Did you know that there are approximately 7,500 varieties of apple trees grown in the world? Some are native to specific countries making them rarer depending on where you’re located, but regardless of where they grow that’s a lot of different kinds of apples! You won’t see every type available for sale at your local grocer, but each apple has a purpose, whether it be as a snack, for baking, or for making delicious cider. In this blog, we’ll look at some of the apple varieties we grow at County Cider, and their properties so you can understand the difference between some of the many types!
Apples are usually categorized as being Sweet or Acidic or Tannic; often referred affectionately by those in the business as ‘cookers’, ‘eaters’, or ‘spitters’, this last obviously referencing those apples with high tannin or astringency. Cider specific apples usually fall into one four groups; Sweet, Sharp, Bittersweet or Bittersharp. Apples with high sugar are Sweet, those with high acidity are Sharp and those with a combination of Tannin and Sugar are Bittersweet while those with Tannin and Acid are Bittersharps. Having a variety of apples from each group can add complexity and interest to ciders so they are not too one sided and bland.
The first variety we’ll look at is one of the most popular apples in the world for eating. Mutsu (aka Crispin) was introduced in 1948 in the Mutsu Province of Japan. They are a cross between the Golden Delicious and the Indo apple. They are large in size and a yellowish-green skin with an orange blush. They are crisp, juicy, and are known for their distinct sweet flavour making them a popular snack or salad topper. This apple can also be used for baking because of its sweetness and plenty of people around the world agree, that along with the Honeycrisp and Pink Lady varieties, these apples are best eaten uncooked. We use these apples in cider to add sweetness.
The next type we’ll look at is popular for its unique flavour when used for baking purposes. The Northern Spy variety is a late season apple that’s typically harvested in colder months like October or November, making it great for storing all season. It’s usually used for baking and also in cider production because it is tart while also boasting hints of sweet pear. So while this variety is known for its baking properties it’s interesting flavour combination can also be used in cider to add acidity and complexity.
Lastly, we’ll look at the specific apple varieties that are used to produce cider. Cider specific apples are more complex and have higher tannin content and as they are usually less sweet they produce a drier cider. These apples are what we specialize in at County Cider. We typically use a combination of at least 16 apple varieties to get the complex flavours that makes our ciders so irresistible. One of the varieties we use is Kingston Black. We have spent years cultivating and growing this bittersharp variety. It is one of the definitive English cider apple varieties and produces an all round, high quality bittersharp juice. This means it has sugar, acidity and tannin in balance to create an eminently sessionable cider; one that cleanses your palate and leaves you wanting another sip!
Another cider variety we grow is a French variety called Medaille D’Or. This apple is a traditional bittersweet known for its high tannin content as well as high sugar levels. Other varieties we grow have great names like Brown Snout, Michelin, Frequin Rouge, Crimson Crisp and Ashmead’s Kernel. These are wonderful for making cider but most are not so good for eating fresh as the astringency can make it seem like you are chewing on a tea bag!
In conclusion, apples varieties are all different in their own ways. Next time you are at the supermarket try some different apple varieties for yourself and see what their characteristics are in terms of flavour. In the Fall go out to some farmer’s markets and see if you can find a variety you have never found in a supermarket. I think you will be pleasantly surprised. Also, don’t forget to come to our orchard in person and check out all the different varieties we grow that make our cider stand out from the rest!
"These ciders, the truly magnificent ones, were all made by people who grow their own apples, tend their orchards, pick, select, blend and make their ciders where they live. It is a commitment bordering on religious zeal. Greatness can only be achieved by knowing the characteristics and nuances of the underlying apple varieties, how these apples are effected by yearly changes in weather patterns, and if you are very lucky perhaps 30 years of trying to get it right." – Grant Howes, Founder of The County Cider Company Inc.