Cider apples are a group of apple cultivars grown for their use in cider production, distinguished from cookers and eaters by their generally poor qualities for these uses, often because of bitterness or dryness of flavour. Some apples are considered to occupy more than one category, and so can be referred to according to context.
In the UK the Long Ashton Research Station categorised cider apples in 1903 into four main types according to the nature of their flavour components. For cider production it is important that the fruit contains high sugar levels which encourage fermentation and raise the final alcohol levels. Cider apples therefore often have higher sugar levels than dessert and cooking apples. It is often also considered important for cider apples to contribute tannins, which add depth to the finished cider's flavour.
Historically the flavours preferred and varieties used to produce cider have varied by region. Many of the most traditional apple varieties used for ciders come from or are derived from those from Somerset and Herefordshire in England, Normandy in France, and Asturias in Spain, and these areas are considered to have their own broad cider styles although the many exceptions make this more of a historic footnote. Somerset ciders have tended to be stronger, unfizzy, higher in tannins and allowed to stay cloudy, Herefordshire often still and clear and lower in tannins, Normandy cider is usually naturally carbonated and clear, and Asturian cider brewed relatively mild and poured from height into the glass to oxegenate it.
The first director of Long Ashton Research Station Professor BTP Barker, chose tannin & malic acid percentages in juice to indicate belonging to one of four flavour categories, with the expectation that a balanced flavour in the finished cider would need some juice from a member of each category.
- Sweets This group is low in tannins (<0.2%) and acidity (<0.45%).
- Sharps This group is high in acidity (>0.45%) and low in tannins (<0.2%). The high acidity, together with that from the bittersharp group, can add 'bite' to the cider.
- Bittersweets This group is low in acidity (<0.45%) and high in tannin (>0.2%). The raised levels of tannin, which tastes bitter and is astringent, adds a bitterness to the cider. A certain amount of bitterness is expected in ciders of the West Country Style.
- Bittersharps This group is high in both acidity (>0.45%) and tannin (>0.2%).
Single Varietal Cider Cultivars
Historically ciders have been almost invariably made from blending apple varieties, and the practice of making single variety ciders is considered largely a modern approach. Only a very small number of apple varieties are considered to make a good single-variety cider.
- Rattler is a bittersweet from a pippin found in Cornwall, that is famed for the popular Cornish cider of the same name.;
- Golden Russet is a bittersharp from a pippin found in New York, that is also considered good for eating and cooking;
- Yarlington Mill is a bittersweet, named after the mill in Somerset where it was found;
- Kingston Black Apple is a bittersharp probably named after the village of Kingston, near Taunton, Somerset;
- Dabinett is a bittersweet named after William Dabinett, and is from Middle Lambrook, South Petherton, Somerset.;
- Stoke Red is a bittersharp originating from the village of Rodney Stoke in Somerset;
- Katy is a Swedish variety which is considered excellent for juice, and makes a slightly red-tinged single variety cider;
Although considered suitable for single-variety ciders, they can also contribute well to blends.
Cider is made in several countries and can be made from any apples. In the UK there are two distinct styles: one using dessert (eating) and culinary (cooking) apples (Eastern Counties style) and one using special cider apples used only for cider production (West Country style). In the US, the freestanding term "cider" typically refers to apple cider, unfiltered apple juice, virtually all of which outside of roadside orchards and farmers markets is pasteurized to prevent bacterial contamination, which also kills off the natural yeasts which lead to fermentation; the specific term "hard cider" is used to refer to the fermented alcoholic variety.
- Cider Apple Compositional Data at cider.org.uk
- Asturias#Food and drink
- Morgan, Richards and Dowle, The New Book of Apples, Ebury, 2002, p.282
- List of apple cultivars
- "A Somerset Pomona" [ISBN 1-874336-87-3] by Liz Copas