Apples for Artisanal Cider: Understanding the Characteristics of Single Varietals

Project Overview

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


  • Fruits: apples, general tree fruits


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

    Proposal summary:


    Hard cider is the fastest growing alcoholic beverage category in the US, growing at an average rate of 83 percent over each of the last three years.  Like wine, artisanal ciders require cider-specific apple varieties and thoughtful blending to produce a high-value product.  It is these high-value, artisanal ciders that offer an opportunity for the North Central Region’s 6000+ apple growers to harness the growth in the cider market and earn a profit.  The nearly 100 cider-making businesses in the North Central Region are thirsty for cider-specific apples that will make their ciders stand out from mass-produced beverages.  A further advantage of cider is that cider apples require less spraying and inputs than eating apples (since they do not have to look nice) meaning that cider can contribute to greater sustainability.

    One challenge that regional growers and cider-makers face in producing high quality products is scarcity of information about specific cider apple qualities.  Available cider apple descriptions only lump apples into very broad categories of sweetness (brix), sharpness (acidity), and bitterness (presence of tannins).  All the wonderful variations and subtleties of aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, appearance, and other unique characteristics are lost in these broad categorizations, leaving growers and cider-makers guessing as to which trees and apples really will lead to the high quality ciders that they desire to produce.

    For our farm as well as other farms considering a cider-related business, more detailed descriptions of the cider qualities of specific apple varieties will help in determining which trees to plant and how to blend ciders to make artful products.  Ultimately, we hope that a deeper understanding of cider apple characteristics will lead to enriched experiences of the genetic diversity apples and enhanced community connections to a beverage that is part of our national heritage.


    Through this project we are conducting fermentation experiments on 40 single varietal ciders to determine the cider qualities of each individual apple variety.  Apple varieties being tested include American heritage cider apples, classic English cider apples, French cider apples, some commonly grown apples that are often used in cider blends, and other apple varieties that may have promising cider qualities.  We are producing 1 gallon fermentations of each variety, and each juice will be tested for yield, specific gravity, pH, and total acidity.  After fermentation, each cider is being tested for final gravity (to determine alcohol content) before being bottled. The resulting single varietal ciders are then being tasted by members of the project team and a tasting panel, and we are developing detailed tasting notes for each cider including descriptions of each cider’s aroma, color, level and type of bitterness or astringency, mouthfeel, flavor, and any unique attributes.  The final results along with photographs of each apple and cider are being compiled and are available on our website:

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Test the characteristics of 40 single varietal ciders to enable growers to make informed choices for their operations.
    2. Benefit the environment by growing apples for local cider production, which reduces reliance on pesticides and fungicides (due to the fact that cider apples do not require the cosmetic perfection of eating apples), and reduces food miles compared with mass-produced industrial ciders.
    3. Through testing new apple varieties, create new opportunities for growers and entrepreneurs to increase profits including finding new market options and diversifying their operations for greater economic resilience.
    4. Increase community connections by advancing local artisanal cider, promoting the rich genetic diversity that is possible with apples while reviving cultural traditions.
    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.