As we became more engrained in the world of cider, we have been able to explore ciders that are less commercialized and truer to the apple. We have tasted ciders that are naturally fermented, aged, foraged, locally sourced, and everything in between, but one of our favorite explorations in the world of cider is single varietal hard ciders.
Single varietal ciders are created by using a single delicious, nuanced, and regional apple in a large or small batch. Without blending several apples together, you get to experience the specific character of a particular apple, may it be its acidity, taste, or aroma.
To get a better understanding of different regions of the United States, and discover what single varietal ciders are being cooked up across the country, we started by asking Keepsake Cidery for their insights on single varietal ciders and the apples they are using for their products.
Keepsake Cidery is an orchard based, family farm cidery in the Cannon River Valley of Minnesota. We are influenced heavily by the ciders of Hereford and Somerset England, Normandy and Brittany France and the Basque region. We only use particular apples grown in our orchard and fellow orchards in our region and we press 100% of our juice before spontaneously fermenting then aging our ciders in a mix of stainless steel, HDPE, and barrels.
Our ciders are unfiltered, unfined, no tannin, acid, sulfite or sugar additions. Just cider. Sometimes we age on local farmed and foraged ingredients. Average aging time is about 18 months. Our ciders are Pet Nat, Charmat Method, or Still.
Single varietal ciders we have made in small and large batches:
We make single varietal ciders for three main reasons:
Great cider is made with great apples. When a cider maker showcases one apple, it takes away the advantages that blending can give you. It truly requires attention to detail in the process. Especially if the apple is approached like we do at Keepsake with no additions- no sugars, no acids, no sulfites, no tannins added- nothing but the apple.
The process should be the same whether you are making a blend or SV.
We select particular locally grown apples for their unique flavors. Will this apple contribute to a great finished cider? What will it bring? Tannin, phenolics, acidity, minerality,,, Sometimes we come across an apple that we think makes a great cider by itself, so we approach making a SV (single varietal) like all our ciders, just don’t blend it with other apples.
Having said all that, I think that the best ciders are usually blends. As you know, many “Single Varietals” in the cider world and wine world are also blends, usually 75%-80% has to be one varietal in order to label it a SV. I’m not sure if the cider world has made an official decision. Do you know?
We try to make all our SVs at 100% or very close. Whether or not the cider is a single varietal, the cider industry would benefit from more producers highlighting the apples they use in their ciders.
The incredible differences between SV ciders from producer to producer add another layer of enjoyment. It’s good fun comparing a Dabinett SV made in Herefordshire with one made in Minnesota. The differences are due to the terroir and the processes used by the makers, and they can be VERY different despite using the same apple. As I am sure you have found.
Keepsake – This upstart apple from University of MN is one of our obvious favorites. The flavors are full of stone fruit and a chalky texture, acidity is present but lower than most American Dessert apples. For us this apple ferments very slowly and has repeatedly keeved for an arrested fermentation, leaving a perfect naturally medium cider. We have found this cider to marry well with barrel aging too. It lacks tannin, but can offer a touch of bitterness some years.
Dabinett – One of the classics SV from the Somerset, Herefordshire, and Wales. We love the smoke, leather and black tea elements of this cider. It also has that unique bittersweet fruit- reminds us of a cross between papaya and pear or some other make believe fruit. This apple tends to be a great candidate for keeving in our limited experience. Its fault is that it isn’t grown more in our region. We need more!
Chestnut – Another great Minnesota apple. It’s small but full of flavor. We have had this clock in at 17 brix. Tasting notes include smoke, leather, black pepper, pear. Lots of phenolics and medicinal flavors, low on tannin. Some years brings a tangy acidity, some years it’s muted. Great as both medium and dry, but tends to finish dry.
From a grower’s perspective, both Keepsake and Chestnut make wonderful cider and are great to eat! Also, in a small competition during our Eat an Apple Drink an Apple Event- Keepsake beat out Dabinett, Golden Russet, Kingston Black and Chestnut!