Which apples to use when making cider? Should you use cider apples, culinary apples or both?
When we are talking cider, the fruit is an essential topic. Which apples you use can make a whole lot of difference in how the ciders taste - some Australian craft cider producers have even begun to identity apple terroir, creating distinct regional flavours to the ciders.
Apples are suited to temperate climates and are more traditionally grown in the southwest and southeast of Australia. The first apple trees arrived in Australia in Tasmania in 1788, they were mostly cider apples, primarily used to make… you guessed it! - cider!
Fun fact inside a fun fact: Apparently, the ‘Lyne family in Tasmania still uses an English oak cider press imported in 1826’! (The Australian Cider Guide).
When it comes to making cider, there are two general types of apples you can use: Cider Apples and Culinary Apples. The first ones are varieties that are grown specifically to be used in cider making, while the latter are edible apples, that are generally used for eating and or juicing.
Cider apples are apple varieties that you wouldn’t really be able to eat off the tree. Seriously, you’d take a bite of it and spit it - the reason why they are often called ‘spitter’ apples.
When raw, cider apple varieties are too tart, too sharp and too bitter to eat. These characteristics are also what makes them great fermenting options.
The idea with cider apples is to get gorgeous strong tannins and ferment all those sugars out to a pretty complex texture, some beautiful brett funkiness, dry flavours and a mouthful.
But at the end of the day, when it comes to cider making, it is really the tannins the cider makers are looking for in cider apples - that grip on the tong with a lasting dry finish.
“Traditional cider apple varieties are classified by their balance of sweetness, acidity and bitterness. The best traditional ciders are usually blends of all four types of apples” - The Australian Cider Guide
Culinary apples are those you would usually buy at the supermarket, eat them raw, and have that delicious, tasty and sweet flavour of real apples with enough texture and acidity to make you keep wanting more.
These varieties of apples are ‘the most widely grown in Australia’. They are commonly used for consumption, cooking or juicing and by cidermakers that are making new-world style ciders.
Eating apples traditionally have higher sugar content, fewer tannins and more acidity. Making them perfect to obtain a clearer cider that is fresher in taste, fruiter in flavour and with nice balancing acidity.
The most popular varieties of eating apples are:
Fun fact inside a fun fact: Did you know that Pink Ladies and Sundowners were invented by a West Australian horticulturist? John Cripps cross-pollinated the flowers of Golden Delicious and Lady Williams to get the two varieties that are now trademarked as Pink Lady and Sundowner.
Some varieties are not as popular, and not as widely available, but make for delicious cider bases:
The idea is to understand which style cider you would like to make first (new world or traditional) and then look for apple varieties that offer the characteristics that you are looking for. Most of our ciders at funk cider are made from a secret blend of Pink Lady & Granny Smith apples. If you have any questions please feel free to leave us a comment below :)