In the cider world, Malus pumila — the common apple — reigns supreme, but crab apples, the North American counterpart, is finally receiving attention for its ability to make a quaffable cider too. Once traditionally used only for jellies or as pollinators, and even regarded as useless trees, crab apples are now being welcomed into the thriving cider scene. Here are some fast facts and ciders to try with our native fruit.
MOST COMMON VARIETIES
Hewe’s Crab: This variety, also known as Hughes’ Crab, Virginia Hewe’s Crab and Virginia Crab, is a cross between the native Southern crab apple and an unknown European variety, touting high acidity. Thomas Jefferson planted this variety extensively at Monticello, and he described its juice yield as akin to “squeezing a wet sponge.”
Geneva: A Rosybloom crab that was produced at the Ottawa Experimental Farm in partnership with the New York State Agriculture Experiment Station, this apple has a dark red flesh that yields an equally red juice. It has very high acidity, with a low sugar content and medium tannin levels.
Dolgo: A crab apple that originated in Russia, this variety has reddish olive-shaped fruit and yields a pinkish-colored juice.
Manchurian: Another variety that has its origins in Asia, this crab apple produces a pinkish and yellow-colored fruit that is high in tannins.
Wickson: Although there is a question of whether this variety should be considered a crab apple, in spite of its longer stem and its small size, its combination of high acidity and high sugar content makes it desirable by cidermakers.
CRABS IN CIDER FORM TO TRY
Rosé Mousseux | Cidrerie Michel Jodoin, Rougemont, QC
Described as the cidery’s staple product, this sparkling cider is produced with the traditional Champagne method and is made solely from Geneva apples. It offers a lingering sweetness, paired with a delicate acidity and good body.
2015 Little Apples | Art+Science, Sheridan, OR
This barrel-aged, wild-fermented cider is made from foraged crab apples and is bottle-conditioned in the ancestral method. A dry, clean bright cider with a tannic edge.
Dolgo Crabapple | Big Hill Ciderworks, Gardners, PA
From the Dolgo crab apple trees grown in estate orchards comes a wildly tart cider that, with its subtle tannins, is rich in color and aroma. Available only during the summer.
Jupiter’s Legacy | Albemarle CiderWorks, North Garden, VA
A blend of traditional cider and crab apples results in a sipper that has bright acidity and notes of citrus, ending with a tart apple finish.