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Posted by Michael Phillips 
January 09, 2013 07:37PM
Bittersweet cider apples contain high tannins and sugars while buffering the acidic nature of many dessert varieties. These are the apples in a proper cider blend that provide structure along with a certain breadth of aromas & flavors. I'm really just coming to appreciate this grouping of cider varieties as I move from what I jokingly call my "battery-acid fermentations" to the perfected cider that Claude Jolicouer crafts in Quebec. My goal here is to generate discussion about the harvest timing of the bittersweets in different regions, year-to-year productivity, and other grower observations.

Dabinett is possibly the best and most reliable workhorse bittersweet, according to Ben Watson, author of Cider, Hard and Sweet, especially noted for its tannic base. There are lots of other bitters, many of them somewhat earlier than Dabinett, such as Yarlington Mill, Chisel Jersey, Ellis Bitter, Somerset Redstreak, and Medaille d’Or. I'll post composite web descriptions here to orient folks to cultivar particulars. Images courtesy of Keeper's Nursery.

Dabinett Thought to be a seedling from the 19th century of Chisel Jersey, originating in Middle Lambrook, Somerset, England, where William Dabinett found it growing in a hedge as a wilding. A full bittersweet but with soft astringency and a full body. Tree is weak in growth, but self-pollinating and precocious in cropping. Dabinett can be used to produce a single-varietal full-bodied medium-dry cider in its own right.

Yarlington Mill A favourite with traditional cider makers because if its outstanding taste. Originates from deepest Somerset but is found growing throughout the cider makers' kingdom. Well-sized apples, red and yellow in colour, will drop when ready to harvest. The juice is slow to ferment, producing a rich, red, medium cider. Tree somewhat biennial; spur bearing; quite winter hardy.

Chisel Jersey In old English, chesil means pebble so expect small hard orbs from this very old variety originating in central Somerset. Fruit is round-conic and red-striped with a brownish-pink blush. It has good sugar content and slow to medium fermentation, with medium acidity, very astringent, harsh and high in tannins. Produces strong, rich, full-bodied, colorful cider that's best blended with other apples. Spreading tree may require encouragement to develop a strong central leader. Definite late bloomer.

Ellis Bitter Thought to have arisen in the nineteenth century in Newton St Cyres in Devon on a farm belonging to Mr. Ellis. Apples are large, conical shaped with a bold orange-red flush and red stripes. Flowers late-midseason; self-sterile. A vigorous tip-bearing tree with a bienniel tendency. Fruit tends to drop as it ripens and has a short storage life.

Somerset Redstreak The Redstreak (as the apple was later to become known) became celebrated as the finest cider apple variety in England in the late 1800s, so much so that cider made from these bittersweet apples changed hands at extraordinarily high prices. Flesh is sweet, juicy, white and astringent with a rather wooly texture. Cider will have soft tannins and is probably best blended with sharper varieties. The tree tends toward biennial bearing but is reliable in its cycle.

Medaille d'Or A seedling grown by Monsieur Goddard of Boisguillaume, Rouen, France back in the 1800's. Introduced into England in 1884 by the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club where it was embraced for its outstanding cider qualities. It produces a sweet, astringent juice high in tannins and converts into a cider with high alcohol content and a strong, fruity flavor. Fruit is orange and yellow in color with a brown russet coating, especially on the sun-exposed side. One report states it contains 18.6% sugar, which ferments to 9% alcohol, but another report indicates 238 grams of sugar giving 14 to 15 per cent alcohol. Tree is vigorous , bearing its fruits in clusters.

This focused bit of [hard] cider fun highlights a valuable group of apples. I'm looking forward to tracking grower perpsective on these bittersweets --and other varieties in this grouping as well -- so each of us can get a sense of the "right ones" for our locale. A few basic comments about your bittersweet of choice is all it takes!

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 09/10/2016 02:45PM by Michael Phillips.
Re: Bittersweets
February 02, 2013 06:23AM
Michael, I think we should open one topic for each of these apples instead of having them all grouped in the same topic... Do you think it would be possible to edit your post?

Jolicoeur Orchard
Zone 4 in Quebec
Author, The New Cider Maker's Handbook
Re: Bittersweets
February 05, 2013 11:43PM
Let's have this little discussion within a discussion.

I deliberately grouped a number of bittersweet apples together for grower comment. Yes, I could have made a seperate post for each variety, that certainly has merit. Yet our forum is for engaged discussion, and I really want to hear more about choosing which bittersweet over another; in particular, why an experienced grower feels that way about a given variety. Others may want a singular discussion of Medaille d'Or and that's okay. My fascination here is the recent realization I need to do more with this grouping as a whole to make a fine cider. The real editing for reference purpose that Claude desires will be met best when we have a functional wiki up and running.

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire
Re: Bittersweets
February 08, 2013 04:40AM
OK then, Michael. Here are my views on these. Some of the comments I will make below come from a survey I did with some leading cider makers across the continent - survey that I did for the cider book.

Dabinett. This one hasen't proven its point yet in my orchard. I only have one graft, which isn't very vigorous, so I can't draw a conclusion on its hardiness and adaptability in my zone 4 orchard. However, it has been one of 2 top picks in the bittersweet category from my survey (with Yarlington Mill). It succeeds well in zone 5, and is resistant to fire blight. One of the best for quality, and surely one of the most recommendable of the group.

Yarlington Mill. The other top pick from my survey. This one is very successful in my orchard and yields fruit of great quality. So, proven hardiness in zone 4. One important drawback however: susceptibility to fire blight. Some growers report loss of their trees. Other than that, it has a huge adaptability, being successful in areas as diversified as Quebec zone4, Australia, Pacific coast, and naturally England...

Chisel Jersey. Unsuccessful in my orchard. No vigor, and the fruit didn't develop - stayed small and hard without any juice. I finally cut it down. Apparently not hardy enough for zone 4. However, it is one of Steve Wood's favorites in lower NH zone 5, and also good in BC.

Ellis Bitter. Untried yet in my orchard, but to be grafted this year. Successful in NH (Steve Wood).

Somerset Redstreak. Untried yet in my orchard, but to be grafted this year. A popular variety with some cider makers in colder areas.

Medaille d'or. Definite lack of hardiness in my orchard. It stayed alive for about 10 years, but without ever putting any growth, and never fruited either. Finally died after a colder winter. No cider maker even mentioned it on my survey...

A few others that I am testing that might be worthy of consideration:

Kermerrien. From France (Brittany). Good vigor and hardiness. Produced its first fruit last fall. Very promising.

Muscadet de Dieppe. From France (Normandy). Good vigor and hardiness, but a bit shy on production. Good quality of fruit.

Marechal. Good vigor and hardiness, but still too young and I haven't seen the fruit yet.

Coat Jersey. Seems hardy enough but not so vigorous. Shy producer, but very high quality of fruit.

Bulmer's Norman. One of my workhorses for bittersweet. Excellent hardiness, vigor, and productivity, although with biennal tendency. Good fruit, ripens a bit earlier than others.

Reine des pommes. Seems a bit marginal in my climate. Has produced a few fruit that were good. Was well liked by the late Terry Maloney.

Plus, naturally, my Douce de Charlevoix and my Banane amère, both being well adapted for a cold location.


Jolicoeur Orchard
Zone 4 in Quebec
Author, The New Cider Maker's Handbook
Re: Bittersweets
June 07, 2014 03:31AM
I would love to be able to offer a wise opinion from experience here but instead I have been scouring the internet and available books, including Claude's, to try to figure out what varieties to plant. Many of the varieties are so hard to find that if you don't do your own grafting you have to find someone to custom graft for you or settle for different rootstocks and tree numbers than we want. For custom grafting we have to plan two years ahead so I am trying to get trees now that will be planted in 2016. We have had very little luck with bench grafting so are avoiding that route.

Fortunately we are in the middle of the revived interest in hard cider out in California as well. We are seeing the market for juice apples improve, and have been approached to provide cider varieties to balance out our regular apples for juice (which are Jonagold, Red Delicious, Fuji, and Newtown Pippin mostly). So I am looking for Bittersweets and Bittersharps. However the sources tend to disagree and it looks like some varieties might be bittersweet in some years and locations, but sharp in other years and locations. So I don't know about Here, because none of the sources are California.

I think I have narrowed it down to the following and would like anyone else's opinions: Amere de Berthcourt, Bulmers Norman, Chisel Jersey, Dabinett, Ellis Bitter, Somerset Redstreak, and maybe Stoke Red. Before you say Yarlington Mill, that is one I have ruled out because the one other cider apple grower in our area has it and they drop all the fruit early.

The characteristics we most need are not too much chilling, not too early, good croppers, and to the extent we can find annual bearers if possible. We are also shying away from extreme fire blight susceptibility after this season of bad fire blight on late blooming varieties.

Any feedback?

Fruitilicious Farm
Zone 9b in California
Re: Bittersweets
June 07, 2014 06:26AM
My first recommendation would be to try and find comments from growers that are in similar growing conditions to yours.
One important thing however, is that many varieties will have less acidity in a long and hot summer season when compared to a shorter and cooler summer. This means that you should probably be looking first for the tannins rather than for the low acidity (which is the main feature I search for in my cold climate).
Remember that the selection of cider apples you will make should complement what you now have available.
Have you tested the acidity you get from your regular apples for juice? Is it too high for cider or just about right? Here in cold climate, our acidities from regular apple varieties are too high, hence we need to complement with low-acidity cider apples to balance our musts (i.e. bittersweets). In you case, I would suspect you might need more bittersharp varieties...
Have you considered Kingston Black, Porter's Perfection, Wickson, Virginia Crab?

Jolicoeur Orchard
Zone 4 in Quebec
Author, The New Cider Maker's Handbook
Re: Bittersweets
July 11, 2014 11:17PM
Hi Zea,

Zone 9b is pretty mild and barely sees a hard freeze (this last February aside - when we all got chilled to the bone here in CA). Harvest timings are likely to be off from where many of the cider varieties originated.

Here in zone 8 in the Sierra Foothills, I have some experience with a couple of the varieties being shared in this thread.

Both of these are later maturing, as you are looking for.

Wickson - Tasty & attractive apple, even if you end up not using it in cider. Good for fresh eating too. Will work well in both sweet and hard ciders. I have heard of folks getting top dollar for this variety too and rumors of $9/lb surfaced this last year too. Healthy & attractive tree, annual producer, that is easily trained, at my place. Usually ready for picking in early October. Bothered little by coddling moth, so far in my orchard. Tim Bates in Philo (zone 9a, I believe) grows this one too and makes cider from it as well. He has a lot of experience with this variety in CA. Be sure to check in with him . . . send him a PM.

Kingston Black - I have a local cider maker in Colfax that wants all the Kingson's I can supply him. My trees are younger and are just finally setting their first fruit. Took 6 years to get the 1st apples. A shy bearer for me. Kingston Black is considered by many to be a classic 'bittersharp'. This variety produces much less than the Wickson, for me, so I would expect the value/demand of the apples, for cider, to be even higher. Trees have a strong tendency to be upright and it takes a concerted effort to maintain your desired open branching structure and spreading. Substantial tannins and I enjoy biting into one every year to get that amazing pucker effect. Usually ready for picking by first week of November.

Along with Claude, I want to put a plug in for Virginia Crab too . . . Though it is an earlier maturing variety (early September), it is a beautiful prolific tree whose blooms provide a lovely fragrance when you are near by them. A bit more susceptible to scab than others. No problems with FB noted yet. Puts on a good amount of fruit annually that is also useful for both fresh eating (I think it is quite tasty), cooking and in making ciders. Some consider this variety to be the quintessential cider apple. Now, if that isnt enough reason to give it a try!? :-) Plus it provides excellent pollination for many other varieties. With the number of trees you are looking to plant, Zea, I would consider planting Virginia Crab as a reliable spot pollinizer within your new orchard layout regardless.

When you get that cider finally made up, don't forget to call up your apple growing HON friends for a tasting too ;-)

Gopher Hill Apples
Zone 8 in California
Re: Bittersweets
July 22, 2014 06:07AM
Thanks for the suggestions Paul and Claude. We do not have high acidity in most of our apples and in particular have to balance out the blandness of Fuji and Red Delicious. We do already have quite a few Wicksons planted and some Kingston Black. I am focussing on varieties that I can't find trees of on our rootstock (MM111). So I think the Virginia Crab and Porters Perfection are good suggestions and I'm going to get a couple of the ones that I mentioned above that are on the early side.

I'll let you know more in 5 years or so! smileys with beer

Fruitilicious Farm
Zone 9b in California
Re: Bittersweets
August 06, 2014 12:09AM
I've heard that Dabinett tolerates shade fairly well. Can anyone confirm or contradict this?
Re: Bittersweets
December 01, 2017 07:30AM
Hi Nathaniel, we have several Dabinett planted on the edge of our orchard that gets shade at times, they are closest to the forest, they are 5 and 7 years old and are producing fine, very easy tree to grow in our climate

Vista Ridge Orchard
Zone 8a in Washington
235 Cider and heritage apple trees, 72 varieties,
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