in a hedge at Middle Lambrook, South Petherton, Somerset. The fruit is of sufficient quality to make a single varietal cider, and a number of commercial cider manufacturers produce ciders made solely or primarily with ‘Dabinett’ apples.
The apples out the bag!
At Colcombe House we grow a wide range of apples, some for our cider making and others for commercial cideries and breweries. If you’d like to learn more about the specific varieties of apple we use, please subscribe to our mailing list where we will be sharing insider anecdotes on a monthly basis.
The basics of cider making is to mix a juice blend with a balance of acidity, sugar, and tannin which results in a balanced end product: your finished cider.
There are many ways in which a cider can be out of balance:
Overly acidic juice can result in a harshly tart, sharp cider.
Overly sweet juice can result in a high alcohol level which may not be in balance with the other characteristics (too much sugar means higher alcohol content, and when ABV exceeds 7% cider iss taxed at a higher rate akin to wine).
Sweet, but bland, juice with little tannin or acidity can result in an insipid, bland, boring cider with little character.
Highly tannic juice can lack acidity (as many high-tannin apples are low in acid) or impart too much bitterness and astringency to the end product.
How do you achieve balance?
There are various options after your fermentation ranging from:
oak-aging (increases tannins)
additives (e.g., malic acid to increase acidity)
malo-lactic fermentation (a bacterial process whereby harsh acidity is reduced by transforming malic acid to lactic acid, thereby reducing the intensity of the acidity in the flavor profile)
blending juices for balance up front (blending reduces the number of interventions you’ll need to make later on).
How do we do it at Colcombe House?
At Colcombe House we don’t like to mess with our cider or add any unnatural additives and sugars. Therefore, we typically blend our juices up front to achieve the right balance from the start. This means we follow a relatively ancient method to produce our cider which reflects the heritage and values of the family farm.
First, we grow our apple varieties.
Second, we lovingly hand pick some orchards and use a blower and shaker combo on others.
Thirdly, we crush and press our apples through a ‘scratter’ which sorts the juice from the pulp.
Next we blend our desired ratio of juices and add our yeast. This kick starts the fermentation process which can take up to 12 months.
We store our cider in a variety of different containers, from IBC’s or barrels to large fermentation vats. It really depends on what characteristics we want to achieve.
Once fermentation and aging has finished we taste our cider. ONLY when it has the seal of approval from ALL of the team, do we send it for bottling.
Finally, we add the labels and package it up just for you.
Why not try the fruits of our labour? Claim 20% OFF our cider with this coupon code: AUTUMNAPPLES