Wednesday 14 January 2015

"Cider can be made from any apple." Discuss...

Apologies. One for the more hardened cider drinker than perhaps those who are exploring the different tastes and flavours that cider has to offer. If that is you - if you are just seeking good ciders to drink then 'Yer tiz!!'. You have a far more important job to do than worry about apple varieties... though if you get hooked, then perhaps you will come back to this post:-)

To those who just want a quick answer: Yes. Cider can be made from any apple. I guess the question is "SHOULD cider be made from any apple." Personally, I have made cider from all sorts of apples over the years, though these days many are a single gallon just to explore the end result. From personal experience (and notes):

Braeburn: Quite sharp and very uninteresting. Thin. Offers nothing (in fact, Braeburns greatest contribution to the world is that it is shiny, crisp and sweet. None of which (apart from the amount of sugar) is of any interest to a cider maker!

Bramley: Massively sharp and yet a fairly high sugar content too. Horrible cider to drink. I have heard that if you leave it for several years the acid dies away). Useful for providing a slight background acidity - i.e. protecting the cider from rope/mouse etc.

Kanzi (I think that is how it is spelled - it is known as something else commercially as it is grown under licence): Produces a very high sugar content but very little flavour and, quite frankly, not good at all..

Royal Gala: Quite a thin cider without much character. Good sugar content and blends well.A bulking cider.

Russet: Interesting nutty cider and rather dry. Thin but pleasant. Odd aftertaste sometimes. Makes a good SV but needs care. Acid drops after 12 months and becomes dull.

OK, that represents a few single variety ciders I have made - and focuses on dessert apple varieties as that is what is often available to anyone outside of the magical 'Ciderland'. I have tried others that have been very interesting; Yarlington Mill, Kingston Black and other cider varieties (in fact, I was so impressed with an SV Michelin cider that I almost made it on a larger scale). Trouble is, most people making a small amount of cider will find getting hold of cider varieties quite tricky - its hard enough for some commercial cider makers!

So, can dessert apples make cider? I mean, ultimately that is what it boils down to... isn't it?

In the UK, we have two distinct traditions of making cider - Eastern style and Western style. One is predominantly made from dessert fruit and the other from cider fruit. Both are equally valid (even if one or two cider makers don't think that is true... perhaps they should leave Somerset once in a while!) and both have venerable histories stretching back hundreds of years. And, if you want my own opinion, both are equally interesting (although there are more examples of good western style cider than eastern currently!). So in that sense, anything goes.

However, a brief story from my early years of cider making. The first year I went around my 'hood and found a dozen or so 'wilding' trees, growing at the side of the road. That cider was thin, acidic and I was the only one to drink it. The second, I was offered windfall Cox apples, which went in with the roadside apples. Better. The third year I was introduced to an orchard owner who let me have some dessert and cider apples... I let the roadside apples go. It was much, much better. The fourth year and onwards I have determined to just use known varieties from growers that I respect (and pay).

So yes, by all means make cider from whatever apple you can get hold of. I secretly smile each time someone says proudly "I made a bit of cider last year... it was easy" and then go on to tell a tale about how it nearly killed them to drink it! It isn't that easy... to do it well the most important thing is not kit; it's that you learn the apples... and that takes time and patience and a willingness to make mistakes! If you want to use wildings, make sure you try and eat one first to see what its like and please, if you do make and sell the stuff - make sure its something you can be proud of.

There you go. See, I am not just about reviews eh:-)

PS - feel free to agree or disagree. I already know one well known cider maker who dismisses anything made with dessert apples as crap. But then, he is an idiot and I can only recommend his cider, not the man who makes it!


  1. Hear, hear. I've had lovely, complex ciders made from dessert fruit and some quite nasty ones made from traditional cider apples. The skill of the cider maker counts for as much as the fruit, if you ask me.

  2. Thanks for the comment - and yes, although one of the key skills of the cider maker is knowing when to just leave things alone to do their thing... and that depends on good juice and experience generally.

    In the UK, there is a current prevalence of dessert/culinary apple ciders from new start ups (probably because that is what they can get hold of) that can be pretty hard to drink. So, to a degree I think your example may be an exception rather than the rule.

    Thinking about it, it is mostly down to the skill of the cider maker: knowing what varieties work and don't work - and how they work is a skill that comes from practice and experience.