Cider Unveiled
February 15, 2022 07:18PM
Announcing a new forum category is always fun! I admit our grower focus kind of left the art of fermentation in the lees. There are other good discussion forums for cidermakers... but it's time we embrace more directly what many of us indeed are doing. Useful cider bits are already woven into other threads—thinking now of To sulfite or not to sulfite with its marketing angle, for one—yet perhaps with this new emphasis we'll draw even more of you into discussing technique and lessons learned. The usual challenges of scale enter in if cider is part of one's livelihood. What I especially love is the connection between growing healthy fruit and getting those apples into the bottle. Estate reserve ciders? Scrumpy on tap? The late afternoon trek down to the barrel cellar? Bring it on!

Lastly, a shout out to our own Claude Jolicoeur whose New Cider Maker's Handbook has become a classic in its own right. How could I call this new forum anything else? Mon dieu!

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/16/2022 02:01AM by Michael Phillips.
Re: Cider Unveiled
February 15, 2022 08:37PM
Hooray!

Figuring out how to produce a consistently palatable cider came first for me. Growing trees of better apple varieties to do so came second.

But that hasn't stopped me from fermenting the juice of apples I can get my hands-on locally until my trees reach bearing age. So far the results have been less than promising. Even dessert varieties suggested by some sources to try for cider have turned out thin and uninteresting in the bottle: Melrose, Crispin, Rome Beauty, Cortland, Jonathan, Golden Delicious... Of the dozen plus apples I've experimented with so far, only Stayman and Goldrush produce a single-variety cider with enough body, acidity, and "appleness" to inspire me to make a repeat try of them as hard cider. Eventually, I'll blend these with other varieties I can get my hands on that prove worthy of further experimentation.

It still seems to me there ought to be a better way, but I've been reassured by more than one cider maker that in order to discover what you can make with the local apples you have access to, you have to press, ferment, and taste the final result. With grapes for instance, there are just 4 varieties well-known for both their ability to grow in our area AND be made into a drinkable (albeit unspectacular) wine. Wish it were as common-knowledge for apples. But despite there being a fair number of apple growers in our area, it seems none of them gave much thought to hard cider production when they established their orchards. I also suspect the conventional methods they use for growing eating and cooking apples for on-farm sale further inhibit the quality of juice I can make of them.

I too wanted to second the shout out to M. Jolicoeur for his excellent book. It was the only source I found that included suggested cider varieties to grow by region. Invaluable info as I faced the problem of choosing which trees to plant for cider before knowing if any could be expected to result in a favorable drink!

Craig Bickle
Hap Woods
Zone 6a
East-Central Ohio
Re: Cider Unveiled
February 16, 2022 01:30AM
Well, that is a great idea to start such a new forum section... and I am honored that it is named after my book! We should have some interesting discussions here.

And I'll take the opportunity to announce in exclusivity here that my new book will be out by this coming September - title is Cider Planet, publisher is Chelsea Green.
As subtitle: Exploring the Producers, Practices, and Unique Traditions of Craft Cider and Perry from Around the World.
Which says pretty well what the book is about. It should be a nice complement to the New Cider Maker's Handbook.

As Michael said, after his Mycorrhizal Planet, we'll have Cider Planet - Which planet will be next?

Claude

Jolicoeur Orchard
Zone 4 in Quebec
Author, The New Cider Maker's Handbook
Re: Cider Unveiled
February 16, 2022 09:51PM
This was a good prompt Michael, I think this could be a great and bloated thread. On the topic of cultivars, I firmly believe we all know next to nothing with regard to apple varieties for hard cider production. If winemaking is an example we have hundreds of years of catchup. I agree with Craig that the true assessment will come from trying out brews one by one, single variety then amalgams, but we can probably speed along the enterprise. For example I have a project ongoing that is putting together data on apple varieties and their merit in hard cider (and regular ol' cider). Set for completion in a few months we will have numbers on around 300 distinct samples. This will translate to brix, pH, titratable acidity, polyphenols/tannins for most, along with scribblings on tree performance, fruit character and the like. Since I look at this with a scientist's eye, it will mean to me a grand first step in years of study- that is- one year, one set of conditions, one location. If we can continue this work, and those of you out there do what you can, we collectively and farmers of the future may have something to work with. For our part, this subset will give us a starting point in what to test further. This collection (all from our 600-ish variety orchard) is in reality an attempt to test the cider waters from the world of multiuse apples, not so called cider fruit. Decent data already exists for the usual suspects (at least those tested in most US zones). In truth I often lean on the side of orchards who plant for food as well as hooch, especially on good agricultural lands. If we find that many apple varieties can be grown for multiuse, using the detritus from a dessert or culinary market it will both help the resiliency of the farmer, fill needed (organic?) markets and also get us our libations. I also believe it will be particularly important in the soon to be saturated market that craftspeople stand out from the pack, which in my opinion means a large and inspired mix of source material. Our test is only the first step, and despite it being a sizable sampling, it will take the upcoming years of practice, fermentation testing, blending and growing to fine tune this all into usable knowledge. But, during this entire enterprise we can all share what we find, batch by batch, year by year. Just think of all the drinking that means!

Walden Heights Nursery & Orchard
Zone 3 in Vermont
Re: Cider Unveiled
February 20, 2022 06:10PM
One distinction to note. Discussion about fermenting apples and other fruits belongs in posts to be made in this new forum category. Discussion about growing specific Cider Apple Varieties on trees belongs in that other forum category.

The first time Todd told me about this research angle into the polyphenol qualities of sweet varieties for cider purpose, my reaction was incredulous. As in you have 300 carboys going of distinct ciders? That would be one satisfying cellar to visit... but he quickly informed me these were squished and filtered 50ml juice samples. This will be a useful database for those of us with commercial/ heirloom cultivars to check out.

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/23/2022 05:43PM by Michael Phillips.
Re: Cider Unveiled
February 20, 2022 10:22PM
Great to see this new forum category; thanks, Michael!

I'm firmly in the multiuse camp of growers that Todd mentions and have just started keeping records of the varietal composition of each of the few carboys of cider I put up each year. As Craig mentions and as Claude writes in his handbook both regional and site specific variations in growing conditions along with orchard management can all significantly influence cider quality. In the intermountain west where I am located I have tasted several high quality single varietal ciders made with local MacIntosh apples.

I've made some decent cider which has been heavy to MacIntosh in the blend and have also had some luck with Stayman blended with Macs. Given Craig's experience I'll have to try a strictly Stayman ferment. I've also used apples from a volunteer seedling that has fruit that seems to match the Winter Banana flavor profile but I haven't had enough juice from that tree to do a single varietal trial. The best single varietal I've made so far has been from Golden Russet which seems to confirm that apples' reputation as a good cider apple. Hopefully a year or two in I'll have more specifics to share.

Looking forward to perusing a copy of Cider Planet when it comes out!

Pommes de Terre Acres
USDA Zone 5 - Dixon, Montana
Intermountain West Region
Re: Cider Unveiled
February 23, 2022 05:33PM
This is fantastic news to hear, Todd! Very much looking forward to the results of all your testing.

As for my own experimentation, I'm going the more blunt route, I guess you could say. Lab equipment, chemistry, scientific notation... it's all a bit incomprehensible to this English major. Gravity and pH are about as scientific as I get. But I think I'm probably more representative of the typical grower with dreams of being able to reliably reproduce a nicely-balanced cider with local apples. I'm looking for the right apples paired with the right method to make something quaffable to most of the drinkers who try a sip, and the ability to do it again next year (accounting as always for the vagaries of annual agricultural impacts, of course.) Anyway...

To that end, I've scaled my batches down to 1 gallon each. This translates to 1/2 bushel of apples per variety, which leads me to the point I thought I'd add to the discussion with this post: juice yield.

It's been incredible to me that this particular bit of information is so elusive in the literature. So much so that there is confusion among the amateur home-cider makers I sometimes share notes with online. Estimates I've seen for the amount of juice one can expect per bushel of pressed apples range from a gallon to four! (Even though almost all apples produce between 2-3 gallons.)

I have yet to find a text that gives details about pressing experiences folks have had over the years with all the multitude of varieties. Which isn't to say it doesn't exist, just that I haven't yet come across it. And I should note that I understand it could be because the quality, age, length of sweating, etc. can effect the amount of juice that results from any particular batch of apples. Still, the ease of pressing and the amount of juice produced by each variety of apple strikes me as an important factor to account for to any budding orchardist/cider maker. Hence, this is a detail I'm keeping careful track of. It's certainly something I want to know before I invest all the time and effort into picking the best varieties to grow. After all, who wants to make cider from a juice that on pressing day makes an aggravating mushy mess with sub-par yield, even if it will eventually become a drinkable libation? No thanks!

P.S. Glad to see Steve's note about Golden Russet. I have a few trees of my own planted in the last 2-4 years, but I haven't yet been able to try turning this apple into cider. Just can't get my hands on any around my parts. Still, from what I've read elsewhere, and now your added note of approval, I have high hopes for a favorable tasting experience.

Craig Bickle
Hap Woods
Zone 6a
East-Central Ohio
Re: Cider Unveiled
February 23, 2022 06:39PM
Yield issues and data could be a thread in itself, yes? I think right here and now we could quickly come up with useful information if folks out there chime in. For instance, since this forum will have a wide variety of orchard levels we will likely have a good cross-section of pressing machinery. Yield is foremost going to be about those presses. Secondarily it will be about what Craig outlines above- the apple variety and quality. To be useful though: I am getting 2-2.5 gallons per bushel with my lancman presses. Speidel, etc. will likely be similar. I can get wide swings depending on the natural dryness of the fruit and the time in storage. Likewise small fruit is often less a yielder. The other influence that is rarely talked about is expressing time. This is potentially a huge factor. I routinely get 25% more volume if I take a good long time pressing. Most of us are aware that squeezing gradually is the proper method, but the full duration/extension is often overlooked. This can tie up the press(es) longer but should balance out with the additional juice obtained. One caution is that for those who would like to do extended presses of hours (and beyond) having a temperature controlled location is wise. This is why we are fitting our press room with environmental controls this year, not just our storage coolers. This duration model will be especially important for those dear fruits like true crabapples and rare cider varieties that often show poor yield. So let's see what cidermakers out there are seeing for yield in their respective operations, presses, and fruits.
Re: Cider Unveiled
February 25, 2022 06:50PM
Craig—have you ever done any foraging? While I've waited for my orchard to start bearing, I've gathered a lot of wild apples. You can find inspiration from Andy Brennan's Uncultivated, Matt Kaminsky of Gnarly Pippins, and Claude gave the profiles of his feral apple discoveries in NCMH. I've never made anything approaching good cider from conventionally grown apples, but I've made downright exciting cider from a field blend of high brix wild apples and pears. You'll also be encountering lots of unnamed seedling varieties that may have unique qualities for cider, disease resistance etc., to graft back into your orchard. I have about 5 (out of hundreds) that I've discovered and am excited about that I'm trialling. Wild bittersweets and bittersharps are out there and finding one is like finding gold.

Matt
Fredericksburg, OH
Zone 6a
Re: Cider Unveiled
February 25, 2022 08:50PM
This is a good point Matt. In fact Andy's point isn't just about wild apples per se but also the joy, the interesting journey and the terroir aspects of gleaning wild fruits from an area. That region for instance is replete with red sandstone and shale soils (I was born a few miles from where Andy dwells) and he is finding trees that have grown healthy there. So this discussion isn't limited to trees that just make tasty cider, but also those that will take up healthy residence in your orchard if you propagate them. The fly in the ointment in wild harvesting of course is that there is no guarantee you will have access to them indefinitely. To illustrate this I have a short story. Abutting our property is the old Lamoille country railroad bed. As is common this corridor is littered with fine wild apples. Forward fast to this past year when in the process of tidying up the bed for an all season trail (really mostly snowmobile access) they either cut down or mutilated a good many trees. Progress. Thank goodness I grafted most of these, but I lost in one fell swoop thousands of pounds of yearly fruit. State land, wasn't mine, but a wasteful shame. We really should take advantage of what is out there "wild", but prepare our orchards for a day when either those wild trees are gone, or folks are fighting over them. In the meantime, we might find our favorites and post information on the varieties page here on the forum. In my experience, both the wild apples and the true crabapples sport a much richer mix of attributes than most commercial cider apples.
Re: Cider Unveiled
February 26, 2022 02:05AM
Matthew Mullet Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> You can find
> inspiration from Andy Brennan's Uncultivated, Matt
> Kaminsky of Gnarly Pippins, and Claude gave the
> profiles of his feral apple discoveries in NCMH.

Yes, and since the NCMH was published, I have been introduced to a beautiful wild apple forest in Baie-St-Paul, about 15 minute drive from my orchard. The owner has estimated there would be about 1500 apple trees on an area of 25 acres. These were "planted" by bears who got the habit of eating apples from an old orchard that was near by 1900 (and of which nothing remains nowadays). And going back to their quarters after feeding, they left their droppings...
This place is simply fabulous!

I have been working quite a bit with the owner (who incidently is a cider maker and produced its first commercial cuvée last year) to select the best cider fruits and propagate them. The long term project is to obtain a collection of varieties that are native to the county and produce cider only with these apples - which will give a unique character to the ciders.
Photos there: [photos.app.goo.gl]
The cidery is on Facebook: [www.facebook.com]

Jolicoeur Orchard
Zone 4 in Quebec
Author, The New Cider Maker's Handbook
Re: Cider Unveiled
March 01, 2022 05:12PM
Thanks for raising this point, Matt. Just this year I made my first two batches of cider from foraged apples, inspired by Andy Brennan's book which I read last winter. The catch is, these weren't "wild" apples but rather old trees planted by long bygone growers on a couple neighbors' "back 40" viewable from the road. I knocked on their doors and asked for permission to pick the fruit when it ripened in exchange for a gallon or two of what I pressed. Whatever varieties they are, the trees have naturalized to their sites, having been long neglected, so my hope was they would have concentrated sugars, higher tannins, and better terroir than the commercial fruits I could procure from farmers around me still spraying and selling apples at modest prices. The cider I made from them is still aging, but I'll try to report back when I crack open the bottles this summer.

As for truly wild apples, I thought 2021 was going to be a banner year! The local weather conspired to make fruit-set excellent. I noticed apple trees in the woods around my farm that I'd never seen before because by late April they were all full of blossoms. So I kept an eye on the accessible ones and planned to pick a bumper crop last fall. But then, as summer advanced, I noticed the fruits that set earlier in the season seemed to be disappearing. It was too early for any of them to be close to ripening so I suspect it wasn't that the wildlife were helping themselves early. Rather, the trees just dropped their fruitlets as the hot, humid summer progressed. By September, trees that had looked full in June were largely barren.

I thought I'd relay my story to push back some on the enthusiasm for wild apple trees. Not because I have any doubt they can make excellent cider, but rather that they're not always an option everywhere apples are grown. Having said, I don't plan on giving up. Now that I know where the trees are, I'll keep an eye on them every year. I suspect they're biennial bearers but only time will tell. In the meantime, I'll grow my own cider varieties and test the theory that they'll not measure up to the old untended trees growing wild around these parts.

Ultimately, the best solution for me to finding varieties of fruit that make a consistently delicious drink would be to move! Preferably north given advancing temperatures driven by climate change. But as I'm sure you can imagine, for those of us with deep roots in the random places we make our homes, picking up and starting over somewhere else is often the more challenging option.

(Hard to not dwell on Michael's passing as I write this, but I have to think he would want like-minded fruit farmers to carry on his legacy. RIP)
Re: Cider Unveiled
March 01, 2022 11:26PM
Here's an option I'll suggest as a possible way of dealing with the pros, cons, and accessibility issues of "wild" apples. Why not grow your own "wild" apples?

If you have the time and space to commit, growing apples from seed is not particularly difficult or expensive. It would be possible to prep a large nursery bed and plant thousands of seeds. You could select mature seed from apples with traits that you want to favor. A few growing seasons should suffice to cull out the seedlings most poorly adapted to your site conditions. Another few seasons and you might be able to cull some more trees based on form or disease factors as you do some thinning of seedlings to give the more desirable ones some space. In another few seasons you might get some apples on certain trees and can begin assessing which might be worth keeping. At around years 10-15 you could have a hundred or more trees producing if things go well. If Claude's estimate that 1 in 10 will make a decent cider apple is used that means you should have at least 10 promising "wild" trees to work with from there on out.

There is nothing particularly original about this Johnny Appleseed approach - I just put it in the context of the current discussion.

Pommes de Terre Acres
USDA Zone 5 - Dixon, Montana
Intermountain West Region



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/01/2022 11:32PM by Steve Dagger.
Re: Cider Unveiled
March 08, 2022 06:05PM
I had considered this too, Steve. The difficulty at my location is space. Even if I had the patience to grow "wild" apples as you laid out, I don't have near enough cleared land to grow possibly ten times more trees than would be needed to ferment something spectacular. So instead, I decided to go the cultivated route, choosing to plant varieties known to grow well in the Midwestern part of the Great Lakes region that also will supposedly make an acceptable drink.

The compromise I've arrived at is to treat these trees as if they're wild seedlings, to a feasible extent. Prune, fertilize, thin, spray, etc. as lightly as I can stand to allow while making the ecosystem they're growing in as healthy as possible. This is what drew me to Michael's books, newsletters, and eventually here. I'm hoping there is some compromise between boosting diversity of species in the micro-biosphere I tend and letting the trees grow as uncultivated as possible that makes my purchased known varieties produce among the better ciders that can be made in my area. Only time will tell!

Craig Bickle
Hap Woods
Zone 6a
East-Central Ohio
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