Cider Apples

Enthusiasm for the apple itself goes back at least to Roman times. By the 11th Century, there were known orchards in the Cotentin region of France, around Caen and in the Pays d’Auge.  Specific references to cider apple varieties began to emerge in the 13th and 14th Centuries and of these, two are known to have survived and can be found growing and bearing fruit today - Cap of Liberty and Genet Moyle. Fruit from the tree Cap of Liberty will make, without blending with any other variety of cider fruit, a pleasant, acid, mildly bitter cider. The Kingston Black apple has a similar reputation in England.

Besides the obvious differences of taste and flavour, the cider apple can be set apart from culinary and dessert fruit because its flesh has a fibrous texture which makes it easier to extract the juice. Its juice is high in tannin, which gives it its body and colour, and high in sugar but low in acidity.

By the time the first treatises on cider making appeared in the 17th Century, many of the now famous varieties were known.


Defining the fruit

Cider apple varieties are divided into four categories according to the relative proportion of acidity and tannin:

Sweet varieties are the blandest of the four categories, being low in both components. They are useful to blend with ciders from the more strongly flavoured varieties, which, by themselves, would be too extreme in taste and aroma to be palatable. Typical examples of sweet apples are Sweet Coppin, in use to a small extent, and Court Royal which was used extensively at one time but rarely used nowadays.

Bittersweet apples impart the characteristic flavour of English ciders; as the name implies they are low in acid and high in tannin. The latter is responsible for two sensations on the palate - astringency and bitterness. In the bittersweet apple, there is a whole range of combinations of these two characteristics, varying from little astringency coupled with intense bitterness to very marked astringency coupled with mild bitterness. Typical bittersweets are Dabinett, Yarlington Mill and Tremlett’s Bitter.

Sharp varieties, so called because the predominant characteristic is that of acidity, are encountered less frequently today, possibly because culinary fruit, which has a similar flavour balance, can be substituted for this class. There are, however, recognised full sharp cider varieties, two of which are Crimson King and Brown’s Apple.

Bittersharp is the fourth class of cider apple. These are fairly high in acid and tannin, although the latter component does not show the wide range of flavours exhibited by the bittersweet.  Stoke Red is a good example.

Cider apples were traditionally grown on ‘Standard’ trees in orchards grazed by livestock. About 40 trees would be planted per acre (100 per hectare).

Since the late 1960's, the same well‑proven cultivars have been propagated onto semi‑dwarfing clonal rootstocks. These are planted more intensively, at 250 or more trees per acre (600 per hectare), in ‘Bush’ orchards - land dedicated solely to the production of cider apples on low-growing trees planted in rows to aid pruning and harvesting.

Environmental benefits

Both Standard and Bush orchards are a haven for wildlife and are an attractive amenity for all that live in or visit the countryside.

Cider producers and growers are developing orchard practices to improve and enhance the environment. For example, many growers now leave wider margins around the orchard and encourage wild flowers and the beneficial bugs they attract as they are the natural predators of the pests that can blight the apple crop. This reduces the spraying of pesticides, which is typically lighter than is the case in orchards growing fruit for the supermarket shelf.

Apples, cider and health

Apples have been shown to be high in natural anti-oxidants which can protect the body against ‘free radicals’. Modern cider making methods can ensure that these anti-oxidants remain unchanged and available in the final product.

The NACM commissioned independent research that identified the same health giving anti-oxidants that are present in red wine are also present in cider and in significant amounts. The consumption of cider leads to the absorption of these anti-oxidants. This suggests that enjoying cider in moderation could be good for your health.


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