Apples for Artisanal Cider: Understanding the Characteristics of Single Varietals

Project Overview

FNC16-1053
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2016: $7,500.00
Projected End Date: 01/30/2018
Grant Recipient: Bantum Fruit Farm
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Matthew Raboin
Brix Cider LLC

Annual Reports

Information Products

Commodities

  • Fruits: apples, general tree fruits

Practices

  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, value added
  • Production Systems: general crop production
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities

    Summary:

    The hard cider industry has experienced a meteoric rise over the last 7 years, and the North Central Region is now home to 180 hard cider producing businesses.  The growth in the cider industry provides new markets for growers.  In particular it adds value to blemished apples, and it creates new opportunities to explore growing cider specific apple varieties.  The fact that cider apples do not need to look good also offers new opportunities for sustainable management as growers may be able to reduce reliance on spraying for certain pests and diseases that only damage fruit cosmetically.

    One challenge that regional growers and cider makers face in best advancing the cider industry is a scarcity of information about the cider qualities of specific apple varieties.  Having more information about which apples make the best cider will help growers and cider makers alike in determining which varieties to prioritize for future planting and cider production.

    To begin to address this challenge, our study evaluated the cider qualities of 40 apple varieties grown in Wisconsin.  The varieties were selected from two farms, and they included a mix of common eating apples, heirloom American cider apples, heirloom multi-purpose apples, two English cider apples, and one French cider apple.

    Each variety was ground, pressed, and fermented individually in one gallon batches using the same procedures.  Juice was tested for each variety to measure brix, pH, titratable acidity, and total tannins.  After fermentation, each resulting cider was tasted and evaluated qualitatively to describe the appearance, aroma, flavor, and overall impression.  

    Our findings suggested the qualities that made a cider desirable were a high brix, moderate acidity, and noticeable tannins, and through our results we are able to see which qualities are present in each variety and what that variety might lend to a blend.  Results were compiled into a database and posted on the Brix Cider website.

    We conducted several outreach events to share results.  These included: a tasting session with other growers, cider makers, and agricultural professionals; a presentation at the SARE Farmers Forum; a presentation at the United States Association of Cider Makers Conference (CiderCon); a farm tour and discussion with agricultural professionals, and a public tasting event and poster at the University of Wisconsin-Madison through cooperation with the Seed to Kitchen Collaborative.

    Farmers and cider makers expressed resoundingly positive feedback about the study, and in total, information about the project has reached over 11,000 individuals.  We have used the results to prioritize plantings and cider making practices with our own orchard and cider business, and we expect that the others who have accessed project information are using it similarly.

    Project objectives:

    The project objectives we set forth in the grant proposal included the following.

    Environmental Benefits:

    Growing apples for cider offers growers an opportunity to reduce reliance on pesticides and fungicides due to the fact that cider apples do not require the cosmetic perfection of eating apples.  Further, local cider production offers the potential to reduce food miles compared with mass-produced industrial ciders.  Increasing knowledge about apples that could be part of a more sustainable cider orchard is a first step towards achieving these environmental benefits.  The following two indicators therefore measure the extent to which we succeeded in completing the project and in sharing knowledge with our targeted audience:

    1. Number of apple varieties with potential for use in environmentally sustainable apple orchards that were collected, photographed, pressed, fermented, tested, and described in detail
      1. Target of 40 – based on a simple numerical count
    2. Number of individuals with increased knowledge of cider apple varieties that could be grown in a sustainable orchard
      1. Total target of 3,330, including:
        1. 30 from an in-person field day – based on the participant list
        2. 300 from a poster presentation – based on estimated viewers at the 2017 Cider Conference
        3. 3000 readers of the project report – based on webpage data in Google Analytics

    Economic Benefits

    The burgeoning hard cider industry offers new opportunities for growers and entrepreneurs to increase profits.  Existing orchards can explore new market options and diversify their operations for greater economic resilience.  Likewise, beginning farmers can tap into new, niche markets through developing pioneering cider-related enterprises.  The cider qualities that we are testing are important factors in determining which apple varieties might lead to more profitable cider businesses.  Increasing knowledge is a first step towards reaching desired economic benefits, and the following two indicators therefore assess whether we have completed our project and reached our intended audience with information that can be economically beneficial:

    1. Number of apple varieties with potential to increase orchard profitability that were collected, photographed, pressed, fermented, tested, and described in detail
      1. Target of 40 – based on a simple numerical count
    2. Number of individuals with increased knowledge of cider apple varieties that could increase orchard profitability
      1. Total target of 3,330, including:
        1. 30 from an in-person field day – based on the participant list
        2. 300 from a poster presentation – based on estimated viewers at the 2017 Cider Conference
        3.  3000 readers of the project report – based on webpage data in Google Analytics

    Social Benefits

    Advancing artisanal cider offers the social benefit of increasing community connections to locally produced beverages that are part of our national heritage.  Artisanal ciders can connect consumers with the rich genetic diversity that is possible with apples while reviving cultural traditions.  Increasing knowledge is a first step towards achieving these social benefits.  The following two indicators therefore measure the extent to which we succeeded in completing the project and in sharing knowledge with our targeted audience:

    1. Number of apple varieties with potential to revive cultural traditions that were collected, photographed, pressed, fermented, tested, and described in detail
      1. Target of 40 – based on a simple numerical count
    2. Number of individuals with increased knowledge of cider apple varieties that could enhance community connections to locally produced beverages
      1. Total target of 3,330, including:
        1. 30 from an in-person field day – based on the participant list
        2. 300 from a poster presentation – based on estimated viewers at the 2017 Cider Conference
        3. 3000 readers of the project report – based on webpage data in Google Analytics
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.