A preview of things to come.
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So last Thursday, myself, Sean and Logan (our two cidermakers) took a road trip out to Twin Pines Orchards—where the majority of our apples and pears come from. If you don't know, Twin Pines makes the best 'clean' ciders in the province, because they grow the best dang fruit in Ontario.
They aren't freaky and wild fermented like us, and they're exclusively in 1L bottles, but you can find them online here. We don't get anything if you buy Twin Pines cider via that link, I just thought you might like to know.
Anyways, after a 2 hour drive we're there, and Mike and Mark Vansteenkiste invite us into their apple fridge. It smells like what I imagine heaven smells like. I was so excited I didn't take a single picture...
When they started telling us what they'd set aside for us this year I turned into a kid in a candy store. I'm sure I thoroughly embarassed Sean and Logan (who are far more stoic and reserved) but whatever. I was blown away when they showed me the varieties we were getting. Okay, let's get to the juicy stuff: the apples!
(Get it? Juicy?... sorry, I had to).
When we're looking at new apple varieties, there are a couple things we like to see:
Tannin. Easily the most important, and rare component in Ontario apples - tannin is what gives you texture and that 'drying' sensation on your tongue, like when you drink over-steeped tea, or a traditional red wine. Tannins actually bind to proteins on your tongue, forcing your mouth to flood your mouth with saliva to compensate. Kinda gross to think about, but very important when you're balancing a beverage, or drinking with food.
- Aroma. Second most important, it's also tough to find unique apple aromas (that aren't just 'apple') in Ontario fruit. In our experience, the most exciting aromas are found in crabapples and old world (European) cider apple varieties.
Acid and sugar are also important, but pretty much every apple on the planet has enough of those two things to make a decent cider. Aroma and tannin are where a (North American) cider really lives or dies in my opinion.
Okay, I'll stop teasing. Here are the apples we're getting:
Esopus Spitzenburg - Famous for being Thomas Jefferson's favourite apple, Esopus Spitzenburg is exciting because of its aroma. It's rich in flavour and spicy / lemony in aroma. It's a lot of other things too, but I want to wait till the apples age to say any more.
It's said to have been discovered near Esopus, New York, in the 1700s. It's the parent of Jonathan, which gave us both Jonagold, Golden Delicious and Red Prince apples today. Jonathan and Spitzenburg are far better for cider than their offspring apples though.
I last tried a great Spitzenburg two years ago, off the ground at Twin Pines long after harvest. I've been chasing this variety for years, after first trying it when another grower gave us a single bushel to play with back in 2017. I'll be honest, it wasn't wildly exciting when we tried it last week at Twin Pines - but every piece of literature I've read about it says it gets better with age so we may just end up waiting till March to press it.
Twin Pines ages apples for us naturally—none of that ethylene gas you may have heard about with grocery store apples. Cider apples are just aged in the fridge.
Fun fact: Russets also benefit from extended ageing in a fridge environment (cool + low humidity). Flavours develop and concentrate as the apples lose moisture to the dry air.
Wickson - a crabapple we first used in 2018, Twin Pines hasn't had a crop of it for us since then. It's a high acid crab that they really love, so they've always been hesitant to let anyone else have any. We thought it had a floral note back then, so we decided to pair it with Gewurtz and called that bottling 'Aster', if any of you remember that. I'm excited for us to bottle it on its own this time round.
Egremont Russet - First discovered in Sussex England (around 1872), Egremont Russet is widely considered (by apple nerds) to be the best of the russets. It's got a solid covering of that classic sandpaper-like russet skin, and it's not juicy, but dry, with high sugar and acid.
Russets always remind me of my favourite Rieslings, with that high acid/high sugar balance. Of course, we usually ferment them to dryness, unlike most German Riesling. Russets usually have a nuttiness too, and Egremont is no exception there. Some folks describe the flavour as similar to 'crushed ferns' but I have no idea what that means to be perfectly honest. I'm curious to see how fermentation changes it, since Golden Russet and Reinette Russet have stark flavour differences. We'll report back when its ready.
Hyslop - WHAT! Hyslop?! If you don't know, this is my favourite apple of all time (for cider that is). The 3 trees we know of are quite old, and quite biennial as a result, meaning they only produce fruit for us every other year.
Or so we thought. Like all blanket statements, that one isn't quite true it turns out. Hyslop is still super biennial, but it does put out a couple apples in its 'off years'. This year was an off-year, but Mike and Mark surprised us by picking the fruit that was there—almost exactly enough for a single barrel of cider. That's about 20-25% of the amount we usually get.
Why am I so excited about Hyslop? Fermented, the apple turns into this rich tangerine / funky / aggressively chalky dream. I know that isn't the most ringing endorsement, but it's honestly the most incredible combination. I know this one will go quick to all the folks who know and love it, but the Hyslop cider we make is called Bittersweet Freedom if you'd like to keep an eye out for it. You can sign up for a back in stock notification for Bittersweet Freedom right over here.
Other Single Varietals:
We'll also be making some new single varietal ciders out of Red Prince and Cortland, and at least one carbonic maceration of Ida Red apples too.
Traditionally a wine technique, we're applying it to apples for the first time in our history. We saw our friends in B.C.—Twin Islands Cider—attempting it this year and knew we had to try it (Twin Islands has no relation to Twin Pines).
Carbonic Maceration is when you put fruit (usually grapes) into a vessel, and blanket it with carbon dioxide. This removes the oxygen from the environment, encouraging fermentation to start inside the fruit, before it's ever pressed. Eventually your grapes will burst from the alcohol buildup, and then fermentation will proceed as normal. The process is popular in Beaujolais since it makes lighter and fruiter wines. It's gained a ton of popularity recently, but it was first observed by Louis Pasteur way back in 1872 (supposedly). Louis Pasteur is known for inventing vaccines for Cholera, Rabies and the process of pasteurization too.
We've never tasted a cider made in this way, and full disclosure - it might not even be possible. We'll let you know how it goes.