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The King of Cider Apples – the tale of a regal bittersharp with poise and balance

Updated: Jul 17, 2019


Cider Pomona No.2 - Kingston Black, a bittersharp sometimes called Black Taunton in the past.


A Cider Pomona – a journey through apple types – the bittersweets, the bittersharps, the sweets and the sharps - and introducing some famous apple varieties.

It’s about apples…It’s about cider…But mostly, it’s about people.


No. 2 - Kingston Black, a bittersharp apple


“Everything in one apple – massive tannins, big fruit. It’s all there.”

James Marsden, Gregg’s Pit


Why choose Kingston Black as our No.2 in this little Cider Pompna?


Again the answer lies with Gabe Cook, aka The Ciderologist:


“Kingston Black – the ‘king’ of cider apples. End of!”


An orchestra of flavours – bittersweets and bittersharps


Cider apple variety number one was Yarlington Mill, of the Bittersweets.


Bittersweets : "If a cider blend was an orchestra, these apples would most definitely be the brass section, contributing the power, drive and the energy of the final composition”.

Susanna Forbes, Imbibe, 21 July 2016


So what of the Bittersharps and its king, the Kingston Black? “


Bittersharps: "In our orchestra, these are the strings. Integral to the whole composition, “they elevate the blend and make it sing”

Gabe Cook, quoted in above.



Bittersharps – tingly


Bittersharps naturally have higher malic acid – that green-fruited zest. These waken the palate on entry but, without much sweetness to back it up, can disappear quickly.

Some varieties, such as the high acid Foxwhelp, add real piquancy to the mix. A few, such as Kingston Black, have what Gabe Cook calls ‘the holy trinity’: a deft balance of acids, sweetness and tannins that make them fully capable of going it alone as a single variety Cider.


Look out for: Kingston Black, Foxwhelp, Tom Putt, Porters Perfection.




Good cider needs great apples - Kingston Black


Thought to be identified and named in the mid 19th century after the village of Kingston near Taunton in the heart of Somerset. It was sometimes called Black Taunton in the past; its colour is often more a flushed very dark red, though sometimes almost black.

Liz Copas comments that fruit from an old standard tree is often high in sugar and will make a full bodied single variety cider with a distinctive flavour; whereas, bush plantings are often less successful, with less balance of tannins, sharp and sweetness.


Kingston Black, a regal display across three continents


Ten Kingston Black Ciders from three Continents


Its always great visiting Ross on Wye Cider and Perry in Herefordshire, and its cosy pub the Yew Tree Inn. First there is the motorhome park with all mod cons – camping and B&B are also available. Then there is the shop with an unrivalled display of single variety ciders and perry.


But what keeps pulling us back more months than not is the now legendary Ross Monthly Cider Club. So good that we have tried to emulate it with the #McrCiderClub.


Unfortunately the May Club clashed with a cider tasting for Runaway Brewery’s fifth birthday party; so we missed a tasting an international range of Kingston Black.


Fortunately, Jeremy from Authentic Cider, supplier of quality cider to Hong Kong, was there to record the events:


Ten different Kingston Black ciders from three continents formed the line up, with special guest Darlene Hayes the US cider writer. Her latest book is ‘Cider Cocktails – Another Bite of the Apple’.


The ciders included Kingston Blacks from the US: Eden ciders , Dragons head cider , Liberty cider , Tiltedshed ; from Tasmania, Willie Smiths cider ; and the UK, Hecks cider , New Forest cider , Old Stag cider , Dunkertons cider and Ross on Wye cider and perry .


“And what an amazing event it turned out to be. Beautiful knowledge and insights from Darlene Hayes and an incredible diversity of flavours and styles all from the same apple varietal but grown and fermented in different places: Herefordshire, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Tasmania, Washington, Vermont, California.”


Dunkertons Cider – Kingston Black



Dunkertons Cider - limited edition Kingston Black

“A limited-edition single varietal cider, a strong, generous, old fashioned, dry cider. The Kingston Black apple produces a dark tawny juice that ferments slowly.”

“The Kingston Black has a legendary status amongst cider makers. Its bitter sharp juice is of the highest quality, with well-balanced tannin and acidity contributing to a full-bodied, distinctive single variety cider. We have a number of trees growing in our own orchards.”


Burrow Hill Cider, Somerset - Kingston Black Apple Aperitif -18% abv


“A blend of Cider Brandy and the juice of Kingston Black apples. Excellent chilled as an aperitif or mixed with lemonade as a Somerset 'Pimms'.


Hecks - Kingston Black



Hecks have been making cider for a considerable amount of time, since 1841 and for six generations. They started selling their cider from their farm shop in Street back in 1896. True to their roots they still use traditional methods, fermenting in wooden barrels,


Hecks describe their Kingston Black as: “classic in appearance, taste and strength. It is copper coloured, rounded, almost velvety in texture and is full of flavour.”


James Finch reviewed it for Crafty Nextar:


“this is a cider that really packs a punch. First open of the bottle reveals a rich, deep aged apple scent. It smells dry too, you can almost feel the moisture being sucked out of your nose. Initial taste is like an acidic aged cheddar, this would be an ideal cider partner to a cheese board. Following that it becomes slightly dry in the mouth, followed by a subtle sweetness in the finish. It is very complex; every sip seems to uncover other taste notes. Left in the glass for a few minutes the cheesy dryness becomes more understated and the apple scent becomes much fresher and more pronounced. It has a very delicate fizz and I find myself quaffing it away with relish”.


Ross-on-Wye Cider & Perry - Kingston Black


This is a single varietal cider from the award winning Ross Cider. Kingston Black is a bitter sharp apple that has balanced tannin and acidity to produce a full-bodied cider with a delightfully distinctive flavour.

This one has decent tannins on the nose and a delightfully sharp taste with tannic notes for balance. The acidity is at the fore with moderate and unfolding astringency and bitterness.

It is a dry cider produced from whole juice and fermented with wild yeasts. It was made from a blend of the 2016 and 2017 harvest, bottled in June 2018. Full-bodied. Unfiltered. Dry Cider 6.0% abv



Willie Smiths Cider, Tasmania - Kingston Black



“Reflecting the varietal characteristics of the apple, this cider displays intensely lifted, fresh green apple and sherbet aromas. Apple fruit sweetness and spiced apple caramel notes give way to woody drying tannin and racy acidity. This results in a complex and concentred cider that will develop in bottle.

Deep golden. Colour is a result of resting the cider apples between milling and pressing allowing the tannins to oxidise and develop intense colour.”


A review from Australian blogger ‘Real Cider Reviews’ sums it up well:


“The Nose; Earthy musty cider cut with freshly squeezed oranges and ripe apples with illusions of caramel.”


“The Taste: It tastes just like it smells. Wonderfully complex. It has a similar acid profile to a fresh glass of orange juice, which provides a nice bright counter point to the funk. Classic bottle conditioned bubbles sit invisible in the glass but explode on your tongue. Just enough woodiness to highlight Kingston blacks natural tannins. The finish is crisp and minerally and very moreish.”



What comes next in our Cider Pomona?



No.1 - Yarlington Mill was a Bittersweet with an acidity measure of 0.22% and tannin 0.32%.


No.2 - Bittersharp Kingston Black has a higher acidity of 0.58% and lower tannin 0.19%.


Next up will be first a sweet apple: No.3 Discovery.


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