Varietal ciders

by Wendy Crispell

Cider makers often blend inedible bitter-sharp and bittersweet apple varieties with crossover apples to create their signature house styles. But some, like Doc’s Draft, Hudson Valley Farmhouse Cider, and Angry Orchard are experimenting with single varietals, using just one type of apple to create ciders with a distinct flavor profile. While these modern and heirloom apples are gaining popularity as varietal ciders, they can also be the backbone of blends:

Ashmead’s Kernel

This is a rather lumpy, misshapen English apple that would never win a contest for its beauty. But, appearances can be deceiving. Ashmead’s Kernel has remained popular for well over two centuries, and with good reason: it has a taste that sets it apart from most other varieties. For some, the elusive flavor is reminiscent of a sweet- smelling hard candy known in the UK as a pear drop.

Esopus Spitzenberg

This buttery-yellow, antique variety was discovered by Dutch settlers in 1770. Its crisp, juicy flesh, rich aromatics and concentrated flavor make it the apple of cider connoisseurs.

Gold Rush

A smooth-skinned modern dessert apple with a flavor profile similar to Golden Delicious, but with a bit more acidity. It is late harvested and has excellent juice, but as a relatively new variety there isn’t much experience with it yet in cider production.

Golden Russet

The “I can do anything better than you” apple. Discovered in New York in 1840, this dynamo’s sweet, honeyed fruit has the perfect blend of acid, sugar, and tannin to enhance any blend, and enough finesse to be used for a single varietal cider.

Newtown Pippin

Early New York settlers propagated this varietal in Queens in the 18th century. The green-skinned, late harvested Pippin has a well-balanced, sweet-tart flavor and tannins that make it a good candidate for barrel-aged ciders.

Northern Spy

This sharply flavored late ripening variety was introduced in the 1840s in Rochester, NY. With possible connections to Esopus Spitzenburg it shares many of the same qualities including heady aromatics and luscious fruit.

Winesap

Winesaps can be eaten fresh, but they also shine in cider production. This heirloom apple has a unique tartness, intoxicating aroma, and lingering spice that sets it apart from other varietals.