by Wendy Crispell
Hard cider in the Hudson Valley and Capital Region runs the gamut from pleasantly fruit-forward to tongue curling bone dry, or those with a bit of interesting funk. There is something for every taste, yet the finished product depends on a number of different factors, including the variety of apple used. The decision to use cider apples, culinary apples, or a carefully selected blend of both depends on the style of cider desired.
Traditional cider apple varieties that are used in England, Spain, and France are becoming popular again in New York. Although once widely planted here, many of these orchards were ripped out during Prohibition due to the fact that the apples weren’t suitable for eating or baking. Known as “spitters” (because of their bitter, acrid taste) their higher sugar content made them perfect for hard cider, but not quite the right choice for daily munching or mom’s apple pie.
According to Tim Dressel of Kettleborough Cider House (who uses both cider and culinary apples), there are certainly specific varieties that are considered more valuable than others for cider, but overall it’s more about their classification: sweet, bittersweet, bittersharp, and sharp. English and French style cider producers concern themselves with getting the right ratio of these four categories.
Other cider makers prefer to use a blend of culinary or dessert apples that naturally contain less pectin and tannin. Scrumptious when freshly picked off the tree, these varieties produce hard cider that’s filled with local terroir. Many of these producers are sourcing apples from local family farms passed down from generation to generation.
With thousands of different apple varieties available (some popular ones on page 4), it’s up to the individual cider maker to select the type of fruit that will create the balance of sweet, bitter, and sharp qualities they are looking for in the glass. Then the decision of finishing in steel, inert vessels, or oak comes into play, but more on that at another time!
Popular Culinary Apples
An American heirloom apple dating back to the 18th century, it can be eaten fresh but is primarily a baking apple, popular for juice and cider production
With Red Delicious and McIntosh for parents, this apple was destined for greatness. Developed at Cornell University in the ’40s, its sweet-tart combination is at home in pies, tarts, lunch boxes, and in a glass.
This historic variety is as versatile as apples come. It can be served raw, baked, roasted, sauteed, or slow cooked. Perfect in classic apple preparations such as pies, tarts, cobblers and cider!
Named in the 1800s after the town in Ulster County, NY, this American variety is one that should appeal to European tastes. It has an aromatic flavor with dense yellow flesh, and the rich sharpness of a high- quality dessert apple. Eating a Spitzenburg is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and said to have been a favorite of Thomas Jefferson.
Popular Cider Apples
A traditional hard cider variety discovered in 1850 in England, its name derives from the “brown eye” at the base of the apple. It produces a sweet, slightly astringent juice and makes a mild to medium bittersweet cider.
This bittersweet apple is one of the most favored in Normandy, used for cider and the famous Calvados brandy produced in the region. It’s known for its intriguing flavors, which can include notes of clove, banana, and licorice.
Hailing from England this is one of the easier bittersweet apples to grow, favored for its reliability to yield stellar fruit annually. It can be used to make a single variety cider, or blended.