non-traditional cider apple varieties

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Sometimes I have to remind myself
Staff member
HBT Supporter
May 13, 2014
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Midwest USA
So I have been looking for apple varieties for fermentation, and the best I could find was here.

Thing is, besides McIntosh, Liberty, and Cortland, these aren't really the varieties I typically find in either the produce section of the grocery store, or the gurneys or jung catalogs.

Are there some good online resources that provide information on what kind of cider/wine/cyser I'd get from what I typically see in the grocery store, or what I might be able to find at the apple tree nurseries? Or perhaps a recent print resource?
None that I'm aware of. There are hundreds of apple varieties and even the same kind of apples grown in different regions will be different. Probably the best resource would be to ask your local orchard/cider mill what mix of their apples make the best hard cider.

There are published guides but they're always biased toward whatever apples grow in the author's region, or in his/her own orchard.
See if you can get hold of a copy of Claude Jolicoeur's excellent book, The New Cider Maker's Handbook. He has a section devoted to apple varietals that are used to make hard cider. Jolicoeur is Canadian and is recognized as one of the best cider makers in North America , if not in the world.
You can make an ok cider from desert varieties including the ones you mentioned.
Jonathan and Jonagold work for me if I can get them tree ripened.
Most commercial apples in the US are picked way before they are ripe and the resulting juice has a high acid content. If you grow your own apples you can let them ripen properly. I make a pear cider to blend with the apple and that helps bring the acidity down. Check Cummins nurseries in upstate NY for cider apple varieties.
Some of my better ciders are made from 10+ varieties of local apples. However, I'm pretty much not happy with the cider I've made, as my taste has matured, I have reduced my cider making until my own trees bear more fruit.

Go on you tube, and check out Stephen Hays videos showing his apple orchard. He has a few interesting varieties he has used to make cider. Note that just because some varieties in England and France make good cider doesn't mean that the same varieties grown in your area are going to be similar.
Any book or online information saying one apple is better than another can't take into account your local growing conditions. I do recommend, as others have, the Claude Jolicoeur book: "The New CiderMakers's Handbook". His recommendations about apple varieties need to take into account his location in Canada. Your results will be different.
The best thing to do is figure out what works in your local area. Talk to local cider makers and apple farmers, you'd be amazed how much free information you can get if you go after it.
The bottom line is if you want to make better cider, you just need to get out there and experiment with what you have, basically, get going making cider, tasting it, figure out what you like and don't like. Cider isn't beer, there aren't any clone recipes.
I’ve had a few commercial ciders made from Pink Lady apples that were pretty good. It’s one of my favorite varieties to eat.
I've looked into the Jolicoeur book. If we find a house with enough of a yard I'll have to check that out. Otherwise I'm just restricted to whatever is in the grocery stores or available at apple stands in the autumn anyway.

I'm not really familiar with Jonathon or Jonagold varieties. But until a few years ago I didn't really pay much attention to apple varieties at all.

Pink Lady apples are one of my wife's favorites, so I know a little about those. I just looked it up, and those trees are recommended for hardiness zone 5. I'm in hardiness zone 4, and actually not far from zone 3. But I know I should at least be able to find them in the grocery store. I also see that at Cummins they list Wolf River as a cider apple. I actually just ordered one (elsewhere) for my in-laws because apparently my father-in-law remembers them fondly. Might have to steal a scion someday. Not sure why Cummins is so enthused about dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties, I have a friend who tried to make things work with several dwarf honeycrisps and after some years he started taking them out and putting standard in.

By the way, are honeycrisps a good cider apple? That variety has exploded in popularity around here over the past several years. What about Granny Smiths? I would think that they're pretty tart, so do they make a decent cider? I wouldn't want to try growing them, but I'm pretty sure I could find them at the grocery store.
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I think the thing is that you are referring to dessert apples - rather than cider apples, and while I am sure that you can press dessert apples and can make a drinkable hard cider from them, those apples are cultivated to be eaten (some perhaps to be cooked - although where I grew up you would not eat the cooking apples and you would not cook the eating apples.. ). Jolicouer (and others) who list "cider apples", list apples that are typically not sold in the local supermarket.

It's a bit like making wine from table grapes. The yeast will make a wine from the fruit but the wine will not be anything to write home about. Eating apples - really only have the sugar going for them and once you convert the sugar into alcohol their flavor is a little .. um... thin.
One example of a list of good apples for hard cider
I think the thing is that you are referring to dessert apples - rather than cider apples, and while I am sure that you can press dessert apples and can make a drinkable hard cider from them, those apples are cultivated to be eaten (some perhaps to be cooked - although where I grew up you would not eat the cooking apples and you would not cook the eating apples.. ). Jolicouer (and others) who list "cider apples", list apples that are typically not sold in the local supermarket.

I like to think I'm trying to come up with a good list of nearly dual-purpose varieties that are available to me. Pending how things work out while my wife and I look for a new house (hopefully with a yard big enough for a few apple trees, but I can't count on that), I'm trying to find what I can make work from the grocery store while I try to find varieties I might want to plant in a few years. And it is a little difficult to find Virginia Crab apples (or most of the other cider apples in the first link I provided) in the store, I haven't found many of the cider-specific varieties in the online nurseries I typically go to, and it looks like demand typically exceeds supply when it comes to the online nurseries one can find them in. Besides Liberty, McIntosh, and Cortland, the only other variety I was finding from my typical nurseries was Golden Russet, and I wasn't finding it in many locations.

So I am hoping to collect information, and while I know that there are varieties that people have described as good cider apples for decades (if not centuries) I figured I would try to set those labels (cider, dessert, baking, eating, etc) aside for a while and just try to figure out what varieties are accessible to me and what I can do with them.

Thanks for the link, I appreciate it. It appears to have several more varieties for me to investigate.
Apples like Honeycrisp and Pink lady have fairly high acidity. When you ferment out the apple juice the sweetness goes away and you are left with alcohol and acidity. The resulting cider lacks balance. If you can get Russets, Macintosh, Liberty and Cortland, go for it and see how it comes out. Seek out lower acid varieties and try to keep the acid types less than 20% of your blend. Skip the supermarket apples, go on google and see what local orchards are around and next fall, drive around and see what you can find. Ask if they sell seconds or juice apples. Around here, juice apples are $5-10 a bushel, which is pretty cheap, but I'm in an apple producing area so prices are low. The later season apples make better hard cider than the early varieties. Keep an eye on your local craigslist for small producers with apples to sell. I've come across some local heirloom apples on craigslist, but expect to pay $20/bushel or more for what may be funky looking apples. If you want to make some small batches now, Simply Apple Juice in the cold juice section of your supermarket makes a pretty decent cider.
I tried some Simply Apple in a cyser, it was awful. I don't know if it was the juice or if I messed something up elsewhere, but I'm not in a hurry to try it again without learning some stuff.

So I'm thinking that next fall try to make some fermented beverage with the McIntoshs or Cortlands, try that, then try repeating the beverage substituting some with another variety. I'm still open to suggestions for that other variety.
There are a lot of variables that makes a mead or a cider good or bad. Yeast, pitching rate, fermentation temperature, choice of juice and variety of honey and use of nutrients or the lack of nutrients all play a part. I've fermented cortland apple juice on its own and its kind of blah and boring to my taste, but part of blend it has its place, the same with Macintosh.
If you look around your neighborhood, you'll find LOTs of apple trees. And the vast majority of those apples go to waste. Most owners are happy as clams to let you pick as many as you want.

Keep an eye out and talk to your neighbors. See if you can find some crab apples (anything you instantly spit out when you bite it is a good place to start). Cooking apples can also have interesting properties. Mix and match the crab, cooking, and eating apple juices until you find a blend you like.

Note that this process could take years :)

I'm buying a cider press this year, and I plan on making a bunch of 1 gallon test batches. Experimentation is fun!