Apples for Artisanal Cider: Understanding the Characteristics of Single Varietals

July 20, 2018

Hard cider is a beverage that is rooted in history, dating back to 55 BC when the Romans discovered it in England. Today, it is emerging as a potentially fruitful business opportunity for modern and future producers. Two of the producers who have contributed to that growth are Wisconsinites Marie and Matt Raboin, who made their first few gallons of cider in 2010. They planted their first trees in 2014, and now have more than 1,000 trees, but they reached a barrier in their cider production when they noticed the scarcity of information about specific cider apple qualities. In 2016, the Raboins received a $7,500 NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher grant to determine which trees and apples would yield high-quality ciders.

Matt is a former outreach specialist with the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS). He says more detailed descriptions of the cider qualities of specific apple varieties will help producers determine which trees to plant and how to blend ciders to make artisan products.

The Raboins purchased fermentation vessels, airlocks, yeast, sanitizer, campden tablets, and other supplies needed for fermenting the ciders. They also purchased all supplies for testing the ciders, including a refractometer, a pH meter, and chemical reagents. Then they assembled a collection of English and French cider apples, American heirloom cider apples, American heirloom multi-purpose apples, unique local apples, and some common eating apples.

They pressed and fermented all of the apples using the same methods (same yeast, same temperature, same yeast nutrients, etc.) to limit variables. Then they tested each juice and recorded specific gravity, total acidity, total tannins, and brix (a measurement of the approximate amount of sugars) for each.

Each of the ciders went through a 3-week primary fermentation followed by a 6-week secondary fermentation. All of the ciders were then bottled and pasteurized. They tasted the finished ciders and evaluated them, recording notes on color, aroma, multiple flavor components, and overall impression.

The Raboins were able to confirm their suspicion that some apple varieties produce more desirable ciders than others, and were able to identify, apple by apple, which characteristics they preferred. At the same time, they learned that many common eating apples also produce an acceptable cider. For their cider business, they have decided to make multiple cider lines, including a line of lower cost ciders that are largely made with common eating apples, and a higher end line of ciders that is largely comprised of specialty cider varieties.

“There were a few apples that were clear standouts compared with others and made very enjoyable ciders,” reported Raboin. “Some of our favorites included Yarlington Mill, Marin Oufroy, Wisconsin Russet, Black Gilliflower, Plumb Cider, Perry Russet, and Minkler. This gives us some confidence that these may be apples that we would like to grow more of in the future.”

View Doud's presentation on this project, from the 2018 Farmer's Forum, through NCR-SARE's Youtube playlist.

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Topics: Apples
Related Locations: North Central