Bittersweet Cider Apple Suggestions for Coastal VA/NC????

jerry43(z7 VA)December 2, 2008

I'm looking for hard cider varieties that will stand the hot and humid weather in my area. Thinking about planting Kinston Black, Dabinett and Yarlington Mill. Thoughts and suggestions?

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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Jerry, my impression is most of the British cider apples have very few tannins when grown in a hot climate like ours. I have never accurately measured the tannins since I don't have the gear to do that, but it is not hard to tell from a bite how much tannin an apple has. This year I topworked my Yarlington Mill and Porter's Perfection due to complete lack of tannins in previous years. My Kingston Black and Dabinette have yet to fruit but the trend is not looking good (I did get fruits off of Cap of Liberty, another English cider apple this year, and it also was a zero on the tannins). On the positive side I find Hewes Crab has mild/medium tannins and Frequin Rouge has excellent tannins (it is however too early for when I want to press, it is late August) and an obscure Bretagne apple I got from Geneva called Fuero Rous is also excellent. I have a couple dozen other French varieties all of which have either mild or no tannin in them. My feeling is getting enough tannins is the biggest issue for our climate. You don't need to have eyeball-popping tannins to have a nice hard cider, but if you are getting almost none then a primary point of these special varieties is missed. There is unfortunately not much data from hotter climates on good apples. You may try posting over on the Cider Digest to see if you get anything, I asked a few years ago and got nothing but maybe someone has some experience by now.

Besides the tannin issue I have found no problems with any of the varieties, the sugars all get nice and high. Lack of overall acidity may end up being a problem but I have not made a batch yet, I am still in the variety testing phase. I am almost at the stage where I will need to start picking the varieties I want to go with for my cider since a majority of the varieties I am testing have fruited. I already have several Frequin Rouge trees and plan to start topworking some dud trees over to Fuero Rous next spring.


    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 10:45AM
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milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)

I spoke with Chuck Shelton at Vintage Virgina Apples last spring regarding cider, which he makes a lot of, and he suggested Harrison. If it grows for him it should grow for you. I have not tried it, but I would suggest talking to him about cider, since he's in Virgina also. They have an annual festival with cider pressing that I would sure love to attend.

Here is a link that might be useful: Harrison Cider Apple

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 10:54AM
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Axel(12b/Sunset H2)

Scott, some of the things you say confuse me. If you are tasting your apples, what are you looking for?

Here's what I look for:

A bittersweet will be totally bitter and totally sweet, without any acidity whatsoever.

A bittersharp will be totally bitter and acidic, but the sugar content can be all over the map here. So it's more like a culinary or dessert apple with lots of bitterness that you can't taste until the bitter compounds hit the back of your mouth and throat.

I think pure bitters are essentially non-existent.

A sweet will be essentially sugar, without any acidity, e.g. essentially tannin free. Eating one is a rather odd experience, it's like eating an acidless lime or acidless orange, like sugar water.

A sharp is your average culinary and dessert apple. Even Golden delicious falls into the sharp category.

The whole point of these categorizations is so that I can combine the proper ratios of sweet to sharp, to bitter. (the latter usually about 10%)

So regarding bittersweets, it means you don't want any "sharp" component to it. If you taste a good bittersweet, it will taste bitter and sweet, with no acidity. I have not heard of apples loosing their bitterness as a result of high heat, but I suppose that's possible. I would expect that they will just have a higher sugar content, that's all, and you will therefore need to reduce the amount of pure sweets you add to your cider batches.

So now that we have the technical details out of the way, I highly recommend "Amere de Berthecourt", it's a bittersweet apple, incredibly prolific and vigorous fantastic bittersweet in the purest sense - e.g. there isn't a trace of sharpness in it. I grow it here in California and it's got plenty of bitter tannins in it. You bite into it, and you think at first it's totally bland, until the bitter tannins hit the back of your mouth, at which point it's very difficult to actually swallow. This is the effect that you want.

This apple originates from Maine-et-Loire, France and it is available in the US.

The french selections are infinitely superior to the British apples, mainly because they have been selected for their precociousness. Kingston Black is pretty much a wild apple, it's not worthy as a cider apple because it is such a shy bearer. If you were making cider commercially, you'd go broke if you tried to grow kingston black.

A few notes on heat: heat doesn't necessarily increase the sugar contents in apples - usually the onset of Winter cold does a much better job at drawing the sugars into the apples. So if you're trying to increase the bitterness content to add the "body" to the cider, then heat is in your favor because it will keep the sugars from building too high, that is, as long as the variety in question isn't heat sensitive - e.g. it doesn't go mealy from hot weather. The trouble with some British apples is that they do go mealy from heat exposure.

Amere de B. is an early apple, so it will ripen when it's still warm out, and therefore not draw the sugars as much. And it appears to be very heat resistant, e.g. it doesn't go mealy.

Now here's an interesting note on tannins: my understanding of tannins is that tannins contribute all sorts of flavors, not just bitters. So you can have a high level of tannins yet have no bitterness at all. What is strange is that the technical classifications according to Barker's Classification of Cider Apples (LARS 1903) is as follows:

Acid More than 0.45%
Tannin less than 0.2%

Acid more than 0.45%
Tannin more than 0.2%

Acid less than 0.45%
Tannin more than 0.2%

Acid less than 0.45%
Tannin less than Yet you take an apple like "Amere de Berthecourt" which is clearly a bittersweet, you have
BRIX 15.0
Acid 0.23%
PH 4.08
Tannin 0.169%
Average weight per apple: 82g

So it's low on acidity, yet the tannin levels are still below 0.2%. According to the classification, it would be a sweet, but it's actually a bittersweet, I've tasted it, it's definitely very bitter.

Then take Taylor's sweet, it has a malic acid content of 0.18% but the tannins are close to Amere de B at 0.14%.

What I am trying to say with this is that the bitterness is not necessarily correlated to the tannin contents, and that bitterness is likely to not be affected by heat, it's only the amount of sugar and malic acid that changes as a function of heat, thus making it seem that an apple might have more or less tannins.

I've attached a link for Cider apple compositional data. But I don't think the data is all that helpful in determining which one has the highest bitterness tannins, because the measurement is for tannins as a whole, not just those tannins that contribute to bitterness.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cider Apple Compositional Data

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 3:02PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Axel, I don't pay much attention to those traditional classifications. All that matters in the end is you have a good level of sugars, acids, and tannins (not necessarily bitter tannins, overall tannins). The French also use a slightly different system of classification than the British which adds to the confusion. One example why they are of limited use is you could make great cider with say one very sharp, one very bittersweet, and five sweets (which could just barely be sweets because they are at .40% acid and .18% tannin say). From the classifications it looks bad but if you do the math it works great. So, for me it is best just to work with the raw percentages for each apple. Also, all cider apples should be sweet in terms of sugars, you cannot afford to have low brix apples to lower the overall brix which you want to get up nicely.

As I mentioned above, an additional problem is the climate radically changes the levels. It is widely known that heat affects the degree of tannins in apples. For example look at your quoted data and you will see that Nehou is a .6 tannins at Long Ashton (cool) and .106 at Geneva (warmer) - a factor of 6 difference. I don't have a single bitter-tasting apple of the 20 or so European cider apple varieties I have fruited, the heat seems to bake out the bitter tannins even from varieties that are supposed to have them. All of the tannic apples I have only have "softer" tannins which you can detect by that "puckery" feeling in your mouth and also by how quickly the flesh browns when cut. You have a much cooler summer climate if I recall, so you are not going to run into the problem I am having with low tannins, and you will also have more hard (bitter) tannins. There is no need to have any hard tannins to make an excellent cider, it is just a question of the style of cider. But you do need to have tannins.

I was interested in your comments about sugar levels and heat. My belief that heat improved sugars was more based on personal experience, the fruits which get more sun exposure are sweeter. But, I agree that it is not just heat that gives good sugars; I don't understand that aspect very well. Re: mealiness of the English apples, I would say some but not all of the English apples have that problem for me. Cap of Liberty is not mealy at all. It also has a very interesting taste so it may be a good apple to use, as a "sharp" in the English classification for me since it is both sweet and sour but lacks tannins.

The fact that Amere de Berthecourt is so bitter for you could also be that your tannin level is much higher than the quoted one due to your climate. It could also be that it doesn't have much tannin but that tannin is extremely bitter. Based on my track record of baking out hard tannins I would expect that apple to be nothing but a sweet for me, but it makes me wonder if I should try some more varieties with supposedly hard tannins to see if I just did not miss the right ones. I did try several Bretagne apples which are supposed to be some of the most bitter types out there, partly because I knew I would have a problem with low tannins.

Re: Harrison, I have heard many good things about it and I probably should be growing it to try it out. It is not a tannic apple but it supposedly has a juice of exceptionally interesting flavor. It is originally from the mid-atlantic region as well.


    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 11:32PM
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Axel(12b/Sunset H2)

Scott, thanks for the info. This is good to know. I didn't realize that the heat would bake out the bitter tannins as well.

Yes, I have a very cool climate, Summer lows range from 45F to about 55F, highs run from 68F to about 85F, so I have rather large diurnal shifts that seem to maximize the tannins. The Amere de B. tasted so bitter, yet sweet at the same time, with no sharpness. You could bite into the apple and for a second or two yo think it's just a pure sweet, then the bitter tannins hit the back of your mouth, and it's difficult to swallow because your body thinks it's about to ingest poison.

I know that heat is supposed to increase fruit sweetness, but with apples, what I have found is that the apples that ripen late when the weather is much cooler are much sweeter. But I have also heard the brits complain about not being able to grow many apples because they just don't develop enough sweetness, so I guess I don't quite understand what is going on.

For me, I had a very interesting experience with Allington pippin. I had two crops this year, one Spring bloom that ripened in September, and another late July bloom that is just now ripening.

The crop that ripened in September when the night/day temps ran about 75F/55F were very tart, almost inedible except as a cooker, and then going mealy almost right away as each apple sweetened up. The current crop is ripening when temps run 44F/62F, and the difference is striking. The same apple is now a full bodied, sweet sharp apple that is very pleasant and quite delicious to eat out of hand.

So I don't understand how all of this works. I have also observed that pink lady apples growing in the heat of the Southern California foothills are bright yellow with red blush and very "flat" tasting, e.g. sweet and sour, but no real "aroma". Our pink lady apples here in Santa Cruz county stay green red, and the flavor and aroma is incredible, they are essentially two distinct apples. The whole family tasted them side by side and everyone agreed.

So I don't understand very well the effect of climate on apples. My guess is that the late ripening apples somehow seem to draw BOTH more tannins AND sugars in late Fall, but you still need plenty of sun and heat during the earlier growing months for the tree to store carbs and nutrients.

The only apples on the market I have been able to find that rival our apples grown in the local mountains are the Chilean apples that "Viva Tierra" markets here in the US. I'd like to know what it is they do to their apples that they taste so much more superior to most of the Washington grown apples that make it to our stores. Of course, I am well aware that each region has apples that are choice, but so far, Viva Tierra has nailed them all.

I am genuinely puzzled.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2008 at 12:57AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Axel, that is interesting to hear about your Allington Pippin experience. For me it was even worse than your "warm" batch, they all got severe watercore, most rotted, and they were very tart with not so much sweetness, and clearly of the cooking-only category. I am going to give the variety a couple more years to prove itself, but I may topwork part of it as early as next spring.

Your overall conclusion sounds reasonable in that you need a vigorous tree in the fall (which the English lose with their cloudy weather and quickly shortening days in that season) to keep the sugars up. I think you may be right that some apples lose their abilities to store sugars well when it is too hot; Allington Pippin seems to be one such example. Certainly the heat bakes out many other desirable flavenoids as well as increasing potential mealiness in some varieties (and, it helps a few as well, e.g. Gala). Tannins seem to be going the opposite direction than sugars, apples are quite tannic before they ripen but then they start to lose their tannins. I don't recall which varieties exactly but I have had several "spitters" which I picked far too early and found them very tannic. If they are ripening when it is still hot, it seems that more of the tannins get baked out than when ripened later. I do have one very late cider apple, Noel des Champs, which is a French bittersweet. I was hoping it would have more tannins since it ripened in mid/late November, but unfortunately it proved to be only mildly tannic. My recollection about tannins is they are a genetic adaptation to keep the apples undesirable for animals to eat until the seeds inside have fully ripened. Apples eaten too early will have incomplete seeds which will not germinate. So, the tannins are "designed" to start off high and then decrease. The tannins are also formed in the apples much earlier than the sugars; it could be that hot weather in this earlier period reduces the amount of tannins formed to begin with, and that is the major reason why I get little tannins. In other words, my Noel des Champs may have been too hot when the tannins were formed in late summer so I never got up to the levels that it gets in Normandy.


    Bookmark   December 3, 2008 at 9:14AM
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jerry43(z7 VA)

Scott and Axel, you have educated me on apples. I'm 60 miles from the ocean and we still get some 60 degree nights and 80 degree days usually through the first week in October. Up in the Virginia mountains, they will be having frost by then. So I didn't know what to expect from cider apples down here at the coast. I do plan on taking the cider class offered by Vintage Virginia Apples in the spring.

In the meantime, I've ordered a bunch of scions from Maple Valley to benchgraft in February. So I will be quite a few years away from actually making any hard cider from my own apples. I was hoping to try the Geneva series rootstocks but Cummins is sold out so I'm going with Bud 9 and MM 111. I've started putting in the 10 foot poles to hold the wire for a vertical axe trellis for the Bud 9. They really tower compared to my 5 foot high muscandine grape trellis. Told my wife I was planting more grapes but she didn't believe me, noting the hight.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2008 at 5:41PM
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Axel(12b/Sunset H2)

Jerry, our warmest time of the year is from mid Sept. to mid Oct., that's when we actually get a bunch of days with highs in the 80's and lows around 60F. In the Summer, though, it's usually cooler, especially at night, sometimes after an 80F day it can be as low as 44F on a clear night in July with the fog just sitting a few miles away. Seems Scott may be right and cooler weather during the growing season must help the tannins to really develop. My theory is that cold nights draw loads of sugars into apples, so if the apple is tannic, then the cold Fall weather makes them sweeter. But if there aren't a lot of tannins there because of the heat during the growing season, then maybe all you get is a really intensely sweet apple.

From what I understand, apples are native to the caucacus mountain region in Central Asia where there is a very strong diurnal shift. The tropical Summer conditions on the East coast (hot and humid with warm humid balmy nights) may disrupt the natural adaptation that Scott mentioned to keep critters from eating the apples before the seeds are ripe, hence less tannins.

I should have scion wood for several Normandie cider apples this Winter, I will have to see how much pruning I have to do.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2008 at 6:06PM
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I have to chime in here on account of tannins. Just because you can't taste the tannins in your apples doesn't mean that they aren't there. The French and UK climates are different from ours, a lot milder and ripening happens over a much longer, milder period of time. In the Southern US, apples are exposed to higher temperatures than France or the UK, so what you may see is a faster ripening time. Ok, now concerning tannins...

Think of tannins as a chain. With every day of ripening comes a new length in the chain. Our Southern climates are likely causing a faster ripening time which limits that tannin chain's production. This doesn't mean that the tannins aren't in the apples, it just means that there may not be as many or they aren't making their presence known. There is almost no basis for biting into an apple to determine tannins. Cider makers are able to extract tannins using enzymes, so if the apple can grow in the South, then lets grow it!

What I am interested in hearing is the health of these cider varieties in the heat and humidity of the south. I grow them in the mountains of Virginia but the coastal plains and piedmont regions are a different story. If they can be grown healthily, I want to grow them.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 2:30PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Elizapples, this thread is six years old. Since then I pulled out all my European cider apples. They are too hard for me to grow tannins or no. Fireblight in particular is horrible, many of the cider apples are very late bloomers which are a major problem for fireblight. Its not that they are ungrowable; I view them similarly to vinifera grapes - both can be grown in the mid-atlantic but both require an intensive spray program to get a crop.


    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 10:33PM
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