We are by no means experts in the world of apples. So many varieties to learn with such little time. Luckily, we have tapped our friends at Merridale Cidery & Distillery for a knowledge smoothie. Brand Manager, Celeste Herbert, gave us the inside scoop on the Dabinett cider apple.
When you first bite into a cider apple, specifically a Dabinett apple, you might have a tough time resisting the urge to spit it out. These small, yellow-green apples are affectionately referred to as “spitters,” and while they’re not great for snacking, they make damn fine cider. Here at Merridale Cidery & Distillery in Cobble Hill, in the heart of Cowichan on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Dabinett apples are a favourite and a mainstay of many of our craft ciders.
The Dabinett is a classic English cider apple, first discovered in Somerset, England, in the early 20th century and related to the Chisel Jersey. It ripens late in the season, and while it has a fairly low yield, it produces a very high-quality juice with a bright, floral aroma. The tannins found in the flesh of these apples are the same substance found on the skin of wine grapes, which affects the flavour and acts as a stabilizer and natural preservative in both wine and cider. This particular apple is high in tannin and low in acid, which creates a bitter, sharp, astringent taste on the palate. While bitterness might not sound like a great quality on first blush, when crafted correctly, a tannic apple like the Dabinett can transform beautifully into a full-bodied, flavourful, single-variety cider with lots of flavour and a dry finish.
As a general rule, while single-variety ciders are fun to experiment with and are often quite interesting and tasty, there are few – if any – that cannot be improved in terms of flavour, body, and bouquet by the addition of one of more other varieties of apples. The Dabinett is one of very few “vintage” varieties, meaning that it possesses all the qualities required to create a great single-variety cider; strong, bittersweet flavor, and enough sugar to produce sufficient alcohol.
The growing conditions in Cowichan are another reason that we at Merridale embrace the Dabinett apple. Known as “the Warm Land,” from the language of the indigenous Coast Salish people, this region’s unique microclimate allows for the longest growing season in all of Canada, and the warmest average temperatures. The overall intensity of summer heat on Vancouver Island is still less than that of the inland Okanagan growing region of BC, which creates a long, unhurried growing season, letting our apples ripen slowly on the trees and develop a natural depth of flavour.
While all of our craft ciders at Merridale are blends, Dabinett juice is a primary ingredient in our Traditional cider, and is also used in our Scrumpy. If you’ve ever tasted either of these two ciders, you’ll understand what we mean about the depth of flavour, length, body, and nose that the apple contributes. A great heritage fruit, ideal growing conditions, slow, deliberate fermentation and a bit of artistry allow the Dabinett to display its unique and delicious characteristics – and we’re proud to let it shine.