Cider apples are often referenced as Sweets, Bittersweets, Sharps, and Bittersharps. However, this doesn’t highlight a key element that contributes to great hard cider: Aroma. Aroma in hard cider come mostly from esters and alcohols but aldehydes, ketones, and ethers can also contribute. These compounds are created during fermentation and maturation by yeast and bacteria. Organic acids are also important in the creation of esters. However, some apples and their juice already have wonderful aromas and are often neglected as an important ingredient when selecting apples for hard cider.
I have found two modern apples, Ambrosia and Sweetie, that I consider to be excellent aroma apples. Both are low in acid with good sugar. The sweetie actually appears to have some tannins while the Ambrosia doesn’t. They are both firm fleshed and juice very well but more importantly, the aromas and flavors are amazing. Ambrosia has distinctive citrus and floral notes. The Sweetie has a strong sweet apple aroma. Obviously, orchard practices have a big influence on all fruit and mine come from a certified organic orchard and are picked ripe. Overall, these apples are excellent reminders that there are interesting modern apples that can contribute to making great hard cider.
There are also older American varieties that I would put into this category. Winter Banana is a great example. Yes, when fully ripe, it has aromas of a banana. Eat it fresh off the tree and you will see what I mean. I’ve used the peels off this apple as well and it contributed positively to the hard cider. This is a very low acid apple and like the Sweetie, has some tannins in it. A similar apple is the Mutsu. Highly aromatic with some acid and tannins but very complex flavors. I’ve actually made a single variety cider, Japanese Sunrise, from Mutsu.
The world is full of interesting apples and each apple begs to be considered in your next hard cider blend. I recommend 5-15% as a blending strategy but as with Mutsu, I have been successful with much higher amounts. Ultimately, great cider can be made from all types of apples but be on the lookout for those that are aromatic as they can help bring the nose of a cider alive.
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