DIY Cider Making #3: What is a Cider Apple?

Welcome to Cider Culture’s column about DIY cider making. Our intrepid cider reporter, Samantha (who’s also an at-home cider-making experimenter), will share her tips, thoughts, frustrations, victories and insights into the DIY magic it takes to turn apples into a mind-bending beverage. Check out her first and second installments for a proper introduction. 

Please bear with me while I get a little philosophical, and behold the humble apple:

In some religions, the apple is the first fruit to get the human race into trouble. In art and literature, apple are often used as symbols to represent truth, wisdom, virtue and work ethic. There is an air of honesty about apples—though they hold secret complexity and can yield many delicious things (like our favorite beverage), you could never call them pretentious or overwrought.

When you think of an apple, you probably imagine the varieties available within your local grocery store. Your supermarket’s color-coded layout of the reds, yellows and greens could make this fruit appear almost one-dimensional. There is so much to this special little fruit, however, including the diverse flavors, textures and purposes for the fruit.

When it comes to making cider, apples of all shapes and styles can potentially be used in the creation process. If you’re looking for cider-specific apple varieties, however, it’s unlikely you’ll find them at your local grocer.

So what constitutes a cider apple? They are varieties of apples that have been specifically cultivated for making cider, and have attributes that differ from apples typically used for cooking and eating. Cider apples often have more bitterness or dryness than dessert apples, as well as high levels of acid and tannin. They also have higher levels of sugar, which make them ideal for fermenting into cider to raise the alcohol content.

Have you ever bitten into a crabapple directly off the tree? It is not tasty at all. These types of apples, however, can add great color and body to a cider, as well as depth. Just like a hit of lemon juice can make a sauce or salad dressing come alive, bitter apples can add dimension to cider that might otherwise be flat in flavor, and can also balance out any saccharine sweetness.

Some apples, however, can occupy more than one category. For example, Jack’s Hard Cider makes a cider using Granny Smith apples, which you can find easily in many produce markets.

DIY Cider Making

Cider apples are categorized traditionally based on their combination of acidity and tannin levels:

  • Bittersweet
  • Bittersharp
  • Sharp
  • Sweet

The bittersweet variety usually has a low level of acidity and a high level of tannin. Bittersharps contain high levels of both acid and tannin. Sharps usually have high acidity, but are low in tannin. Sweets have low tannin and low acidity and are not ideal in cider (except as part of a blend). The term “sweets” does not necessarily refer to its sugar content, however. In fact, the preceding terms don’t explicitly include the sugar content of the apples, though the apple’s sugar level is also an important factor in cider making, as it drives the alcohol content of the finished product.

Do you use cider apples, or other sorts, to make your cider? Please join in on the conversation and let us know!

  • Photos: Pexels