Cultivars specifically for use in cider making may fall into two classes: dual-purpose cultivars and cider-only cultivars. Dual-purpose cultivars include apples with characteristics that make them useful for both fresh and cider markets. Many traditional heirloom cultivars, e.g., ‘Northern Spy’, ‘Golden Russet’, and ‘Esopus Spitzenburg’, may fall into this category. In addition, some newer, highly-flavored cultivars like ‘Liberty’, ‘Goldrush’ and ‘Crimson Crisp’ could be grown for both fresh and cider markets, but it is critical to assess the local markets, both for fresh and for cider fruit, prior to planting or topgrafting these cultivars. For some niche cultivars, local fresh fruit markets may be easily saturated. At the same time, these cultivars may not receive the same prices that cider-only cultivars may command from cideries.
Specific, cider-only cultivars possess especially unique flavor and juice chemistry attributes that may make them especially valuable for cider making, but which taste objectionable as fresh fruit. Therefore, those cultivars must sell for comparable prices to fresh dessert fruit cultivars in order to justify their production. Generally, these cultivars fall into two classes. First are the European-origin bittersweet and bittersharp cultivars that are commonly grown in England, France, and, increasingly, in developing cider regions around the world. Such cultivars include ‘Dabinett’, ‘Yarlington Mill’, ‘Kingston Black’, and numerous others. At this time, the adaptability of European cider apple cultivars to New England is not entirely known, and many of the cultivars have unique production challenges, including biennial bearing tendencies, difficulty in training to modern orchard systems, and high susceptibility to sunburn, fruit rots, and fire blight. Second are the less common but likely under-explored North American cider apple cultivars, such as ‘Hewes Crab’, ‘Harrison’, and ‘Franklin Cider Apple’.
Planting and production of cider-specific cultivars has the potential to significantly increase new markets for apple producers in New England. Caution is advised when establishing such orchards, because of the sometimes still-unknown production challenges and limited marketability of fruit outside of cider markets. Growers of cider-specific cultivars are dependent on an independent cider industry or must themselves establish a cidery which can bring its own production, management, capital, and marketing challenges. A grower interested in cider apple production should carefully consider all production and marketing aspects and should explore developing long-term contracts or other business arrangements with buyers of cider fruit to minimize financial risk.