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best varieties for apple brandy

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I'm trying to figure out what makes one apple variety better for apple brandy than another. I know that calvados producers use a lot of different varieties, so there is no one absolute flavor profile. Conventional wisdom (and my personal experience) is that acidic varieties tend to produce a harsher--or shorter spirit. Other than that, I'm not sure what to look for. Calvados producers are generally also producing cider and what's great for cider might not always be the best for Calvados and it's hard to find information that makes a distinction between cider and calvados varieties. Anyone have any knowledge/experience that they are willing to share?

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Best was the old yeller banana apples that used to grow in the mountain here. After that the super ripe Golden and yellow delicious kinds. You need them super ripe for best moonshine brandy.

I am talking about a spirit that my daddy made illegally and I have made as well that is an artisan brew like you will not find elsewhere. At the end of the day the kind of likker that I would make and all I know gladly give 50 bux a quart for when they will not pay 15 for the rest, You know to get a likker like that really does not involve much more than patience and knowledge and little more of than than the rest use.

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Look for aroma and availability.

Calvados is distilled cidre - and despite its mystique - often not good quality cidre. And even good quality cidre can be off-putting to some. It's the blue cheese of the cider world. Cidre character is part cultivar and part fermentation. And it's a slow, months long fermentation that depends on local microfloral. It's a master level skill to try to duplicate outside it's territory of origin. Not exactly easy to distill profitably - especially with no subsidies for apple growing. On the cultivar side, a hefty proportion of bitter apples is needed to keep the indigenous Lactobacillus ecosystem from generating too many '4E's (the bandaid, smoked ham and horse blanket notes.) Yes, I said LAB. Brewers identify those notes with Brett - which is very rare in cider. On the fermentation side, as well and being essentially lagered, the culture is usually started by at native apiculate ecosystem, with the LAB, and is very nutrient poor. Think 20ppm YAN. The juice is clarified before fermentation, which is part of what drives the YAN so low. The slow, cold, nutrient starved ferment means 1) you have to watch for H2S like a hawk, 2) there's lots of time for unconverted acetaldehyde to get stuck on all kinds of other molecules (converting fusel oils to floral aromas, for instance), 3) the ferment is supposed to stick, leaving residual sugar (wasteful for distilling) and un-munged fresh fruit character.

On the bitter apple angle, if you don't grow them, you wont find them in the states in quantity. There's only 1 orchard in the country that I know of that sells substantial quantities, and that's only a few thousand gallons a year - with lot of competition for it.

On the cultivar question, Bore and Fleckinger's 'pommiers du cidre' doesn't break out distilling varieties. There is a cidre apple called 'domaine du calvados'. I grow it and like it. Too rare and expensive to distill. Worcollier's book on cidermaking (translated by Charley) lists a few calvados specific cultivars, but I don't think any are even available for grafting in the states. Steve McCarthy (Clear Creek) told me a few years back that a lot of calvados producers were ripping out the traditional varieties and planting Gold Delicious - because it bears so reliably, heavily, and with relatively little input. I also like Jonathan.

If you're looking to create a Virginia Piedmont apple brandy, and have a decade to wait for trees, the apple called Parmar is available from Vintage Virginia Apples. It's apparently a very good juice producer and was used specifically for apple moonshine in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I've got it growing, but not producing yet.

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Thanks for the reply, Charles. I have 550 trees on bud.118 slated to go in the ground on 2015 but the cultivars haven't been picked for grafting yet (I'm not doing the grafting myself, the nursery is). I love cidre and know a bit about the basics. I had read that bitter and bittersweet varieties are of greater interest to Calvados producers. I must admit, that my knowledge of the science behind this stuff is lacking. For instance, I know what keeving (and the less pleasant sounding French term for that process) is but beyond it stripping nutrients and contributing to a stuck fermentation I don't know much. I'd love to be able to mention the Lactobacillus ecosystem and really know what I was talking about. Is there a book you'd recommend?

So, the bitter varieties are useful primarily because of what they do to the fermentation? I had thought that perhaps their tanins or aroma was carried through in the distilling process.

I'll definitely look into Parmar.

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Tannins won't go through a still. So what's the point of using the priciest apples you can find if their main feature doesn't carry though? You may grow your own - but you'll find that the bitters - being heirloom cultivars - are cranky. They alternate, suffer sun scald, are suscptible to a number of diseases - including fireblight, have lousy growth habits and some are very light bearers. That makes them expensive. Tannins may suppress phenolic generation - but so would better fermentation management. I will admit that I haven't travelled through Normandy - so your milage may vary - but I suspect that Calvados producers are using bitters simply because they have them.

If you grow the bitters - make them into cider. Brandy is fundmentally a salvage product - you have to be a bit daft to take wine (cider) that's perfectly salable, throw away 4/5ths of it, invest in barrels and time, and then try to get >5x the price you could for the original wine. (Yes - I'm a bit daft.) Are you already an orchardist?

That said, some bitters (not all) have a characteristic aroma that is neither 'red apple', nor 'green apple' nor a particular cultivar. But that's a pretty subtle aroma to try to get through a still. (BTW, gladhatter mentions winter banana - in good years it really does have a tremendous aroma. Problem is, most apple aromas appear to be 4 carbon acetates and esters and yeast eats them up. Apples have few of the flowery terpenes that grapes have.)

The best current synopsis of cider chemistry is the cider chapter in 'Fermented Beverage Production' edited by Andrew Lea. Andrew's website (GIYF) is a good resource, too.

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Right now I'm just a hobby orchardist--growing a few cider and disease resistant varieties. We have have about 9-10 acres that are relatively easy to convert to orchards (small I know). The idea was to take about 5 of those acres and grow hard to find Calvados varieties. The ultimate goal would be to supplant the production of those 5 acres by purchasing easier to find, local apples that would also be suitable (or acceptable) for Calvados/cidre. If the distilling/cidre thing doesn't happen according to schedule, then at least we'd have a fairly unusual crop of apples to sell to cidre/calvados producers.

One advantage of the bitters (I thought) was actually lower sugar/flavor ratios. Yes, that's less alcohol (not good) but more flavor in the final product?

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Bittersweets and bittersharps tend to have _more_ sugar than dessert or culinary fruit. They tend to be lower acid. But it all depends on just what apple you are comparing to which. My 100% bitter blend tends to run close to 8% abv, while my dessert/culinary blend runs 6% or so. (Southeast WI). Note: when I say tannic/bitter apples, I mean the traditional English?french ones: Domaine, Dabinette, Frequin Rouge, Muscadet Deippe, Sweet Alford, Michelin, etc. I don't count any of the russets (Roxbury, English Golden, American Golden, Cox's Orange Pippin, Blenhein Orange, Ashmead's Kernel, Margil, etc) as tannic. When you've had them side by side, there's no comparison. The russets have cider-apple like sugar levels, but are too acidic to use straight (for cider).

Where are you geographically? Aroma levels and character are highly site specific in cider apples, and the exact soil mapping isn't know. In general, cider apples are more aroma and less tannin than they do in Europe. Usually attributed to hotter, sunnier summers here. (Even in WI). I cut down 3-4 trees of Major this spring. _Great_ aroma. _Crappy_ bearing. Fruit usually turned black from sun scald. One nice thing about cider apples is that you can let the fruit be smaller - and that increase skin/flesh ratio (and hence aroma, which is often concentrated beneath the skin on the sunny side). The down side is that most alternate if the crop gets too heavy. You might think you can use lower inputs and accept more fruit damage - but these -aren't- low input cultivars.

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I'm in Northeast, PA. The Endless Mountains region. The soil here contains a lot of clay. The elevation and soil tend to limit vigor, which is part of the reason I'm going with bud 118 (I want free standing trees with a healthy root system). We're close to Binghamton, NY, which is one of the cloudiest cities in the nation. We're not as bad here (13 miles away) but I was more concerned with not having enough sun than having too much. The orchard would be going in on an east-facing slope with some southern exposure, but not a ton.

That's interesting about the lower tannin levels because of the climate. I had not known that. I have spent some time in Normandy, gathering what information I could--my French is very poor. My wishlist of varieties is built partly on Charles Neal's book on Calvados, but of course you're right. Most of the producers in his book are also producing cidre (although Neal seemed to pick producers that were at least concerned with Calvados as they were with cidre, and dairy). I pasted part of my list below. My thinking was, grow the apples which are difficult to buy and buy apples from the commercial orchard a couple miles away. I pasted my wishlist below. Varieties I'm interested in most appear toward the top. I'm guessing you think it needs some reworking. Aroma and disease resistance were a factors in generating this list, but they weren't necessarily the primary factors in all cases. I have no experience growing the vast majority of these varieties--so I'm sure it sounds insane that I'm looking to plant them.

Ameret Bitter Domaines Bitter Kermerrien Bitter Marie Menard Bitter Pomme de Suie bitter Chevalier Jaune Bitter Deaux Eveque Bitter Doux Joseph Bitter Frequin Blanc Bitter Kingston Black Bittersharp Collaos Bittersweet Dabinett Bittersweet Medaille d’Or Bittersweet Moulin a Vent de l'Eure Bittersweet Moulin a Vent du Calvados Bittersweet Saint Philbert Bittersweet Solage a Gouet Bittersweet Saint Aubin Bittersweet Somerset Redstreak Bittersweet Rousse de l'Orne sweet Saint-Bazyl Sweet Golden Russet Acidic Hewes Virginia Crab Acidic Wickson Acidic Frequin Rouge Bitter Harry Master's Jersey (Port Wine) Bitter Golden Hornet Bittersharp Stoke Red Bittersharp Calard Bittersweet Chisel Jersey Bittersweet Germaine Bittersweet Nehou Bittersweet Pilee (La Pilee) Bittersweet Ashton Bitter Bittersweet Bramtot Bittersweet Court Pendu Plat Bittersweet Fagottier Bittersweet Francois Bittersweet Moulin a Vent Bittersweet Yarlington Mill Bittersweet Bedan Bittersweet Noel des Champs sweet Stoke Alford Sweet Gilpin Sweet Orpolin sweet Esopus Spitzenberg Acidic Frequin Strie Bitter Mettais Bitter Bisquet Bittersweet Ashmead’s Kernel Sweet Clos Renaux Sweet

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this has been a fantastic thread for me, learning lot.

I live in a region where winters kill a many different varieties off, the repeated freeze thaw cycle does most trees in.

so there are only so many varieties of apples and stone fruits that grow here, and most a re "Pie" varieties.

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Michael Phillips manages to grow apples organically in Northern New England and he mentions some Canadian growers in his book "The Apple Grower." His books focus on producing fresh market fruit, however. Annie Proulx has an advanced/amateur book on making hard cider--with a section on Canadian possibilities. Antonovka and Budofsky rootstocks were developed in Siberia so they are supposed to be quite winter hardy.

All the cidre varieties that I'm interested in are from very temperate climates though. I know that many of them are grown by Poverty Lane Orchards in New Hampshire, so it seems like it's possible. Sounds like Charles is having some luck and frustration in Burlington, WI.

Charles' information has been very useful for me. Thank goodness this forum exists.

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That's a pretty typical cidermakers wish list - though you haven't broken them out by region - and Wickson isn't exactly a cider apple, nor an heirloom. You've already heard my opinion on the russets, ashmeads, spitzenburg, etc. Great for blending - but sell the first sort at farm market for oodles per pound. Doubly so for Cort Pendu Plat. Rich flavor - but only the size of Lady apples - and only about half as many. And an acidic/aromatic russet - not a bittersweet. (Or run them (russets) 100% as an apple wine at twice the hard cider price)

A fair number of others simply aren't available in the US. The germplasm repository at Cornell is mostly the last word on that. Other's don't appear to be correct. The Sweet Alford in the States is really La Bret - but still an okay cider apple and a good bearer. My Medaille d'Or is false. It's my understanding that Redstreak isn't true to history, even in England. I happen to have Doux Eveque - but it only made it to provisional release from quarantine this year - after about 7 years of waiting. The only Chevalier available is Toussaint - again, because I imported it. It's made it to unconditional release - but I don't know if the Repository picked it up. I don't have enough to share as yet. My Chisel Jersey isn't true, but my Coat Jersey is.

I like Domaine, Frequin Rouge, Dabinett. I know people who make fantastic cider with Yarlington Mill. White and Twistbody Jersey seem to bear well. So do Michelin and Muscadet Dieppe. I've only heard of cold hardiness problems from places more like Minnesota. You list Kingston Black - but it's a lousy bearer that takes forever to fruit. I prefer Frequin Tardive, which bears years earlier and has the same phenolic-y profile. If you were aiming for the 'cidre' aroma profile, I'd plant La Bret/Sweet Alford, Domaine and Muscadet Dieppe (early apples) and skip the rest. Bitters are great - but IMHO - pointless in a spirit base.

You list Hewes - but not its blending partners: Albemarle/Newtown Pippin, Old Winesap, Graniwinkle and Harrison. Graniwinkle is an uninspiring sharp. Harrison is _way_ cool aromawise. Not to be missed.

Yes - you can grow fruit organically. The more trees, the harder it is. And disease resistance is relative - none of these count as disease resistant compare to modern apples like, say, Gold Rush. The orchard I'm partnered with is IPM, rather than organic. They believe our local is just a bit to humid to bear heirlooms organically and ecomically at the same time. And that's with $7-10/bushel prices - not $3/bu like market apples. (In normal years) With > half the crop to farm market at about 4x that price.

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Charles, was wondering what rootstocks you and your partners at the orchard are using? I've got the Andrew Lea book on order now. Any other texts you'd recommend?

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The main orchard is mostly M7 - doesn't need to be irrigated after the first year or so. The newer blocks are at higher density, and I don't recall what the favored rootstock is. Th old section is 100 trees/acre - traditional low density. The newer blocks are higher - 250/acre, I think. Not as high as possible.

As for ther texts - what subject matter? Apple history. Cultivars. Cultivation. (Only have backyard orchard suggestions for that) Cidermaking. Winemaking. Wine chemistry. Distilling. (No suggestions on that one.)

As you're in PA, you'll want to track down folks like Al Yelvington (posts youtube videos on orcharding) and Rebellion Cider.

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Funny, I don't remember Dad discussing all this on Grandpas farm ... we were near Bath, NY (close to wine areas of the Finger Lakes.

About all I remember from when I was little that the apples were sour (to a kid that can mean anything, I suppose)and the trucks came in the Fall and made a lot of racket picking them for cider.

I think the crabapples that grew along fence rows were sweeter- now that's a tart apple!

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Hey Charles,

Any book on cidermaking and/or wine chemistry would be great.

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There's little technical grade cider material out there, before you have to start reading academic papers. Don't quote the tittles on these - I'm pulling them from fallible memory.

For some base material that's good, but not oriented to scale:

Cider Hard and Sweet by Ben Watson, and there's a new cider book out by Claude Jolicoeur. I don't recall the title. Claude is a very good cidermaker - but I haven't read the book, so I don't know how his approach might scale. I _suspect_ it's not meant for an in-industry audience.

For current science on cidermaking, Andrew Lea's chapter in Fermented Beverage Production (edited by Lea) is the top. The chapter on fermentation basics is really good, too. The chapter on sensory? Not as good. Another common text in the cidermaker's library is Techniques in Cidermaking by Warcollier, translated by Charley. It's dated, but is interesting reading. There are older classic texts out of Victorian England - but they provide more perspective than data.

On the sensory side, I found Margalit's Concepts in Wine Chemistry to be very good. And Margalit's Winery Operations and Technology sits on the shelf at AEppelTreow.

I think you'll find that cider is fundamentally wine - but at the margins in a number of ways. Nutritionally. Aroma diversity. It's basic parameters as a habitat for yeast. Managing yeast to get the most 'cideriness' out of apple juice takes an approach that UC Davis influenced winemakers are not used to thinking about.

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Awesome. Thanks so much.

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I'll second it... This has been an awesome thread. Thanks Nat and Charles. Any hardy southern varieties you might suggest for cider?

Todd

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Hardy and southern might be antonyms.

You could try the classic middle-colonial ones. Virginia-originated. Harrison. Hewes. Albemarle Pippin. Parmar. VA Winesap. I'd check with the folks at Vintage Virginia Apples about low-chill varieties.

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