I have a fair amount of ciders (and cysers) under my belt but have never used cider-specific varieties. I have plenty of dessert apples (and will likely be using that for my base, including Golden Russet) and have decided to graft ~8 trees to more cider-specific varieties. Below is a list of scions I have available. Help me decide which 8! For the record, I prefer bone-dry to slightly off-dry ciders with some tannin. Also, I’m a management-intensive organic-spray grower in the midwest so disease-resistance is appreciated (hence I’m leaning more towards American than British cider apples). As I understand it, dessert apples are typically high sugar and acid, so bittersweet might be the way to go for me. I’m leaning towards Dabinett, Wickson, Hewes and Harrison…
Yellow Newtown Pippin
Muscat de Venus
…and perhaps a red-fleshed?
Those are good choices, I might add Medalle d’Or in for its full bittersweet character, as this is often the missing component in cider blends that rely on dessert fruit for a base. Crimson gold is another good apple for building a neutral aromatic base, another might be Ben Davis- infamous for ‘meh’ eating quality but productive, disease resistant, and not overly acidic.
You’re gonna want Newtown Pippin in the mix. I’ve tasted dry cider from it which is excellent.
I would imagine Hewe’s, Harrison, Dabinett, Wickson, and Golden Russet to be good choices as well, from what I’ve read. Sorry I can’t be more helpful; I know very little about actually making hard cider.
Click on the different links to learn more about their blends. For example, their “Jefferson” cider is a mix of predominantly Green Newtown Pippin (they buy their trees from Cummins Nursery). I’ve tasted Jefferson and it is excellent.
The main thing you want from cider apples that you are not going to get in dessert apples is tannin. That being said I’ve had very nice single variety cider from certain dessert apples (Northern Spy, from Eve’s). Of the varieties you listed, these are the ones that I believe have enough tannin to allow mixing with dessert fruit:
Dabinett - Most reliable cider apple at Poverty Lane orchard in NH seemingly; we buy a bin of them most years (sometimes we get Kingston Black)
Medaille d’Or - Very high tannin, but not always available, so maybe it is not as reliable as Dabinett?
Never had Hewes Crab or Harrison but they sound like excellent cider apples.
Dolgo - kind of a pain to pick, very small and hard to separate from the tree, but great flavor, tannin, and color
Wickson - Wonderful apple if you can grow it (mid-atlantic and south seems tough). Somewhat annoying to pick due to small size, but easier than Dolgo
Redfield - Tough to eat straight, but significant tannin, nice color, and wonderful in pie or crisp. Probably would make good sauce too.
I’ve made several cysers over the years, typically still, off-dry and 13-14% (sometimes force-carbed), but I always used store-bought, pasteurized juice because that’s what I had access to at the time. I added some frozen and thawed crabapples in secondary a couple times - the impact was subtle but I thought it enough to warrant the extra work.
I have only the second melomel fermenting right now: one pint sour cherry juice from the store to a gallon mead. I tried first time with 1 quart cranberry to a gallon mead. Whoo! Tart.
Redfield and Winekst red fleshed apples are both started here. Either or both may be worth trying when I go for a cyser.
If you can get your hands on Whitney crab and press that, you may find a good juice for cyser. It has moderate levels of tannin, fair acid, sugar and flavor. There’s a big standard growing a block away I try not to covet…
I’ll give Whitney a try sometime. When I lived in Colorado I was part of a cider group. There are loads old standard apples all over town and the apples are mostly ignored. There was another guy with more cider experience (and access to a press) that organized it and chose the blends but my friend and I handled acquisitions, which largely involved knocking on a few doors and asking if we could harvest their apples (I think only 1 person in about 4 years had objections, which were that they canned applesauce). People were happy to have them be used. And we always brought a couple bottles of last year’s over as thanks.
I guess I relayed that story to say: Don’t covet thy neighbor’s tree, make a new friend!
I love Dolgo crab. I have also made that observation that it would make a good cider apple. The biggest problem I see with it is that it ripens very early - Mid August. So you would have to go to the trouble of picking it and pressing it out of season with the usual late varieties. But it could probably add tannins to early desert apples in a blend. Dead ripe Williams Pride (lower acid, high sorbitol from watercore) + Dolgo + other more acid early apples such as Zestar, Redfree, or Pristine could possibly make for a good cider.
My thoughts exactly, Drew! I envision an early cider season around late August with less “serious” ciders, perhaps even some added fruit like Aronia for early drinking, followed by the main cider season in Oct/Nov which will include Dabinett and other cider-specific varieties to compliment the wide assortment of other late season apples I’ll (eventually) have at my disposal. I’ve still got a couple years to get my press built. Looking forward to sampling at least some new fruit this season though!
Dolgo is good as a bittersharp component in a blend, some astringency, high sugar, aromatics, very high acid. The acid levels are the limiting factor, too much(more than15%) and you will end up with very sour finished product. Mild early sweet apples like Williams Pride, Ginger Gold, and early bittersweets such as Somerset Redstreak would balance it out.