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Vintage Cider Apples

Find out more growing your own vintage cider apples

Vintage Cider Apples

fruits | grow your own | preserving | foraging

Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in real British cider: the wave of well advertised industrial ciders (naming no names that end in –ers) has been an unforeseen boost for true cider makers and inspired people to make their own.

Making cider is easy, low-tech, high people power work that has real potential to make a positive impact to neighbourhoods: neglected apple trees are a common sight in both the city and the countryside. In theory, any apple can be used for making cider and harvesting and pressing is a great way to bring people together to use an often wasted resource. Many of the very best ciders are made from blends – mixing different varieties of apples before or after pressing or fermentation.

But some apples are markedly better for making cider. They tend to have characteristics that won’t make them popular as a dessert, such as tough, dry, stringy or mealy flesh, blotchy yellow skin and a bitter flavour.

Vintage Cider Apples

Vintage cider apples can be used for making a delicious cider all on their own. The term vintage in this context has nothing to do with the age of the apple cultivar – if a new one was bred tomorrow, with all the right qualities for making a full bodied cider, it too would be a vintage variety. However, the reality is that all the vintage breeds are fairly old.

Apples are put into four groups when being considered for cider: Bittersweet, Bittersharp, Sweet and Sharp. The bitter element of the first two is the tannins: these have the astringent flavours that make the apples unpalatable when fresh and full bodied after fermentation - brews need these tannins to make really rich tasting ciders. Tannins also contribute to a good colour. As a vague rule of thumb, sweet is most dessert apples and sharp is a cooking apple.

Most people consider the best cider brew to be bittersweet – this is the traditional West Country cider. Kentish ciders tend to be more on the sharp side and most vintage cider apples are classed as either bittersweet or sharp.

It is important to stress that "the best cider" is a purely subjective idea: some people’s taste is for sweet ciders that others find a bit sickly, some people like a sharp tang while others appreciate the rich body and somehow cleansing sensation of a more bitter drink.

The beauty of a vintage cider apple is that you can mix it with just about any other combination of random apples from your area and get a reliably tasty cider. Growing one tree is enough to make excellent cider on its own and it can enable a group of people with a range of surplus apples to make some seriously good cider together. Here are some of the best:

Kingston Black (Bittersweet) - Perhaps the all time home growers great. They aren’t productive enough to please most farmers, but are fine for everyone else. Packing real flavour, these apples are all you need to make the best cider around.

Somerset Redstreak (Bittersweet) - A workhorse of a tree with big crops, this one needs special treatment called cuvage to produce a full-bodied drink but is excellent for blending with other apples.

Dabinett / Black Dabinett (Bittersweet) - Very popular with real cider farmers, great on its own or blended.

Yarlington Mill (Bittersweet) - A fruity, superb cider apple.

Sweet Alford (Sweet) - A very useful apple that is usually blended with other fruit, but which makes the best sweet cider on its own.

Brown’s Apple (Sharp) The best sharp variety around.

Other great ones include the Broxwood Foxwhelp, Harry Masters Jersey, Medaille D’Or, Major, Fair Maid of Devon and Sercombes Natural.

If you have a well drained, sunny spot, you can grow a vintage cider apple tree.

Thanks to Ashridge Trees for helping with this piece. Click here for details on the cider apple trees listed here on their website.

Article Published: 09:57, 4th Mar 2010

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