It’s a rare thing for a founder to move on to pastures (or orchards) new but family, friends and cider folk that is what I must do.
There is no easy way to say it: We nearly didn’t open the cider house doors this year... READ MORE.
Being part of the growing number of businesses who choose sustainable logistics as their preferred choice for getting about the city is great. Not only do we turn heads but demonstrate that you can do good business in every sense of the word without adding to congestion, emissions and you have the added bonus of getting fit in the process.
I've made many friends on this cider adventure and today was definitely a highlight. One, for meeting up with a few of the North West's cider makers but, two, for having the chance to raise a glass of the good stuff in memory of the guy who brought us all together in the first place.
..we’re now at a stage where we could be doing weekly deliveries of cider and in the future juice too plus apple pickups during Autumn. I’m a keen cyclist already and I’ve wanted to keep our carbon footprint low as we grow. The problem is apples, trees and bottles are all heavy, bulky loads and I couldn’t find a suitable answer. Then I found Bulliitt bikes...
Aims: To be honest & open about what is in cider made in the North of England; to share information & resources; to promote wider understanding of traditionally made, full-juice cider; to represent North of England Cider at a national level; to be sociable.
... one can only stuff one's face for so long with skinny muffins and decaf tea (I've quit multiple vices for a while) before there's that looming sense that the friendly barista who served you is burning eyes in the back of your MacBook. Just waiting for you to get up and move along.
It's been a couple of weeks since we last spoke and your article went into The Sunday Times. It was a good piece and gave people all the right information on how we run our business. However, the headline 'Wasteland cider soothes Manchester's gangland heart' just didn't sit right with me. I've had a few days to mull it over and also speak to those in our community who love what we do and who love Moss Side.
You see the problem is it gives the impression that Moss Side is still a 'gangland' and really offends those who have lived and loved through those dark times and come out the other side. Come on, those days were twenty years ago. Do we really have to still live in the shadow of the area's past?
My wife and I moved to the area eight years ago and have loved living in these streets and have not been afraid to raise our two kids here. One of the main reasons we moved onto the street we're in is because we saw young families playing out in the road and a vibrant multicultural mix. Not a hoodie or thug in sight! My wife and I threw ourselves into not just getting to know our neighbours but also the wider community. I became vice chair of my residents' association and sat in many community meetings attended by residents, councillors and police. One such meeting particularly stands out when the police shared how Moss Side actually had the lowest crime rate in South Manchester, beating that of it's seemingly more affluent neighbours, Fallowfield, Chorlton and even Didsbury! Now the cynic in you may say 'well you don't rob from your own?' but we like to think it's the great community spirit we hold dear that makes us all love these streets we call home all the more.
So journalists and editors, please pay attention, we know it's hard to shake off a reputation and it's easy to fall back into old mindsets that Moss Side was once a gangland but lets leave it at that. It was once a gangland. Once.
Founder - The Moss Cider Project
TO VIEW A COPY OF THE ARTICLE CLICK HERE
So we leave behind the shipping container at Firmstart in Hulme, that iconic church designed by one of the lesser Pugins I believe. They have been amazing hosts for our little project and pretty much left us alone without any interference. They've been our samplers on pressing days and did so much for us in the early days that meant we could build up to where we are now.
Last weekend saw our return to Hulme Community Garden Centre where we opened the doors once again to our pop-up bar 'The Gardener's Arms'. I'd missed out on the fun last year and was looking forward to serving up our latest batch of Moss Cider, cider lollies and the ever popular Moss Cider Mojito, made with our 100% Mancunian to The Core apple juice.
In a slightly out of character way I arrived to set up on the day and felt remarkably calm and relaxed. Usually I'd have been fretting all morning (and night) and stressing about all the little things, worrying that something was going to go wrong (it did, but that comes later). Dave, our host, served me up a fresh coffee which I must get round to returning the mug for, sorry Dave! I set about putting up our bar list and vinyl sticker posters (see above). It helps that Joe has contacts in the vinyl trade!
So what had made the difference to my general demeanour? I can only put it down to the fact that I now have Friday's off from my 9-5 job as a Studio Manager/Graphic Designer so all the prep was done the day before. We'd chosen to run a limited stock as we overdid it on the local beers last year. And I've now watched enough Lord Sugar to know that it would be better to 'smell what sells'. So we ran a two keg bar featuring local brew 'Directionless' from Red Willow and Manchester Bitter from Marble. Joe had picked these up a few days earlier to allow them to settle and I'd dropped off a freezer and fridge the day before so all that was left to do was the final shop.
Joe's mate Jonz (a keen brewer) was our third pair of hands on the day and his expertise and friends in the biz came in handy when we (he!) broke the keystone on the bitter keg. That's the wooden bit you bang the tap into. I told you something went wrong. So there I was, bar open, while Joe and Jonz nip out for a new keystone. It wasn't a biggy as it was still early doors and there was no mad rush that I couldn't handle.
So I used the time to set up our till, which today consisted of our trusty green cash box and an iPad with our SumUp app and dongle allowing us to take card payments. Thankfully it also ran all the cash sales through the till. We were doing a 50p refundable deposit on the the glasses and the first few customers got away without paying that (we know who you are). The clever little app lets you add new items in seconds though so that was a quick fix. Can't recommend it enough to all you small traders out there. It's not the quickest thing-ame-jig out there and I would't recommend it for busy environments as it can take a minute or two to process a transaction. Especially Visa payments as the customer needs their smartphone and 3G signal to finish the payment. MasterCard was much quicker and that must be who they have a better deal with as I just needed the customer to sign on screen. But for ease of use and cashing up at the end of the day it's a doddle.
Being based at the garden centre had it's advantages especially when it came to the mint we needed for the Mojitos. One of the staff prepped us a massive bunch that kept us going all day and the smell around the bar was amazing. We had much fun muddling our way through the day and despite our cider selling out first, followed by the cider lollies, the sunshine had people craving our fresh juice Mojitos more than anything and the non-alcoholic version was great for the kids (and pregnant wives!).
The one thing I did notice is that we definitely now have a few super-fans (you know who you are!) who come to most, if not all, our events in support of our little local product. We know it's not the world's best tasting cider… yet! But I love that people are enthused by our war on wasted apple and that they consistently want to come back for more. It was nice that we had a bit of variety on offer too as not only did we have our sharp, dry still cider available, but we had a limited supply of slightly sparkling bottle-conditioned stock too. The latter having a nice effervescence on the the tongue.
We got the balance right this year and turned a small profit that will no doubt help with our rent that we'll be paying in the near future as we look to move on from our shipping container setup in Hulme.
Who knows when 'The Gardener's Arms' will fling wide again but if you fancy hosting us then give us a call and for those that want it, here's out Apple Juice Mojito recipe.
Moss Cider Apple Mojito
5-6 Fresh Mint Leaves
Raw Cane Sugar Cubes
1/2 Lime - Sliced into 3-4 wedges
25cl (or more!) of Havana Club Rum
100ml Moss Cider 100% Apple Juice
200ml Soda Water
Sprig of Mint to Finish
Place the Ice, Sugar, Limes & Mint in the bottom of a glass. Muddle Together. Pour Over your Shot. Fill the glass with Ice. Pour over the apple juice then top with Soda Water. Add more ice if needed and then garnish with a sprig of mint.
Before I had thoughts of making a 'Mancunian to the Core' cider I was a Moss Side resident. So first and foremost, I wear my Mr Community hat. In fact, when my wife and I bought our house, the estate agent had listed it as being in neighbouring Fallowfield. We quickly realised that the borders had in fact changed and we were indeed Moss Side residents.
Were we bothered? Not in the slightest! We were all the more motivated to get involved in community, knowing the reputation the area had/has, as with a lot of perceived "bad neighbourhoods" the problems are all to often isolated and few and far between.
So where to begin? Joining our residents association seemed like a good place to start and soon I found myself being vice chair of T.A.R.A. (The Avenues Residents' Association) which covers the six avenues that backed onto the Stagecoach bus depot in Moss Side, plus a few extras. We knew if we listened to our residents we'd then know what the community needed. The absolute highlight of my time on the team was being in a meeting with councillors, police and other residents' associations from the area. The police were reporting back on the crime stats for South Manchester and it turned out Moss Side had the least crime, beating Chorlton, Didsbury, Withington and more. Now the cynics among you will just say that 'well they're obviously not robbing their own' but I like to think that this is down to the community spirit of Moss Side residents. It really is a great place to live and friends and family often comment on how well we appear to be 'building community'. My response is always the same "Community is what you make it, get stuck in!"
One of the main reasons T.A.R.A exists, apart from batting off the repeated question of "can we have alley gating?"*, is to be a collective voice. At the time, this collective voice was focused on what was to become of the iconic bus depot site in Moss Side. Pre -2010 we knew it was definitely coming down so we rallied the troops, had some great street parties and beautified the alleyway that ran the full length of the back of the building with hanging baskets. The result, community spirit was at an all-time high!
It was during this time that the seed of planting an orchard on the site was birthed. We'd discussed as residents the idea of approaching the council for use of the land on a temporary basis while a developer was sought. It was only when I was in bed one night when the wife piped up and said, "If you've got an orchard and you do make cider, you'd be making cider in Moss Side, you could call it Moss Cider". I didn't waste any time. I knew it would be years before we had our orchard on the site so I just started asking around to see if anyone had any apples. It turned out that one of our neighbours had a massive apple tree in their garden. So in 2010 we met in an alley just of Broadfield Road in Moss Side and made our first batch. You can see and read a condensed version of events here. So now I also wear my Mr Local Cider Business hat.
So those are my two hats: my Mr Community hat and now my Moss Cider hat. I guess my challenge now and the thing I'm keen to communicate is that my business model can do both things. We can bring people together from all walks of life for a co-op style harvest, much the same as our brothers in the trade in rural settings have been doing for decades, in some instances hundreds of years. We bring about community cohesion and beautify areas in the process through planting trees. Plus if things go well we can employ local people to produce a local product that Moss Side residents, as well as all Mancunians can take pride in. Aren't SMBs going to be one of the saving graces of the current economic climate? That's certainly what I see and hear in the news. Some might call me (us) crazy but many other brands and businesses formed in times of recession.
So can't we take a 'holistic' approach? My AfSL (where some of the story began) buddies will know what I mean by that. It's about each of us doing our little bit towards building sustainable communities. I got frustrated recently when I heard that a few residents thought our community project on the old Stagecoach Bus depot site, now called 'The Open Yarden Garden' was becoming 'too commercial'. Now that could be due to the fact that one of the first flyers promoting the project featured a little logo of another "small-scale" brewery based down the road in Moss Side**. Whatever the reason, my thinking is, you're not doing community unless anyone and everyone can get involved, whatever their agenda might be. We're not in the position to look a gift horse in the mouth and every small venture could do with a hand from the big boys.
So in my mind there's room for a small-scale, cider producer to have a few trees on the land upon which he once dreamed of planting an orchard. Even if his dream of a few trees has now become a much bigger vision for a city-wide orchard.
The Fleet Foxes said it best in their track 'Helplessness Blues', - "If I had an orchard I'll work till I'm sore." My hands aren't sore just yet!
*We would get asked this at every meeting. Truth be told alley gating schemes are pretty expensive costing upwards of £70k (according to our counsellors) to gate just one alley. What I did discover though was that the majority of this cost is legal fees as the ramblers association likes to complain a lot about their rights of way being blocked. So the price difference between gating one alley or six is negligible. Shame the alley at the back of our house missed out as some of the avenues have amazing community gardens/play areas in them now.
** It was thanks to Heineken, who loved what we were doing, that we gained an additional 25 cider variety trees for free. We just had to pay for delivery and give them a shout out on publicity.
When a guy contacts you and says that he's got a load of old ordnance survey maps with every heritage orchard mapped out across Greater Manchester you make sure that you follow that lead up. One of our biggest problems in taking our cider beyond just that of apple donations is where to source apples from. There are no commercial growers in the region, that we've met yet, although we know of a few in the pipeline so we need to find consistent sources of local apples where we have permission from the land owner to take them. There will be no scrumping round these parts! Also we'd never rob the well known sources of free apples, such as those in Chorlton Meadows for our own commercial gain although we'd encourage you our readers to seek out the bounty that can be found there. And if you wish to turn some or all of your harvest into juice or cider, then you know where to come.
Anyway, back to my heritage orchard guy. His name is Samuel Bolton and he works for Manchester ecological unit and has formed the 'Grafting for Orchards' project. He was kind enough to meet me at a secret location just outside the M60 to show me one of the abandoned orchards he's become aware of.
I was early for our meeting and I wasn't entirely sure I was in the right place but I parked up at the end of a long dirt road and got out. To my surprise I'd parked up next to an apple tree "must be in the right place methinks". So I wander around for a while getting lost in the beauty outside of the urban sprawl and red-bricks of home. I rarely get time in my own thoughts out in nature and away from my day job stuck behind a desk, and I have to admit that it was a great start to my day, just me and the wild.
So Samuel arrived an hour or so later and we launched into our hunt, along with sidekick William, Samuel's son, who'd been dragged along by his Dad. Samuel is more than just an apple hunter, he was the best kind of guide as he pointed out the wildlife along the way. He pointed out the burdock, should we diversify into D&B and other flora and fauna such as Mugwort which is known to flavour beer, much in same way as hops. We also spotted blue damselflies and he was telling me about local apple varieties he hoped to reintroduce through his project such as Lord Suffield.
So we made our way down a dirt track and soon discovered that our path into the orchard had become blocked by undergrowth. The last time Samuel had been here was back in winter when the landscape was a little more bleak. We fought our way through to an idyllic little spot when I caught glimpse of my first apple tree. A rather gnarly old one with beautiful lichens growing on the end of its branches. To know that this and the other trees in the orchard probably date back to the 1860s was amazing and they're still producing fruit! There were about a dozen trees of different varieties and a few pear trees amongst those too. At this stage the varieties are unknown but Samuel is keen to send some of them off for identification.
So this is one site that we'd like to revisit in the autumn with a few of our followers and friends to not only pick, after much hacking back of the undergrowth but also log all the trees and help to reinvigorate the orchard. It would seem we have the landowner on side to repopulate the site with new trees too.
My hope is that in time many of these heritage orchards across the city will become 'fruitful' again and who knows we might find some rarities along the way.
I'd like to personally thank Samuel (and little William) for giving up some of his day off to be my guide. I'm sure he will become a great source of information along our cider journey and a friend too. He was kind enough to bring along a sample of his own homebrew cider (I owe you one Samuel!). No doubt we'll run some grafting workshops together later in the year as well as head to other sites around the city hunting for apples.
I came across Claire Burt's 'Burt's Blue' cheese while looking for local pairings for our 2nd Cheese & Cider night back in October last year (you can see few pics of that event HERE). We kept in touch and recently I got a call asking if we could supply a few bottles of our donor cider for some experimentation in her kitchen. Now I thought we worked in cramped conditions in the shipping container but her tiny wedged shaped workspace has to be seen to be believed. So two bottle of cider were picked up about 4 weeks ago and little did I know what treats were in store when a few weeks later Claire dropped off three carefully wrapped waxed-paper parcels of cheesy goodness.
Those in the know will be familiar with the now infamous 'Stinking Bishop', a rather pongy cheese from experts Charles Martell in Dymock, Gloucestershire. They use perry for its washing-down and this has been Claire's inspiration for working with us and our cider for a variation on her delightful little blue cheeses.
In return for my cider what did I get for my cheese board? There was a pierced blue, a regular truckle of cider-washed cheese and an intriguing 23 day, air-dried, which definitely felt firmer.
Now I'm by no means a cheese connoisseur but here is my run down:
Cheese 1 - Washed twice and pierced
It's the piercing here that gives this one its character and that 'Burt's Blue' finish. It's super-creamy with a distinct blue taste but not one that will stink up your fridge.
Cheese 2 – Washed twice and left to mature
Creamy, slightly firm centre with a soft outer, similar in texture to a brie with a blue-cheese twang.
Cheese 3 - Washed twice and left to air dry for 23 days
Similar to the above although the big difference being this one has a firmer centre, almost crumbly but with a velvety finish on the palette.
I'm sure that with further experimentation, of which I'm more than happy to be a guinea pig, Claire will perfect this cheese and perhaps together we can bring it to a deli near you.
It's these chance meetings and collaborations that really get me excited. It's the over-and-above stuff that you can't imagine would happen when you set out to make a locally produced product. And I love the fact that we're pairing local with local which was at the heart of our last cheese and cider event at Common. We'll no doubt revive this event for this year's Manchester Food & Drink festival... so watch this space.
We'll be sure to keep you in the loop if this one reaches a farmers' market or deli near you.
Do you remember that episode of Friends where Monica goes down the to docks? She's got a plan, a plan to get a man, how's she gonna get that man... Jam!
Well it's about time we collated all the good stuff we've been involved with for the last few years. You'll see a bit of a back-catalogue of previous events and opportunities to get involved in the future by becoming an apple donor or volunteer.
You can already book in a free place for this year's apple pressing sessions beginning in September.
We've been invited back to Hulme Community Garden Centre's 'Summer Party' on the 27th July. So make sure you drop by our pop-up bar 'The Gardener's Arms' for some Moss Cider, local real ales or our famed apple mojitos.
At some point we'll get round to adding some products to our webshop but we're still busy giving back to our apple donors first, so watch this space.
Don't forget to pop back occasionally to view our blog and all the goings on at the cider house and in our community orchard at 'The Open Yarden Garden', located on the former Stagecoach Bus Depot site in Moss Side, where the dream of an orchard started our cider adventures.
Thanks for your support, retweets, kind words and most importantly your unwanted apples.
Dan & Joe