This document is a discussion of the varieties of apples which are or have been used for the production of cider. For details on how to make cider, please consult the cider making guide; for a history of cider making and apple growing in the UK, please consult the apple and cider history guide.
Cider quality inevitably depends on the type of apple used. Cider is traditionally made with one third each of sweet, bittersweet, and sharp apples. The principle characteristics of cider apples which contribute to this classification are the content of phenolic compounds (tannins) and the acidity. Bittersweet apples contain more than 0.2% (w/v) of tannins and less than 0.45% (w/v) acidity (calculated as malic acid). Sharp apples have less than 0.2% (w/v) tannins and greater than 0.45% (w/v) acidity; a subgroup of this classification, bittersharps, have the same range of acidity but have a tannin content of greater than 0.2% (w/v). Sweet apples have less than 0.2% (w/v) tannins and less than 0.45% (w/v) acid.
There are a great many varieties of apple which you can use for cider making, most of them now very rare. Many exist only in abandoned orchards or people’s backgardens where they go largely unnoticed. However, the National Fruit Trials preserve examples of all of these varieties. There are probably only ten or so varieties of apples widely grown for cider making. If you do have access to examples of the rarer varieties mentioned in the lists, then do try making cider with them, different apples give distinctively different ciders; and also, don’t forget to post your recipe to the Real Cider and Perry recipes page!
Apple According to Type
You will see from the lists that there are far fewer varieties of bitterweet apples than of any other type, however, if you are making single variety apple cider, these are the apples you would use to achieve the best cider. Most modern cider makers making cider in the traditional manner will use one or more varieties of bittersweet apples.
- Bittersweet Apples
- Sharp or Bittersharp Apples
- Sweet Apples