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Apple Varieties for Making Fresh Sweet Cider
Apple juice is typically pressed from a single variety of sweet, table apple. Apple cider is a far more complex beverage. Sometimes made from a single cider apple, good cider is most often a blend of juices from several kinds of apples. When you make hard apple cider, the fermenting process can disguise an imperfect blend of juices. When you make sweet cider, the blend is everything. It is what differentiates ordinary juice from great cider.
Every great cider maker has a trademark blend. A basic blend for sweet apple cider is 50 percent sweet apple juice, 35 percent sharp apple juice and 15 percent bitter apple juice. To the resulting mix, you can then add a little aromatic juice. If you are a beginner, press your apple varieties separately and play with blending in small batches until you arrive at your own trademark blend.
The base of a cider is built on sweet apples. Most apples contain 10 to 14 percent sugar. Sweet apples don't contain more sugar; they contain less acid and tannins. Consider your sweet apple juice to be a blank slate. Bland apples like Red Delicious, Golden Delicious or Jonagold make for a uninteresting juice on their own. That blandness is not a problem for a cider base; it's the foundation of what will become an interesting blend.
Tannins give apples their bitter, astringent taste. Tannic apples cause you to pucker. Though you wouldn't want a cider made exclusively from bitter apples, a little bitterness creates a more complex interesting cider. Newtown, Lindel and Red Astrachan are all bitter, tannic apples. Apples with "Jersey" in their name like Chisel Jersey or Ashton Brown Jersey, tend to be bitter. Crab apples are also high in tannins. You can add small amounts of crab apple juice to your blend to create interesting flavors you won't get from table apples.
In cider-making jargon, "sharp" describes sour apples. These sour apples are sour not because they have less sugar but because they have more malic acid than sweet apples. Sharp apples give cider a nice tingle. They break up the sweetness of the base, and like bitter apples, they create interest. Gravenstein, Cox's Orange Pippin, Wealthy, Winesap and Northern Spy are all sharp apples
Aromatic apples have a distinctive smell. In fact, when you taste them, you will find that they have more of an aroma than a flavor. Apples of the MacIntosh family --Spartan, Jonamac, Empire and Cortland -- all tend to be aromatic. When it comes to adding aromatic apples to cider, a little goes a long way. Some people don't add them at all because they tend to overwhelm the other flavors of the cider. If you choose to add them, experiment carefully. Pour off a small amount of your finished cider and then add the aromatic juice a small amount at a time.
While most ciders are blends, some ciders are made from "perfect" cider apples. These cider apples are apples that have sweet, sharp, bitter and aromatic flavors all in one apple. Roxbury Russet, Ribston Pippin, Nonpareil and Golden Russet are examples of apples that can stand alone as single-apple cider apples.
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