Best Hard Cider Apples: What apples are used for hard cider?

Little girl in an apple garden

After years of hard cider being viewed by Americans as a British, sweet novelty drink, to everyone’s surprise cider is making a huge comeback in the United States.

Domestic cider production rose by 264% between 2005 and 2012, and it’s being sold. Industry revenue has grown by the hundreds of millions and Americans, who were once skeptical of cider, or drinking it up by the gallons. We should know. Folks are drinking Blake’s Hard Cider by the truckload!

If you’ve always had a passion for making hard apple cider and you’re considering venturing into this business full or part-time, now is the time to jump on a moving train before it takes off and leave you behind in the dust.

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As great as this boom is for a return to an olds school American traditions being revived by younger generations, there’s one ‘tiny little problem’.

Not. Enough. Apples

Not just ‘any’ apples. But cider apples. Hard cider apples. The kind the apple eaters call ‘spitters’, because eaten alone they taste extremely terrible. Ironically, used for regular or hard apple cider, they taste wonderfully. They’re called “bittersweets” and “bittersharps”. Unfortunately, they’re not in the greatest demand as it was in the 1800’s when hard cider was actually safer to drink than water. Today, water is good and safe to drink, so it’s no longer a necessity as it once was, but market demand. Although demand is growing, it hasn’t made enough waves to warrant apple growers to sacrifice a ‘cash crop’ for an unproven market that has yet to prove it’s longevity in the midst of greater interest.

We believe that’s going to change within the next 5 – 15 years, but for now most hard cider producers  have to creatively make do with what we can get our hands on such as cooking and desert varieties.

As for Blake’s, we grow, produce and manufacture our own unique blend of cider apples for use in our hard ciders giving us that unique taste so many rave about. Roughly a third of cideries grow their own apples, and we are one of them.

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apple cider with fresh apples , cinnamon , spices and chips on a wooden background

To make good cider, you need two things – skill, and cider apples. To make tasty cider, you need apples with a lot of sugar to encourage fermentation with specific levels of acid and tannins. You won’t find these *anywhere* in grocery stores, or even your local farmers market. But if you grow your own apples, know someone who does or you’re willing to pay a premium for true cider apples that nearly went extinct on American soil such as the distinctly flavored Kingston Black, Yarlington Mill, and Porters Perfection, than you have a shot at creating a concoction of hard cider that is truly unique.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find any of these apples in large batches, but if you can manage to get your hands on a few for a private tasting or find a grower willing to sell to you exclusively if you intend on mass producing, than you’ve struck gold.

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What Apples Make Good Cider?

Best cider apple tree varieties cider makers use include:

American varieties – Gold Rush (most popular and easiest to obtain), Stayman’s Winesap, Winesap, Crimson Crisp, Liberty, Black Twig, Arkansas Black, Roxbury Russet, Golden Russett, Harrison, Newtown Pippin (also known as Albemarle Pippin), Cox Orange Pippin, Ashmeads Kernel, Wickson, Ribston Pippin, Northern Spy, Baldwin.

French varieties – Zabergau Reinette, Nehou, Muscadet de Dieppe, Muscat de Lense, Vilberie, Michelin, Medaille D’Or, Frequin Rouge, Kermerien, Dabinett

English varieties – Chisel Jersey, Herefordshire Redstreak, Sommerset Redstreak, Yarlington Mill, Tremlett’s Bitter, Harry Masters Jersey, Bulmer’s Norman, Brown Snout, Ellis Bitter, Ashton Bitter, Major, Stembridge Jersey, White Jersey

Bittersharps – Porter’s Perfection (English), Kingston Black

Sharps – Calville Blanc d’Hiver (French), Tom Putt (English), Brown’s Apple (English), Bramley’s Seedling

Sweets – Belle de Boskoop, Nova Spy, Saint Edmund’s Pippin

Choosing the right variety for hard cider apple blends will give any cider maker the upper hand. The second, and perhaps most important part of cider making, is marketing and selling. You can have the best hard apple cider yeast, recipe, bittersweet, and bittersharp apples, but if you don’t know how to market and sale what you have, the best won’t make it past your basement.

Beverage giants, Aneuser-Bush and MillerCoors, jumped into the industry with Johnny Appleseed and Smith & Forge. One hard cider for each major brand. With this strategy they took what is relatively sub-par cider and helped to expand the cider market because of mass exposure. So if you’re starting out and you have limited funds, you can create a cider that is palatable to the masses and make that single drink a household name. As you gain market share and increase profits you can add to your beverage portfolio to diversify. That’s what we recommend, because that’s we have done ourselves.

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Although cider apples are hard to come by now, we anticipate this changing over the next one to two decades as traditional apple farmers see a profitable niche and tap into it to corner the market. If the growth sustains itself for several more years (which we know it will) this will be the proof everyone is looking for to jump in with both feet and make more cider apples available to cider makers and the public for their own private use.

Come by and visit us in our neck of the woods and sample a few of Michigan’s best at 17985 Armada Center Rd. Armada, MI 48005, give us a call at 586-784-9463 or shoot us an email at for questions or inquiries about the sale of our business assets.

You can also visit us at Blake’s Hard Cider  to learn more about our latest products and exciting upcoming events. Lastly, you can find us on Kroger and Meijer’s store shelves in Michigan, Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina, and Wisconsin (so far). We are quickly growing and expanding our distribution to other nearby states so check with your local grocery and liquor store chain to see if we’re in your area.

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