Them apples: Kingston Black

The almost perfect cider apple

Is just one type of apple enough to give your cider the necessary complexity and balance of sweetness, acidity, tannin and aromatics? Quite possibly, if it’s a Kingston Black.

Vintage quality single varietals are on the up

In wine-making or brewing, the choice of grape or barley and hops alters the attributes of the final product, often in very subtle ways. The same is true in cider-making with the choice of apples, whose balance of sugar, acid and tannin can affect the rate and nature of the fermentation and therefore the quality of the cider.

Although most ciders are blends, a few vintage quality cider cultivars can produce really good single varietal ciders  And while the art of blending is seen as an essential skill, craft and commercial cider makers alike are producing more single variety ciders using a small number of vintage quality apples.

Kingston Black apples. Photo by Andy Roberts

Kingston Black apples. Photo by Andy Roberts

Kingston Black is an old bittersharp Somerset variety regarded as the ‘perfect cider apple’.

About 80% of an apple is water soluble, as juice. Kingston Black’s contains proportions of sugar, malic acid, tannin, starch, pectin and amino nitrogen that are almost ideal.

It used to be known as Black Taunton but has since taken on the name of its putative origin, a village nearby.

Fruit from old trees often has a lot of sugar giving it an almost dessert flavour, along with mild acidity and some astringency.

The tree flowers in mid-season. The flushed dark red apples mature fairly late in November and produce a full-bodied single varietal cider with a highly distinctive flavour. Despite this, Kingston Black is no longer widely grown commercially partly because its growing performance varies with location.

Drink up thee cider

Sheppy’s near Taunton, which is close to where the cultivar is thought to have originated, grows and presses a dry, slightly sparkling Kingston Black Cider (6.5% abv) that’s well worth sampling. Dunkertons in Gloucestershire produces an organic Kingston Black cider (8% abv). And Lyme Bay Winery in Dorset makes a Kingston Black Aperitif (18% abv). (This is not a comprehensive list. Nor probably ever will be. Please feel free to tell us about others that you produce or would recommend).

Where to buy Kingston Black trees

Ashridge Trees, HabitataidOrange Pippin Trees and Adams Apples Plants also sell Kingston Black trees. The Ashridge site has useful information on pollination. Habitataid donates half its profits from sales of Kingston Black to Common Ground, the Dorset-based arts and environment charity.

See Cider-Making ABC for more on blending and vintage apples