It all starts with the apple. Our ancestors knew that there was a special apple for every occasion. There were specific apple varieties perfect for winter storage, or fresh eating, or pies, sauce, juice, cider, etc. Picking just the right variety of apple was the first step.
When I went to England in the 1980's and 1990's to learn from Master Cider Brewers, I heard a lot about what were the best English Cider Apples to use. And when I returned to Virginia, I discovered a lot about traditional, Colonial Cider Apples. But there wasn't much folklore or expert opinion in England nor America about what was a good Vinegar Apple.
So, I spent a number of years experimenting with various apple varieties that grow well here in the Valley of Virginia. I also taste-tested apple/vinegar combinations. What I discovered was this...
A good vinegar apple needs a balance of sweetness and tartness. Also, the skin of a good vinegar apple should add a nice apple-aroma to the vinegar. The journey from apple juice to vinegar takes a long time, so the apple fragrance must linger throughout the brewing process.
The apple tree that the apples come from shouldn't be fertilized too much. An overly fertilized apple tree produces bland tasting apples. A heavily fertilized apple tree might produce large apples that are lovely to look at, but they usually don't have a robust apple-flavor. In my experience, a small firm apple creates a more delicious vinegar.
Finally, I learned that a blend of sweet and tart apples, with a rich apple aroma, makes the best apple cider vinegar. Some of the apple varieties we have used to make Rockbridge Cider vinegar are vintage varieties and some are relatively new varieties. We have used blends of “Liberty”, “Cortland”, “Granny Smith”, “Stayman”, “Macintosh”, Winesap”, “Fuji”, “Esopus Spitzenburg”, “Lady”, Smokehouse”, “Golden Russet”, and “Dolgo Crab Apple”.
Every growing season is unique and the apples from the same apple tree can taste slightly different from season-to-season. But here in Virginia, we are blessed with an ideal climate for growing apples that are perfect for apple cider vinegar.
Because nature is never the same season-to-season, our apple cider vinegar tastes just a little bit different from year to year. But one thing is always the same; Rockbridge Cider Vinegar is always naturally-brewed with ripe Virginia apples for a mild, delicious flavor!