Many of us struggle to find true Bitters, which are apples that are high in tannins. Some call these cider apples because making cider is often the only good use for them. However, we should really be thinking of apples as Bitters, Sharps, and Sweets or a combination of these like Bittersweets and Bittersharps. The challenge facing most of us is how to make hard cider from common apples. Common being apples you’d readily find at your grocery store. These are the types of apples regularly found around the world. Apples like Granny Smith, Bramley, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Gala, Pink Lady, Mutsu (Crispin), and Gravenstein are just a few examples. How can we make great cider from these common apples? Remember, these are apples that were often bred to not have tannins. Tannins or polyphenols are what make Bitters, well bitter. The problem we face is how to take these common apples and blend them together to make a great cider. Many of these common apples are Sharps, meaning they have high levels of acid. That means the ciders made from them often end up being dry and tart. We easily forget that cider won’t taste like the juice. We get distracted by the sugars in the apples. Blending requires us to look through the sugar, which means we need to understand the acids in the apples. I thought it would be useful to use some of the data I have collected about apples as well as research(1) I have found to create a blending template for common apples.
Recognize this template won’t be perfect. Apples vary year-to-year and orchard-to-orchard. Also, I am taking a formulaic approach to blending and while making cider has science in it, it also has art. This template isn’t an absolute. There are other factors, like your fermentation process, including yeast, temperature, clarity, and nutrients. Lastly, you need to add peels to your blend. Besides being a guide on how to blend common apples, I also provided a general guide for how much peel to add depending on whether you are using red, yellow, or green colored peels. While not always the case, red peels tend to have more polyphenols than yellow, and yellow more than green. Explore my posts on the peels to get more specific ideas but I wanted the template to be easy to use and directionally correct. Even if you have bitter apples, peels from Bitters will enhance the organoleptic characteristics of your cider. Peels will add valuable anthocyanins and other phenolic compounds that improve the color, mouthfeel, and taste of your cider. Peels are a must for everyone but, especially those who lack access to bitter apples, like me.
As I noted, it takes both art and science when making hard cider. The template is based on science. It is hard to write equations for art because if we could, it wouldn’t be art anymore. I doubt this template will create a perfect juice base that will guarantee a perfect cider. It might happen but, the reality is that you will probably have to adjust something given your fruit and process. But, I believe it should give you a great starting point and help you improve your cider. Here is an image of the template, which is followed by a link that will let you download the template as an Excel file. Let me explain how to use it.
You can change everything in the template so you can customize it to your process or add more data. If your yield is 45% or 60%, change it. If you have better apple data, add it. However, for simplicity, I highlighted the cells in blue that you should add or change to use the template. First, select whether you use imperial units, pounds and gallons, or metric, kilograms and liters. I listed the total acid value in grams per liter because this is how most titration kits are setup and research papers report it. I used grams to define the recommended weight of apple peels because it’s a more accurate measurement versus ounces. Next, add the weight of the apples you have, plan to use, or are thinking of using. I tried to include the common apples you find at the grocer but, I left some “other” spots if you want to add more. Once you add the weight of each apple type, the volume that each apple type will produce and contribute to the total volumes is calculated. The %ABV that this volume of juice will produce and contribute to the total volume is also calculated. The last column estimates the contribution each apple variety will make to the total acids in the cider. At the bottom is a Total line that tells you the total weight of apples used, estimated volume, %ABV, and acid level.
The total acid number is the key to this template. If your total acid number is too high, the template tells you that you need more Sweets. If the number is too low, it tells you to add Sharps. The target is to have a total acid level between 4.5 and 6.5 grams per liter. Acid levels below 4.5 grams per liter will probably benefit by adding more Sharps just like acid levels above 6.5 will probably benefit from adding more Sweets. However, I make some great ciders that are well above 6.5. That’s because other factors can influence this number, especially residual sweetness. Remember that the template is a guide to help you select from different apples but it’s just a guide. Below the Total row you will find the recommended amount of peels to add for the total estimated volume. I’m generalizing the peels based on color to make the process as easy as possible. You can find more specific peels data in other posts or the K.A. Thompson-Witrick and associates(1) paper. You can mix the peels of different apples but I often take the peels from one specific apple. Process the peels as I noted in my post on the subject.
Here is the Excel file. If you’d like it in another format, message me.
If you have other common apples you want me to add to the blending guide, let me know. I tried to pick global varieties where possible and ones where I had data. Also, let me know if you have questions. Leave a comment or contact me. Hopefully, this helps you develop your blending plan and helps even better ciders. Good luck!
(1) K.A. Thompson-Witrick and associates, Characterization of the Polyphenol Composition of 20 Cultivars of Cider, Processing, and Dessert Apples Grown in Virginia, J. Agric. Food Chem. 62, 2014
Did you enjoy these tips on making hard cider? Check out my book to learn more ideas and information on making and enjoying hard cider. It will help you develop a process that matches your desire and equipment. It will also show you how to pair cider with food to maximize your experience. You can find it as an eBook and a 7×10 paperback on Amazon or a 7×10 paperback on Barnes & Noble. Click on these Links to check them out.