What makes a Cider Apple?
While any apple can be made into apple juice, not all apples can be used to make delectable cider. Similar to wine grapes, there are apple varieties that have been cultivated specifically for the production of cider. Cider apples typically contain varying levels of acid, tannin, or sugar–which make them desirable for fermenting into ciders. Specifically because of the tannins present in these apples, a lingering flavour of astringency and bitterness often accompanies each bite of a cider-apple. On the flip side, using an everyday apple like a Honeycrisp or Gala apples will create a cider that might be too overly sweet, flat and one-dimensional in flavour, or in other words almost like an alcoholic apple juice.
The British Categorization System
Not only do we believe that Britain is the mecca of hard ciders, it has also gifted us with a cider-apple categorization system that is easily understandable for noobs like us. The British system is based on a combination of acidity and tannin level which drives the classification of the cider-apple.
Before we proceed into further detail regarding the categories, its essential to note that when we talk about sugar content in the context of cider and cider-apples, this does not refer to the sweetness of the apple. Instead the sweetness is an indicator that determines the alcohol content (ABV aka how buzzed you can get) of the finished cider.
Four Categories of Cider-Apples
Bittersweet: Low level of acidity but high level of tannin
Bittersharp: High levels of both acidity and tannin
Sharp: High level of acidity but low level of tannin
Sweet: Low levels of both acidity and tannin - sweet apples do not make good ciders, however they are suitable as part of a blended mix of one of the other 3 cider-apple varieties
What Does this all mean?
As with everything in life, what we are looking to achieve with ciders is a balanced blend of acidity, sugar, and tannin. To give you a sense of what an unbalanced cider can possibly taste.
With all that being said, how in the world can we achieve balance? Experts would typically introduce fermentation into the brewing process, whether via oak-aging or through additives. For us beginners, blending of different apples will just do the trick.
- Juice that is too acidic can result in a harsh, sharp and tart cider, tasting more like apple cider vinegar.
- As mentioned earlier regarding the alcoholic prowess of sugars, overly sweet juice can result in a cider with high alcohol level which may tip the balance of what a tasty cider should be.
- Juice with little tannin or acidity can lead to cider that is bland and one-dimensional with little character.
- Juice with too much tannins might create a cider that is too gross for consumption (too much bitterness and astringency).