There is no better conversation starter in the world of cider than pouring a rosé cider. After all, apple juice is yellow, right? It should be golden, straw, or maybe even canary, but this cider is pink. Or crimson. Or even strawberry. Are there grapes involved? Perhaps berries? Some people assume food coloring or some sort of extract is added to the cider. Those people are wrong.
The truth is that rosé cider comes from an unofficial sub-grouping of apples with red flesh that—when pressed—results in blush-colored juice. These "red flesh" apples can be sweet, tart, or downright inedible and include both wild varieties and domesticated fruits. In general, however, red fleshed apples provide excellent acidity and tannins that are ideal for the cidermaking process. As a result, the rosé ciders produced from this fruit are some of the best available.
The Rise of Red Flesh Apples in America
Shall we get geeky about apples for a moment? Wild red fleshed apples grow worldwide. But most of America's commercially available edible red flesh apples are derived from two distinct genealogical paths starting with the same parent, the Malus Niedzwetzkyana crab apple. Also known as the Manchurian Crab apple, it was the obsession of two significant horticulturalists during the mid twentieth century.
Dr. Niels Hansen, a Danish horticulturalist working out of South Dakota State College, began cross breeding Niedzwetzkyana in the mid-twentieth century and created most of the darker red-flesh varieties available from nurseries today. At the same time, Albert Etter, a northern California horticulturalist, became obsessed with Surprise, a Turkish red flesh apple descended from Niedzwetzkyana. The Surprise, however, had a greenish, yellow skin and lighter, pink flesh than its parent and thus, its offspring tend to have lighter skins and a rosy flesh.
Further experiments followed at New York's Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, leading to more accessible red-fleshed fruit that is used in many of today's rosé ciders, along with fruit from indigenous crab apple trees.
Must-Try Rosé Ciders
The only American cider to feature the grandaddy Niedzwetzkyana apple is Uncle John's Fruit House Winery's Cider Rosé from St. Johns, MI. This cider is produced entirely from red fleshed apples, including Niedzwetzkyana, Geneva (a Quebec native cultivated in New York State), Redfield (another New York cross-breed derived from Niedzwetzkyana), and Watermelon. Uncle John's blends these apples into a strawberry-red cider with clean tartness, an earthy flavor, and lingering tannins. For me, Cider Rosé is a benchmark example of rosé ciders in America and proof that complex, structured ciders can be produced without traditional English or French cider apples. This one should be on every cider drinker's bucket list.
But tannic, dry ciders are not for everyone. For a lighter, more accessible rosé cider, we look across the border to Quebec, home of Luk E Luk cidery. In their Luk Rosé the Geneva Crab apple is complemented by the ubiquitous Macintosh apple for a slightly sweet cider and pink-lemonade hue. The floral aroma of Luk Rosé is alluring and draws even the most timid drinker into its flavors of fresh strawberries and wildflower honey. With a soft acidity and mild tannins, Luk Rosé is an ideal summer sipper and perfect for any one who wants their rosé cider to taste a bit like a rosé wine.
Meanwhile, on the West coast, one grower is influencing the cider scene with their Hidden Rose Apples. First discovered in the 1960s in Airlie, Oregon, the Hidden Rose was unavailable to the public until the 1980s when Louis Kimzey, a field manager at Thomas Paine Farms, discovered the apple, trademarked it, and began planting a sizable orchard of the varietal.
Hidden Rose provides its red flesh to a pair of distinctly different West coast rosé ciders. At Traditions Ciderworks in Corvallis, Oregon, the Hidden Rose adds a bit of an earthy undertone to their 2011 Thomas Paine. With hints of overripe lemons, this reminded us a bit of English-style cider, balancing the Hidden Rose's character against more traditional cider varieties.
Meanwhile, in Washington State, Port Townsend's Alpenfire uses a healthier percentage of Hidden Rose in their Burnt Branch Reserve Glow Rosé Hard Cider. Organic, and fermented with wild yeast, this deep crimson cider blends ripe cherry and raspberry flavors with a complex yeast character that might remind you of a Belgian wild ale. This cider has a touch of sweetness added back in to balance the cider's assertive structure and accentuate the cider's lushness.
Rosé Ciders Without Red Flesh Apples
Not all American rosé ciders are made from red-flesh apples. In Wisconsin, Maiden Rock Winery uses the intense red skin of the Dolgo Crabapple to color their Dolgo Crabapple Apple Table Wine. The Dolgo Crabapple—coincidently brought to the US by Dr. Niels Hansen—has some of the reddest skins of all crabapple varieties, and the pressed juice has an enticing pink color. This still apple wine (with 10% ABV) has big apple flavors with enough acid and tannin to stand up to its red fleshed contemporaries.
Have you tried any of these rosé ciders? Have you seen others in your area? Let us know in the comments below.
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