Well known is the fact that the best ciders are produced from a blend of cider apples. The key is creating a blend that balances bitterness and astringency, tart acidity, sweetness and nuanced aromas and flavors. Many ciders will be produced with ten, twenty or more different varieties of apples.
However, one famed English cidery has demonstrated that their really is no real limit to the number of cider apple varieties that can be used to create a blend. Thatchers, located in Somerset, England as recently released its “Thatchers 458″—so named for the 458 DIFFERENT CIDER APPLE VARIETIES used to create the cider.
Thatchers used apples from 458 different apple varieties that it grows in its exhibition orchard on its Myrtle Farm in Sandford. In fact, the orchard, now over twenty years old, holds more than 500 varieties of cider apples. The orchard is said to hold the largest collection of cider apple varieties in the world.
Thatchers, founded in 1904, is one of the largest commercial cideries in the UK, producing generally low priced cider of general character. That’s fine. But what the 458 demonstrates is the power of popular brands to push forward an industry. Such an exhibition orchard is not just a promotional tool for Thatchers, but a genuine opportunity to experiment in a way that will help the entire cider industry by identifying unique, rare and relatively unkown apples of particular character that may be propagated for cider production
It’s unknown if any 458 will come to the U.S. If it does, it’s something I want to get my hands on. That said, the 458 and the orchard behind this unique cider is something the can serve as an inspiration to the American cider industry. Experimenting with apple varieties and terroir is the crucial path toward moving forward the craft cider industry here. While short on cider apples with the ongoing craft cider boom, craft cideries not only in need of more quality cider apples but also a much keener understanding of which apples are best suited for planting in different locations. What’s needed in the U.S. are a host of orchards in various regions that could produce a 100, 150 or 200 Label.