Much like those who quaff wines and seek craft micro-beers, connoisseurs of hard cider roam the countryside, sampling local artisan beverages.
Washington State University researchers hope to capitalize on that and create a hard cider culture that will benefit both producers and consumers, according to a news release.
Carol Miles of the university's Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon, is leading a team with a two-fold goal.
They need to evaluate apple varieties to find those suited to both cultivation in the Pacific Northwest and cider production.
Many of the widely cultivated varieties, such as Gala and Honeycrisp, are not suited to fermenting into hard cider.
Instead, bittersweet apples, such as Dabinnet, Chisel Jersey, Kingston Black and Brown Snout, are better suited for cider production.
Miles and her colleagues have analyzed juice from 50 apple varieties from one of the university's research farms.
Four were selected for further testing.
In addition, the researchers want to mechanize apple harvesting to make it economically feasible for cider production.
Using dwarfing apple rootstocks and trellises that create a fruiting wall should lend the orchard to mechanical harvesting.
Miles and her team are looking at a modified raspberry mechanical harvester.
Because apples are much heavier and larger than raspberries, the force with which the beater bars knock off fruit would need to be increased.
The conveyor belt that catches the fruit also would have to be reconfigured so the apples don't jam the line.
"Long term, we want to create a critical mass of cider producers that will attract customers from around the region and country," David Bauermeister, executive director of the Northwest Agricultural Business Center, said in the release. "Washington producers have developed a really robust wine industry in the warmer parts of the state and are looking to create a cider industry in the cooler parts of the state."