This spring (2022) will begin my 10th year of tending 250 trees at the Mountain Valley Farm orchard in Waitsfield, VT. So I thought I would mark the occasion by documenting my current opinions on 30 of these varieties, all about 28 year old trees growing on standard rootstock in marginal, low nutrent soils, PH ranging from 5.9 to 6.3, 1200ft elevation with mostly western aspect. Listed in order of ripening, beginning in late July.
Tetovsky: (also Tetousky): Usually biennial. Very hardy, no signs of disease other than a tiny bit of scab some years. Upright growth habit. Earliest of the summer apples, usually the last week of July continuing to drop through mid August. Not as tart as other summer apples. I would even classify it as a sweet some years. SG: 1.040’s; TA: approx 6-7 g/L malic
Parkland: Biennial, small compact tree, small crisp and tart fruit with a tiny bit of astringency. Definitely a scab issue. I’ve never singled this one out in fermentation, but it might have some modest value in an early season fermentation. Excellent, crisp, tart eating for an early summer apple. Ripens around August 1 and continues through most of August. Worth a spot in your backyard orchard if you like summer eating apples. SG: unknown, probably low 1.040’s; TA: moderate
Yellow Transparent: Biennial, hardy, disease resistant. No signs of disease other than a tiny bit of canker. Ripens around August 1 and continues to drop for a few weeks. Get em’ quickly. An excellent eating apple when dead ripe, beyond that, they go to shite quickly. I think Yellow T. and Lodi (similar) from older deep tap rooted trees are a decent source of early juice, especially for co-fermentations with other summer fruits, berries, etc. The fermented juice is very neutral and adopts other flavors and aromas easily. SG: 1.040’s; TA: 7 (ish) g/L malic
Lodi: Biennial, hardy, disease resistant. In my opinion, there’s really not a big difference between Lodi and Yellow T. Some years, one is slightly better than the other. Both can sometimes overcrop, giving you a lot of smaller green apples, which sucks. I won’t even bother harvesting if that happens. Also ripens in early August, dropping throughout the month. SG: 1.040’s; TA: 6-7 g/L malic
St Lawrence: 100% Biennial, hardy, disease resistant, gnarly spreading growth habit. Quite possibly the most beautiful graphics of any apple I tend. Worth growing just to look at and share with neighbors. The fruit is definitely more durable and a bit more dense than other summer apples, lasting longer in cold storage. Wonderful aroma. Although, I gotta say, a good ripe Yellow T. or Lodi is a better eater, IMO. SG: 1.040’s; TA: never tested, but seems pretty average
Mantet: Biennial, light cropper. Probably the highest quality of all the summer apples I tend. Does have some canker and also occasionally some scab. The fruit it excellent though. Very flavorful, tart, more complex than other one-dimensional early season apples. I have never harvested enough to ferment on its own. They go into the grinder with other early season apples. SG: unkown, but probably 1.040’s to around 1.050; TA: never tested but I’m guessing in the 7-8 g/L malic range
: All these summer apples listed above are not particularly good for cider, but I don't think they are particularly bad either. If you have older trees growing in a biologically diverse environment, they are worth experimenting with. I have had some surprisingly good results by blending them all together or blending with later season varieties.
Red Astrachan: Somewhat annual, although some trees are 100% biennial. Hardy, disease resistant, although some years there is a little scab. I seem to have a unique strain of RA. They came from Elmore Roots nursery in the early 1990’s. This is a very high quality early season apple. Excellent for eating, cooking, vinegar and a reasonable blending base for hard cider. A trace of astringent tannin, with a peculiar quinine note, some years. Although the acidity can be a little malic in flavor. Blends well with Dolgo crab. Ripens over a very long period of time, starting in early August and continuing to late September. Trees seem to like high levels of potash.
Other RA’s I have sampled from orchards around the northeast are nothing like this one. They are greener, smaller, mealy and boring. SG: 1.040’s in August to as high as 1.061 in late September; TA: 6-7 g/L malic
Melba: Leaning Biennial, generally disease resistant. A favorite of Apple Maggot Flies. This one is okay. I wouldn’t plant more, but if you have them, they can be a decent neutral source of early season acidity with a bit of apple aroma carrying through in fermentation. I have heard of a few other commercial operations using this in their blends. SG: 1.050 ish; TA: 6-8 g/L malic
Dolgo Crab: Annual production, very disease resistant, although if we get a lot of rain, they can sometimes get split skins prematurely. I have lost quite a bit of crop from this, twice. Otherwise this is an excellent cider apple. Many others agree, but honestly, I would not plant more. They are a bitch to harvest and process. I have to pank in 2-3 separate harvests spread out over a few weeks and even then, some fruit stays in the tree and much is lost in the grass, unless you keep a golf course understory. Some say they can have a jolly rancher kind of flavor after fermentation, but I have only found that when using cultured yeast. High sugar, very high acid and low to moderate tannins. Dolgo also appears to possibly have some unfermentable sugars. I have never had a batch ferment completely to dryness. This observation has also been observed by others on the Cider Workshop Google group.
Sapsuckers seem to love Dolgo trees. Of the 6 large trees I have, all of them suffer a bit from Sapsuckers. But if you haven’t heard, birds are having a hard go of it these days, since Sapiens have screwed up pretty much everything, so plant a Dolgo for the Sapsuckers. Dologo's are also good for polinators and other wildlife, so that's something to consider.
If you have access to some Dolgo's, I highly recommend them for cider, but if you are planting a cider orchard, I think there are better options for high sugar, high acid. SG: 1.053 - 1.072 (usually in the 1.060’s); TA: insane. 12-25 g/L malic (I’ve heard of higher up in Quebec)
Dudley: Annual, usually. Dudley is an Apple Maggot Flies wet dream. I have one tree. Most years, there’s a huge crop. On a few occasions I was able to find one apple that was bearable to sink my teeth into. Seems like a typical early season desert apple. Not bad actually. Attractive tree with a nice spreading growth habit. I use it as trap tree for AMF, hanging a dozen or so red sticky spheres. Works, somewhat. SG: beats me; TA: seems low to moderate
Atlas: Annual, no sign of disease but does get some scab some years. Atlas has been very variable for me. In general, it is a preferred source of acidity, but some years, some trees overcrop, and the fruit is junk. These trees are 18 ft tall so thinning is just not practical. On lean, dry years, the fruit can be very high quality, with fermentations having raspberry notes and only a hint of that flabby malic flavor. Also beloved by Apple Maggot Fly, so lookout. Due to variability, and the scab issue, I wouldn’t plant more of this one, but if you have it, don’t overlook it. SG: 1.050- 1.064; TA: 7 - 8.8 g/L malic
Kerr Crab: biennial, very disease resistant, although some years the fruit can be black with Sooty Blotch. Definitely a unique apple with a unique and memorable flavor. One of the few ciders to smell and taste just like the fruit. Some wax poetic about this one, and while I like it, I don’t love it. It does pank easily, although I have methodically tree picked before. Panking into tarps works well, with only minor skin breakage. One nice thing about Kerr- it’s generally ripe by late September, but it will just hang in the tree with little degradation right up until early November. So there’s a wide harvest window. Some mention its Lychee notes, which I agree with, but there’s something else unique about it. I can’t quite articulate it. It’s a tricky one to blend. I frequently wish I had some other unusual apple to blend it with, but I just don’t know what. Worth further experimentation. SG: usually upper 1.050’s; TA: 6 - 8 g/L malic, lower if you let it hang in the tree for a while.
Macintosh: DON’T DISS THE MACS! Seriously. This is an older strain. Nothing like macs in the supermarket. I mean… NOTHING LIKE THEM. For years, I ignored the macs, because I assumed they were no good for cider. These guys are tart AF, bright red, firm, juicy, rich flavor. These 28 to maybe 75 year old trees have never been sprayed. Yes, they get scab wicked bad most years. Some years its so bad I don’t even bother harvesting. The fermented juice is best on the dry years. In 2020 I fermented (native yeast) a demijohn of 100% Mac and it was stellar. I was very close to releasing it as a single variety. It had a beautiful biting acidity with a dense brown apple core aroma and weighed in at over 8% ABV. Fruit ripens from mid Sept to mid October.
There are various strains out there, so be forewarned. The older ones are better. But the scab issue is out of hand. Let’s be honest on that one. We don’t need to plant more macs. But there are probably thousands of ancient Macs on old homesteads here in the northeast. Good rule of thumb with the old macs, smaller is better. If they are larger apples, it’s probably a more modern strain or growing in very fertile soil, both of which are likely going to diminish the cider quality. SG: 1.055 - 1.080 (yes, that 1.080 was in 2016, big drought year); TA: 7 - 9 g/L malic
Red Mac: Same as Macintosh. Old strain + old tree= good
Wolf River: Biennial. Late Sept to late October. No scab. OK, one year I singled out a carboy of Wolf River and blew it out on champagne yeast. In the following spring it really wasn’t bad, it had a subtle grapefruit kind of thing going on, no tannin to speak of, but otherwise something nice to blend with. So in the coming seasons, Wolfies went into various press blends, at a small ratio, tanks and barrels, end results being my basic Farmhouse blend. Then a few years later, on a large crop year, I singled out another carboy and the end result was insipid, and uninspiring. It’s a big ass baking apple. That’s it. Fun to pick because it’s so massive. Nice spreading growth habit. Good looking tree, easy to prune. There’s better baking apples though. If you have it, it could come in handy, maybe. Its easy to harvest, but tends to get jammed in my grinder. Like most baking and dessert apples, its best from a large old tree, on a lean crop, or dry year. You will get concentrated sugars and flavors this way. SG: 1.055- 1.065; TA: honestly can’t remember but probably in the 7 g/L malic range
Spartan: Sometimes annual, medium size tree. October. Fruit gets a tiny bit of scab some years, but otherwise generally disease free. I really need to test this one a bit further, but if I had to choose a cider apple among the desert varieties, this one would make my top 5. It’s very neutral and easy to blend. It seems to adopt the flavor and aroma profile of other stronger juices very easily. Decent eating as well. Does not keep well for an October apple. SG: 1.050 - 1.060; TA: 6.5 - 8 g/L malic
Liberty: Annual, big time. Reliable, consistent, very disease resistant. October. Easy to grow, easy to prune, tree pick or drop harvest. This one is a grand slam, although, its only OK for cider. I would recommend planting it simply because its a sure thing. You could always have some Liberty to top up barrels, round out a blend, back sweeten for bottle conditioning, etc. Plant them in your worst soil, and they will be even better. The more fertile the soil, the lower the quality. SG: 1.055 -1.065; TA: 6.5 - 8 g/L malic
Freedom: junk, don’t waste your time. Unless you are co-fermenting with grapes or something more powerful and just need some juice. As for eating, it can be pretty good, for a few weeks in October, on a good year.
Cortland: Annual, October. No Fireblight even after ample exposure. Some scab. If you have it, its worth using in a blend. I would put in the same group as Liberty and Spartan. Its useful for cider, but only to a certain extent. Lean, dry years will have better results, usually. SG: 1.054 -1.066; TA: 7 g/L malic (ish)
Esopus Spitzenberg: Biennial. Considering the Fireblight issue, I am not grafting anymore ES. It seems to be an excellent source of acidity, but after seeing FB strikes in 2021 and hearing some other stories from around the region, I’m out. If you have some mature trees that are producing though, I would take ES over most other dessert apples, for an acid source.
Honey Gold: Annual, mostly. October. Definitely a scab issue and occasional fruit rots, but otherwise healthy vigorous trees. This one flies under the radar. I’m surprised more cider makers aren’t talking about it. The honey notes really carry through in fermentation, both in aroma and flavor. Not much tannin to speak of but the fermented cider has a nice body to it. Some years, it can have a bit of green bitterness that doesn’t really age out, but the honey aromas make up for it. Oddly, I have had a hard time figuring out how to blend this one. Golden Russet is a good candidate, as well as Goldrush and the older strain of Golden Delicious, but I lack all those in quality and quantity. SG: 1.054 - 1.066; TA: 5.8 - 7.1 g/L malic
Redwell: Leans biennial, but could be coaxed annual. No signs of any disease, not even sooty blotch. I honestly haven’t tested this one, it has just gone into blends at the press. I lump it into the generalist category, along with Liberty, Cortland and Spartan. SG: guessing 1.050’s; TA: probably around 6 -7 g/L malic (just guessing based on taste)
Connel Red: Annual, October to early November. Tiny bit of scab and occasionally a little canker, but otherwise disease free, reliable croppers, medium sized easily manageable trees. I like CR. All around. Excellent keeping apple for the winter. Lasts in cold storage until Feb or March. Good for baking. Very low in acid and no real tannins to speak of, but superb red apple aromas that carry through in my cold wild yeast fermentations for the winter months. Long macerations have given good results as well, reducing any greenness and maintaining aroma. SG: 1.052 - 1.064; TA: 5 - 6 g/L malic
Fireside: Annual, October to early November. No signs of disease. A favorite of the porcupines. Similar to Connel Red, but not as good for cider. I don’t know why, but in all of my single carboy test batches, the results were always a little meh. There was consistently this birch beer kind of flavor. Nonetheless, I use it for vinegar or sometimes macerate and blend it into a wild ferment mashup. SG & TA same as Connel Red
Roxbury Russet: This one needs no introduction. There’s tons of info out there. I don’t have that many and have never singled it out. The trees are not very productive for me but they were top worked to old macs. There's better cider apples, but this one deserves a spot in a diversified orchard. High quality russet.
Sharon: Leans biennial, but definetly some annual production. Vigorous growth, huge crops every other year. Another favorite for Apple Maggot Fly. Low acid, but aromatic fruit. Sharon has been very useful for me. I wrote it off in the early days because the fruit is kind of insipid (ie. low acid, low tannin). But amazingly, the fermentation results are always pleasant, with few faults and the red apple aroma carries through, at least in wild yeast ferments. I wouldn’t plant more of this one, but I make good use of what I have. SG: 1.053 - 1.060; TA: usually in the 5’s g/L malic
Scott Winter: Biennial, but starting to get some annual production with informed pruning. No disease. Little insect pressure. Easily panked or tree picked. Or just pick up drops. Decent sharp. I really should test it more, as I didn’t let the singled carboys age very long, but initial impressions were pretty good. Nice source of late acid. I blend it with Connel Red, Sharon and other late season apples for cold wild yeast fermentations. SG: 1.055 - 1.062; TA: around 8 g/L malic
Northwest Greening: Sometimes annual, but very large crops every other year. No signs of serious disease pressure. Excellent winter storage apple for baking and eating. Harvest in early November if no deep freeze strikes in October. Keeps until April in the fridge. NG will take a beating from apple maggot flies but the fruit seals its own wounds and continues to ripen, so this is an excellent variety for people not spraying. I have never tested the juice, but the fruit is lower in acid, not quite a sweet, but certainly not a sharp, a trace of tannin. Rustic flavor, not for the shiny bubblegum supermarket crowd.
Goldrush: Annual, disease resistant. Not impressed. I know there are others, in warmer zones that love this one for cider, but it does not seem to properly ripen up here in the Green Mountains. Perhaps that will change in the decades to come. Worth planting now, as it does appear precocious and preductive.
Golden Russet: Biennial, pretty much disease and insect free. Last to be harvested usually in early November. High enough in sugar that they will survive our late October freezes. Great cider apple. Use what you have and plant more, but I admit, I think this apples grows better out in the Finger Lakes or perhaps in the Champlain Valley. Most years, it’s just barely ripe when I have to harvest it from imminent cold temps. Long sweating helps. I usually don’t press them until mid-December. I am currently testing and grafting some local wild russets (similar high sugar and flavor profile) here in central VT that might be better suited to this micro-climate. Although, the weather patterns are becoming so unusual now, who knows… SG: consistently well above 1.070; TA: I’ve actually never checked, but I’m guessing around 8 g/L malic
Summer apples: The books will all tell you that summer apples are no good for fermented cider. I disagree. Yes they lack sugar and in most cases tannin as well, but grown in a biologically diverse environment on larger rootstock, they can certainly be of use. If nothing else, they make excellent vinegar. I’m not planning on planting any more summer apples, but if you have some old summer apple trees, don’t overlook them. I think there is quite a bit of potential in co-fermenting summer apples with other seasonal fruit, berries, etc. I have run two very successful batches, blending Yellow T. and Lodi with wild blackberries. Also, I typically ferment all of the August apples together, which makes for a little more complexity. The result will usually have a TA around 6.5 - 7.5 g/L malic and be around 6% ABV. This will be the base blend for Fippenny Bit, a cider I have been selling commercially since 2015.
Late Season Apples: The late season apples are generally considered to be higher quality cider apples by many. And this is mostly true when it comes to higher sugar and complexity, but in my experience with both known cultivated varieties and wild apples, there can often be other undesirable flavor compounds. The trees are not working for your cider making desires. Yes, the late season fruit tends to be lower in nitrogen, yielding slower fermentations, but these fermentations, if not managed well, can also become problematic.
My point is this: from a cidermakers perspective, there is potential value in all fruit harvested from August through November. Some of the most interesting and potentially promising high quality wild apples I have tested are early season harvested. Some of the worst ones I have tested were late harvested. So I approach any tree with an open mind. The institution of cider making leads one to believe there is a way cider should be made, but an astute observer will hear the trees tell us that there are many ways a cider could be made.
-Teddy Weber, Roxbury, VT