Whether your cider and perry is a blend or a single variety, the engine room of its flavour is the choice of apples and pears in its makeup.
Across the world producers are starting to increasingly list their varieties on labels and websites, so we thought it would be useful to create a resource talking about what those apples and pears taste like from a drinker’s perspective.
This is by no means an exhaustive guide (there are literally hundreds of different apple and pear varieties, after all!) nor does it have all the information on the growing patterns and challenges in production involved with each variety. It’s just an alphabetically-ordered set of hopefully user-friendly tasting notes intended to help inform how different ciders and perries might taste based on their constituent varieties.
It’s also not a finished document, and we’d love your help in building it out. If you can’t see a variety you really love, drop us a message with your tasting note. We’re also aware that, being UK based, many of the incredible varieties grown in such places as France, Spain, Germany and beyond might have completely passed us by. We’d love this to be a global resource, so again – give us a shout and tell us how your favourite international varieties taste. We can’t wait to hear from you.
Bramley – The famous cooking apple. A lean, green, acidity machine. Adds a bright spear to blends and provides flavours of green apple and lime and leafy hedgerow on its own. Its acidity and fairly straightforward flavours makes it a favourite among many cidermakers deploying the traditional (champagne) method. James took a look at its surprising versatility here.
Browns – A zesty Devonian adopted across much of the country. Bright lemon is what often jumps out at me here, with a green apple crunch and touches of grassiness. No tannin, just that zip of refreshing acidity.
Brown Snout – A rarity much-beloved by those in the know. No one loves this apple more than Albert Johnson of Ross on Wye Cider and Perry Company, so we’re recycling his wonderful description: “an exceedingly smooth, gentle apple with oodles of flavour [Ed: a complex mélange of yellow citrus jelly and surprising savoury tones of leather and even barnyard-warm hay]. “A gentle beginning that melds into juicy, grass notes and ends in a burst of fruit that for me goes beyond words. I drink a bottle of Brown Snout and feel joyful and exuberant.”
Dabinett – The most-planted bittersweet apple in the UK and a mainstay of ciders across the West Country and Three Counties. It’s a full-bodied mouthful of fleshy orange and peach fruit, vanilla and touches of black tea and medium to full tannins. For more information, see our spotlight article here.
Discovery – Almost a more-accessible sibling to Foxwhelp in the red-fruited strawberry tones of its flavour. Bright pink lemonade. No tannin, just a zesty zip of refreshing acidity (far less than Foxwhelp). South East England is its home, but you’ll increasingly find delicious examples from all around the county.
Egremont Russet – Russeting is a condition that affects several apple varieties, giving their skins a rougher, ‘russeted’ texture. It also facilitates the transfer of water from the apple, so russeted apples often have increased concentration of sugars and flavours. Egremont is a classic in South East England. No acidity or tannin, but a big, full body that offers another wine-like mouthfeel. Its flavours, depending on age and fermentation, vary from green apple to riper stone and tropical fruit, but there’s always a signature nuttiness in the background that we suspect comes from the russeting. It’s really responsive to different making techniques and oak barrels, and Adam often recommends it to Chardonnay fans. James wrote a longer article on it here.
Falstaff – A light, fresh apple without tannin or much acidity. Really soft, often very blossomy-floral with touches of sherbet. You’ll find it in a lot of blends across the South-East of England.
Foxwhelp – An iconic bittersharp with emphasis on the ‘sharp’. Foxwhelp has a wonderful intensity of wild strawberry and lemony citrus with huge, billowing aromatics, all skewered through with the most electric acidity of any drink we’re aware of. That sharpness polarises, but to those of us who love Foxwhelp there’s nothing in the world to match it. We gave it an in-depth look here.
Harry Masters’ Jersey – Packs a blast of intense tannin in its youth, this is an apple built for ageing and which rewards it superbly. Ripe Harry Masters’ Jersey given a few years to soften is a medium-bodied swathe of waxy yellow apricot, honeysuckle and hay, backed up by those firm, almost meaty tannins. Although it can be very astringent and uneven in its ripening, when it’s good we absolutely love it, and we wrote more about it here.
Kingston Black – A rare example of an apple that has big fruitiness alongside a healthy serving of both tannin and acidity. Its flavours sashay between deep citrus and tropical fruits like apricot and its medium to full bodied texture is often described as “vinous” or “winey” by people who know these things. We put it under the microscope here.
Major – A bittersweet originally from Devon which this contributor (Adam) has come to think of as the middle ground between Dabinett and Harry Masters’ Jersey, in possessing the ripe, full-bodied orange fruit of the former and some of the intensity of tannin of the latter. As such it makes a fantastic match for rich, proteiny food (the ultimate variety for roast pork) and is built for long ageing and oak casks. In youth, or in less ripe examples, the phenolics on the finish can be intense and astringent, but ripe Major is one of cider’s true glories. Two of my favourites so far are the Ross on Wye Oak Cask 2019 and the Charnwood 2019 Season.
Somerset Redstreak – Look, some apples just taste of … well … apples, and to my palate this is one of them. A light brush of tannin and a plump medium body backs up soft, juicy red apples that lean, at their ripest, in a tropical, pineapple-and-apricot way, but never lose their fundamentally juicy-apple soul.
Tremlett’s Bitter – The hammer of Devon! Tremlett’s is one of the most tannic of all varieties, with a medium body and natural phenolic flavours of cured meat, smoke, petrichor and waxy yellow fruit. Another like Foxwhelp and Harry Masters’ Jersey whose concentration of flavour and structure means ageing is almost essential in a single variety. Most likely to be found playing a vital role in beefing up a blend.
Yarlington Mill – “Spice” is the word you most commonly see associated with Yarlington Mill. An variety with a lovely rich, mouth-filling depth of dried apple, deep orange, cinnamon and clove. Hefty tannins, but Yarlington’s deep richness and full body wraps them up nicely.
Blakeney Red – Britain’s most common perry pear. Ripe, soft and full of plump pear and honeydew melon fruit. That natural fruitiness lends itself to all sorts of sweetnesses and develops a honeyed lusciousness with age that reminds us more than a little of classic Loire Valley Chenin Blancs like Vouvray.
Gin – A lot of the clues are in its name! Bright, pristine, clear with flavours of green fruit, minerals and a delicate herbiness that nods more than a little towards juniper. One of the most refreshing perry pears of all.
Oldfield – Somewhere in between Gin and Blakeney Red by our mileage, with aromatic tones of citrus and pine sitting above a base of round, ripe pear fruit and often a refreshing slatey minerality. A really well-balanced perry pear that’s not too aggressive in either tannin or acidity.
Plant de Blanc – If you love the perry of Normandy, you love Plant de Blanc. In its heartland region, Domfront, perries must contain at least 40% of this pear to bear the Domfront Appellation on their labels. Full of honey, lychee and candied fruits with zesty, citrusy acidity, it’s one of Adam’s favourite apples or pears. Very little planted in the UK, but Paul Ross, formerly of Downside and now of The Newt grows some in his own Somerset orchard.
Thorn – Has the holy trinity of big flavours as well as significant acidity and tannin. Susannah Mansfield of Fram Ferment described it best as “Sauvignon Blanc on Steroids”. Expect big elderflower, lime, cut grass and often gooseberry alongside major zestiness and often a good mouth-scrape of cats-tongue tannins.