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University of Minnesota Extension Begins Work on Cider Apples

Jack Tillman and Annie Klodd from UMN check out 
Keepsake Cidery's orchard in September, 2019. 
Photo: Annie Klodd.
University of Minnesota Extension Educator Annie Klodd, in collaboration with researchers in the University of Minnesota fruit breeding program, has received a grant to begin research and outreach on growing cider apples in Minnesota. Read on to learn about Minnesota cider apples and the new cider project being conducted by Extension and the fruit breeding program.

The Cider Scene in Minnesota

Did you know? Hard cider is making a big splash in the Minnesota craft beverage scene. According to Minnesota Department of Agriculture data, as of 2017 cider accounted for 51% of the beverage production by Minnesota wineries (which includes cideries). Largely due to the recent increase in cider production, total winery beverage production has risen by 68% between 2012 and 2017.

What is hard cider? Hard apple cider is a fermented beverage made from the juice from apples. Other fruits can also be used in ciders, such as pears or cherries. Cider from pears is called "perry."

Cider can have carbonation or be still (non-carbonated), and the alcohol content is lower than that of wine, often between 3-6%. While cider has a much smaller share of the US beverage market compared to beer or wine, its popularity is rapidly growing in the US.

Cider apples and cideries

We are working with several orchards to evaluate the growth 
and survival of cider varieties in Minnesota, 
such as Milk and Honey Cider in Buffalo, MN (pictured). 
Photo: Annie Klodd
In the last several years, a number of cideries have opened their doors throughout Minnesota. At least three new cideries have opened in Minnesota just in the last 12 months, that I know of. 

This is exciting news for cider enthusiasts, people looking to try something new, and those seeking out a fun weekend activity. It is also exciting news for Minnesota apple orchards, because it provides a new avenue for orchards to sell their crop. 

In 2016, cider makers and cider apple growers banded together to found the Minnesota Cider Guild, to "promote, develop, and showcase Minnesota cider."

The Minnesota Cider Guild is an important collaborator on UMN's new cider grant. The guild also has a map of member cideries, for those looking to visit one. 

The University of Minnesota cider apple project

One of the biggest questions apple orchards and cider makers ask is "Which varieties should I grow and use in Minnesota to use for hard cider?" Being able to answer that question is the main goal of this project, which involves Extension, the fruit breeding program, and seven collaborating orchards throughout the state. 
Several varieties of russetted apples are used in hard cider. 
Photo: Annie Klodd.
While any apple varieties can be used to make cider, they are not all created equal. The flavor characteristics of the apple have a huge impact on the flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel of a cider.

In terms of cider making, apples are characterized into "sharp," "bittersharp," "sweet," and "bittersweet" depending on the tannin and acid levels of the variety. Often a combination of apples with different flavors and acid levels are used to craft high quality ciders. 

European cider makers have a long history of using traditional "cider apples." These are specific varieties known to produce high quality, desirable ciders. It is not currently known how reliably these varieties can survive and produce in Minnesota. A few orchards have their own experiences with these varieties, but controlled data must be collected throughout the state in order to know which varieties we can recommend for Minnesota.

Therefore, one of the main questions we will be exploring in this project is "How well do traditional European cider apple varieties survive and produce throughout Minnesota, and are their cider qualities similar here to in other regions?"
Cider apple production is still in the early phases in Minnesota, 
and growers are learning quickly which varieties will thrive 
in their orchards, and which will not. Photo: Annie Klodd.

Currently, much of the cider in Minnesota is made from UMN Minnesota Hardy varieties such as Haralson, Keepsake, Honeycrisp, SnowSweet, among others. Cider provides a new market for orchards currently growing these common varieties. 

Therefore, the second question we are answering with our project is, "What cider characteristics do Minnesota hardy apples have?" Answering this question will help cider makers decide which apple varieties to use in their ciders, and will help new Minnesota apple growers decide what varieties to plant and sell for cider.

In order to find out how well cider varieties grow throughout Minnesota, the help of apple orchards is vital. Therefore, the project involves seven collaborating orchards throughout the main apple growing regions of Minnesota, from Duluth south to Preston. All 7 orchards are growing 12 different "Old World" cider apple varieties: Ashmead’s Kernel, Brown’s, Bulmer’s Norman, Chisel Jersey, Dabinett, Foxwhelp, Harry Masters Jersey, Kingston Black, Major, Porter’s Perfection, Tremlett’s Bitter, and Yarlington Mill. 

We are working together with the orchards to evaluate yield, winter injury, and tree growth. We will then make cider from each variety, from 3 of these sites, and test it for juice qualities (brix, pH, tannin content, and total acidity) and sensory qualities (aroma, flavor, feel, etc.).

Haralson apples thriving on a dwarf tree 
in Dundas, Minnesota. Photo: Annie Klodd.
Want to try growing cider apples?

A number of nurseries sell the old world cider apple varieties including those listed above. These nurseries can be found with a quick online search. Please remember that the ability of these varieties to survive in Minnesota is not well known at this point, and you may get results you do not expect.

If you would like to try apples with a proven track record in Minnesota, that are also known to produce good cider, a couple of varieties we recommend trying are Chestnut crabapples. Kerr crabapples, and Keepsake.

Any apple growers interested in growing and selling apples for cider are encouraged to contact Annie Klodd with production questions, as well as contact your local cideries about demand and desired varieties, before planting.

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This cider project is funded by a Minnesota Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block grant. Collaborators on the grant include: Annie Klodd (Principle Investigator, UMN Extension), Jim Luby, Matt Clark, Jack Tillman, Drew Horton (all UMN CFANS), and Gretchen Perbix (Sweetland Orchard). Collaborating orchards include Sweetland Orchard, Keepsake Cidery, Milk and Honey Cider, Pine Tree Apple Orchard (White Bear Lake and Preston) and Clover Valley Farms.

Author: Annie Klodd, Extension Educator-Fruit and Vegetable Production
Email: kloddann@umn.edu


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