Evaluation of Apple Cultivars for Hard Cider Production in the Northeast


Our project involved apple cultivars for potential use in hard cider production, especially varieties that thrive in northern climates and under organic/sustainable growing practices.

The hard cider market has been growing exponentially, but there is a scarcity of suitable, domestically grown apples to meet the demand.  To successfully capitalize on this new market, growers need to know which apples to plant and which apples already in their orchards are suitable for hard cider production.  There is little unbiased and scientific data available to farmers interested in supplying fruit for this distinctive market.  Current information is limited to nursery catalogs/websites with a commercial interest and University/Extension publications that are meager in terms of numbers of cultivars assessed and details.

Our orchard in Walden, Vermont (zone 3) served as our test site as we cultivate more than 600 distinct apple varieties.  While we keep records routinely, this project allowed us time and resources to employ proper methodology for data collection, assessment and dissemination of findings to growers.

A selection of over 300 trees in our orchard were tested for fruit evaluation including brix (sugar) content for fermentation, pH, titrable acidity, polyphenol content. 

Since some of these cultivars have multiple uses, our project findings will likely benefit more than just hard cider/wine makers.

Outreach includes speaking engagements, workshops, our farm website, internet blogs, announcements to relevant organizations (including extension services and universities) for distribution to regional meetings, social media, listservs and podcasts.

Project Objectives:

This project sought to provide crucial information regarding apple cultivars as it relates to the expanding cider market. 

As an orchardist, consultant, and nurseryman, I have seen the emerging cider market drastically alter the apple varieties being planted. Since very little data exists, many farmers are making poor choices and costly mistakes, often planting too tender of a variety for their region, or planting cultivars with limited use (many cider varieties have no other use beyond hard cider).  Our data allows  growers to make informed choices by reviewing our data and finding uses for each variety, including those that will be desired by the cider market and grow well in the region.

We tested and printed data on over 200 apple varieties in our zone 3 orchard.  Information collected includes  pH, brix (soluble solids/sugar) tannin observations, acid titration.  

The purpose of this study was to create a first step data base for evaluation. That is, to allow for an initial filter for cultivar selection. Since there are thousands of variety choices, this gives orchardists and others in the industry a baseline for further selection criteria. The outcome is that time, money and effort are reduced and more informed decisions may be made.