Kingston Black is the best cider apple tree there is. That is the general consensus. No favouritism here even though both it and I come from Somerset (albeit in different centuries). But it is a special apple and well worth highlighting on the Fruit Trees site
When cider is described as vintage, it refers not so much to its age, but to the fact that it is made from a single variety of apple. In cider parlance vintage equals unblended. Sort of a single malt. Opinions vary about the best single malt (my favourite is Glenmorangie) but few argue that cider made from Kingston Black apples stands on its own. I have heard it described as the Cox’s Orange Pippin of cider apples and the analogy is not a bad one. The flavour in unrivalled but Kingston Black is also harder to grow than some others and (like Cox’s Orange Pippin) is a modest yielding apple. But balance against that the ideal combination of acid, alcohol, body, fruit and tannin and you can see why this is an apple apart. Which of course is why Kingston Black apples are generally used to improve a blend of other apple juices from heavier yielding trees.
Just like other apples with the word “black” in their name, Kingston Black is extremely dark in colour – deep red turning to dark purple, at times almost black. The apples themselves are short stalked and quite little. There are lots of them, but they need thinning . It has a pronounced biennial habit and as hinted above, is a relatively weak cropper which has relatively low resistance to both scab and canker. This is a tree for an orchard where chemicals are used, or for one where organic practices are properly applied. It is not really a tree for the kind of orchard you plant and forget except at harvest time. Having said which it grows wonderfully well for some people who just leave it alone…..
For the reasons of low yield, being disease prone and having a biennial cropping tendency don’t plant this as your only cider tree (there are more reliable vintage varieties). However, if you are planning to plant an orchard with cider in mind (6+ cider trees) then Kingston Black should be first on your list. If it grows for you and crops well in a good year, spoil yourself and make an unblended cider from Kingston Black.
Tasting it yourself before offering to share with your friends is a great test of the meaning of the phrase “self-sacrificing”….