Apples and Cider in Ontario

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Apple Selection for the Production of Hard Cider in Ontario by Greg Appleyard.This article was originally posted to the cider digest and is reproduced here with permission. Copyright to this article is retained by Greg Appleyard. If you have any comments, please contact him: gappleyard@EM.AGR.CA.

The variables with the greatest influence in beer making are, of course, the ingredients. Just as the choice of hops and malt is crucial to the style of beer, so too is the choice of apple juice crucial to the hard cider (hereafter known as "cider"). Each variety of apple has a characteristic composition and therefore a particular contribution to cider.

To obtain advice on this subject, I decided to consult the experts. From the Cider-Makers Manual (J.S. Buell, 1869) I learned that "ripe, sound fruit is the only basis for a good article of cider..." and "An active boy with a bag slung over his shoulders will soon clear a tree." Great stuff, but what kinds of apples should I choose. After further consultation with those people, whose enviable fate it is to research apple and cider production, I discovered that the basic terms used to describe apple juice are sweet (sugars), sharp (acidic), aromatic and bitter (tannin). Ciders are made by blending the juice of any combination of apple varieties and the ideal blend is bitter-sweet mixed with sweet and sharp.

Researchers at the Long Ashton Research Station near Bristol, England ( Apple Beverages, 1981) recommend the following varieties for bitter sweet: Bulmer's Norman and Dabinett, for sweet: Sweet Coppin, Worchester Permain or Cox's Orange Pippin, and for sharp: Kingston Black and Crimson King (not related to the band King Crimson as far as I know). However, even the most active farmer's market is not likely to produce these varieties, so I turned to characterizing by taste Ontario grown apple varieties. Our very own Agriculture Canada has been very helpful in producing a booklet called Apple Cultivars for Juice and (Sweet) Cider Production (Technical Bulletin 1988-6E, available free). The following is a brief list from this document.

 Sweet: Delicious, MacIntosh, Spartan, Murrey, Honey-Gold.
 Sharp: Paula Red, Sir Prize.
 Bitter-Sharp: Melba, Quinte.
 Bitter-Sweet: Cortland, Ida Red, Loyalist.

Dessert (sweet) and cooking apples (sharp) are commonly found in Ontario but the varieties prized for cider making, which contain a lot of tannin, make poor eating apples and are very rare. European cider apples include: Brown's Apple, Yarlington Mills, Tremblett's Bitter, Stoke Red and Gottingen. There are few substitutes for these varieties but historically Virginia Crab and Geneva Crab apples have been utilized as a source of apple tannin. In Quebec, cider producers have favoured tannin containing varieties such as Quinte, Cortland and Golden Russet.

Last fall, I embarked on an experiment to test these recommendations. After much searching, I obtained a bushel each of Spartan, Paula Red, MacIntosh, Golden Russet, Delicious, Northern Spy, Jersey Mac, Cortland, a 6 qt basket of Tremblett's Bitter, and a wild apple hereafter known as Greenwoods. I pressed the apples and blended the juice to achieve different flavour characteristics; bitter-sharp, bitter-neutral, bitter-sweet, aromatic-bitter, aromatic-neutral and aromatic-sweet. For example the bitter-sharp was 2400 mls golden russet, 1200 mls greenwoods, and 800 mls Paula Red while the aromatic sweet was 2400 mls Delicious, 1200 mls MacIntosh and 800 mls Cortland. Two additional batches were mixed to which I added 1/2 tsp of grape tannin. Fermentation was carried out at 15 C using Yeastlabs' Irish Ale Yeast and in April I assembled a team of taste testers.

I recorded their comments (the polite ones) on clarity, colour, flavour, aroma, and rank score, to which I applied rigorous statistical analysis. The results will guide my future experiments. Here's a summary:

1) Good clarity was correlated with juice from Golden Russet, Northern Spy, Tremblett's Bitter and the added tannin but was inversely correlated with juice from Delicious and Cortland apples.

2) A nice golden colour was associated with Jersey Mac, MacIntosh, Delicious, and the added tannin while pale colours were associated with Golden Russet, Greenwoods, Northern Spy.

3) Nice apply aromas were associated with Golden Russet and Paula Red but rotten, stinking, bog-like aromas were associated with Delicious, and Cortland apple juices.

4) A good "biting cider" flavour was associated with Tremblett's and added tannin while watery and thin flavours were associated with Delicious and Cortland.

5) Overall score and remarks favoured cider made from juice of Golden Russet, Greenwoods and Tremblett's Bitter while poor comments were received on cider made with MacIntosh, Delicious, and added tannin (mostly because it was too strong).

The bottom line was that apple tannin is a necessary component in a tasty cider and that a "cider apple" is the best place to get it from. Ontario apples with significant tannin contents such as Golden Russet substitute nicely so long as it is the major component and substituted with juices which provide colour and acid balance. Avoid the aromatic dessert apples as they will contribute off flavours and smells. Grape tannin is a viable alternative but too much will cause your cider to taste like a 2'x4'.

Based on the results of this experiment, my recommendations for a cider made with Ontario grown apples is as follows:

60% Golden Russet (for flavour)
15% Jersey Mac (for colour and sweetness)
15% Northern Spy (for sweetness and clarity)
10% Paula Red (for acid balance)

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