After eight years of drilling deep into French, English, and American cider references going back to the 1600s, we found a fortune of cider apple information on cultivars and flavor profiles. See Cultivar Evaluations: (WSU Cider Apple Report).
We collected and propagated as many of the verified cider cultivars as we could. During our years of searching, we sadly found that the famous Nick Botner Orchard was to be closed because retirement had come. However, luck ran our way and we were able to save all of his French, English, and American Cider cultivars not available through the USDA. For the sake of perpetuating long-lost Premium Cider cultivars, we consulted Mr. Botner on our goals, and he also gave us some additional unlisted and largely unknown cultivars. Because of this intensive research, the cultivars we offer vary greatly between the common and the extremely rare cider apples.
Typically Premium Cider is a blend of sweet, acidic, and aromatic apples that are balanced with bittersweet or bittersharp French and English cultivars. So if your goal is to make ‘Premium Cider’ the list below offers all the assorted cultivars that you would ever really need. Included are some additional cultivars that have extra-ordinary traits making them highly desirable for special purposes.
Since key cider making compounds in apples vary considerably from year-to-year; to maintain the flavor profiles of premium cider for the long-term, it is very important to have enough ‘blending-cultivars’ on hand to give you freedom to adjust single compounds in a problematic cider. Vintage cultivars can be a poor choice for specific adjustments.
When selecting cultivars, keep in mind of a common misconception that just one ‘Vintage’ cider apple cultivar can be relied on to make good cider without blending. This is assumption is largely untrue. The term ‘Vintage’ indicates that the apple is considered to be ‘Complete’ where all key cider making compounds are present. Vintage does not mean that the compounds are of the correct concentrations and ratio. Blending is still a requirement to get a cider up and over the top of average ciders and into the Premium Grade world. However, the true value of the vintage cider apple is in the fact that by it having all of the required compounds present, the resulting juice can serve as an excellent base juice or cider to build on with only minor blending.
Not all cultivars perform the same in every growing region. In the grand scheme of things, the main controlling factor in cider apple quality can be summarized by the French term ‘Terroir’ used for growing wine grapes. Terroir is a term that encompasses the climate, terrain, soil and tradition that goes into growing for quality and targeted flavor profiles. The concentration and ratios of the cidermaking compounds in the same apples grown in an arid region with irrigation will differ from the levels found in apples grown in alpine or coastal areas. So when doing your own research, know that the opinion of orchardists on certain cultivars in their region may not apply to your region because the terroirs are different.