Heirloom Varieties

Merrylegs, Sheep's Nose, Hen's Turds, Bastard Foxwhelp, Slack-ma-Girdle, Ten Commandments and many more.

Traditional British cider exhibits its unusual complexity and depth thanks to a holy trinity of acid, tannins and sweetness. And you can't get those qualities from apples found at your local grocery store, especially the bitterness that comes from tannins.

In fact, cider apples are not grown for eating. They can be so bitter or tart that they are downright inedible, known affectionately as "spitters." But their unique characteristics naturally impart flavor and encourage fermentation to raise the final alcohol levels, without the added sugars or chemicals so often found in commercial ciders.

The best cider apple growing regions are Herefordshire and Somerset in England, Normandy in France, and Asturias in Spain. 

Like vintners, cider makers blend apple varieties to produce unique flavors. The final balance depends on the cider maker's skill in combining the following apple categories:

  • Sweets. This group is low in tannins (< 0.2%) and acidity (< 0.45%). Eating a sweet apple is like sucking on a sugar cube.
  • Sharps. This group is low in tannins (< 0.2%) but high in acidity (> 0.45%). The high acidity, together with that of the bittersharp group, can add "bite" to the cider. Eating a sharp apple is like sucking on a slice of lemon.
  • Bittersweets. This group is high in tannins (> 0.2%) and low in acidity (< 0.45%). This raised level of tannins, which is astringent, adds bitterness to the cider and is a defining characteristic of the West Country style. Eating a bittersweet is like sucking on a black tea bag coated in sugar.
  • Bittersharps. This group is both high in tannins (> 0.2%) and in acidity (> 0.45%). Eating a bittersharp apple is like sucking on a black tea bag soaked in lemon juice.