Most big cities have at least one area with a dodgy reputation. London's got the East End, New York has the Bronx and, in Manchester, that place is Moss Side. Just mention you're going there and people will ask if you've got your last will and testament in order.
So when Manchester graphic designer Dan Hasler said he was going to start making cider in Moss Side some of his friends were, to say the least, a bit sceptical.
"They said I was mad to try something like this," laughs Hasler.
But now, some four years later, those friends are being forced to eat (or drink) their own words, as Moss Cider is growing to become one of Manchester's best-known—and definitely best named—cider makers. The community project is also based on a business model that rewards people who donate to the company.
"If you bring 20 kilograms of apples we can get 10 litres of juice. We split that 50-50 with the donor, so we get five litres and they get five," explains Hasler. "You essentially get your cider made for free; you pay 50p per bottle, and if you return the bottle you get your money back."
Last year more than 150 people donated apples to Moss Cider, some bringing a few handfuls from a single tree, others going a bit further.
"One guy showed up on the first day last year with an entire trailer full. We didn't know what to do with them," recalls Hasler.
As well as keeping the apple growers of Manchester permanently merry, Moss Cider is now stocked in shops and bars across the city, as well as directly from Moss Side's monthly market.
It's a very traditional approach to cider-making, one that avoids the hassle of specialist apple varieties and overly scientific techniques. As the donated apples arrive they are washed and then pulped (or "scratted," to use the correct term) through something that looks a bit like a wood chipper.
The pulp is then laid on cloths in layers known as, oddly enough, cheeses. Once enough layers have been stacked up, the whole thing is squashed with a hydraulic compressor and the apple juice runs out into barrels. Leave it four to five months and, hey-presto: you've got scrumpy cider.
"There is far less science to it than craft beer," says Hasler, "You're just dealing with 100 percent pure apple juice."
This straightforward process means Moss Cider can be almost entirely volunteer-powered.
"We just go on social media and say we need help, explains Hasler. "When you're offering payment in cider people always turn up."
So what does it taste like? For something so simple to make, it has quite a complex taste: crisp, dry, and very refreshing. It kind of sparkles on your tongue. Exactly the sort of thing you could swill down several glasses of on a steamy summer day, and certainly superior to the over-sweetened stuff you get from pub taps and supermarket shelves.
"We're never going to win world's greatest cider," says Hasler, "But if you love dry cider then you're going to love what we make."
One group who can't get enough are the fans of FC United, a local community football club who have taken on the drink as their official club cider.
"They counted for almost half our donations last year," says Hasler, "I had them on the phone the other day, and apparently the legend of the cider is growing. The fans are really looking forward to getting it again this year."
I'm sure all of this is making your mouth dry, and you're wondering where you can sample Moss Cider for yourself. Well, that might still be some way off. First, there is the problem of Moss Side itself.
"There simply isn't any space in Moss Side, because there's not a history of small scale industry here," explains Hasler. "We wouldn't want to move out of the area, because then it wouldn't be Moss Cider."
Added to that is the limitation placed on the company by the EU. Moss Cider currently receives tax exemption, so long as it produces less than 7,000 litres of cider. But that could be about to change, with EU plans to scrap the scheme.
"It could decimate the small cider industry," warns Hasler, "For someone like us, where we are using the tax exemption to subsidise a community project, it would have a massive impact."
Of course, Moss Cider could scale up and make enough cider to cover the increase in tax, but that just brings them back to the problem of not having enough space.
One strategy Hasler is thinking of adopting is diversification, moving into fruit juices and other traditional drinks. The team recently purchased a pasteuriser (essentially a big heater that destroys bacteria) which would allow them to make any fruit juice drink, not just apple-based ones.
"We could be juicing all year round, the tax issue doesn't apply. You get it up to 75 degrees for 20 minutes and then it is done, it is a much quicker process," explains Hasler. But, yet again, to do something like that, they'd need more room.
Which makes you wonder: why not just move out of Moss Side? Well, on the one hand there is the name (for a pun-lover like me, they don't come much better than Moss Cider) but for Hasler, it comes back to the place itself.
"Because of the notoriety of Moss Side, we get a lot of attention, which has really helped us," says Hasler. "But it's also just a great place to live and work; the reputation doesn't match the reality."
This appreciation seems to go both ways, with the people of Moss Side taking Hasler's small company to heart.
"It isn't something that is normally done in an urban environment, and people here seem to really appreciate that," he concludes. "There is a guy who works in an office for a supermarket, and he stares at spreadsheets all day long. He came down and did a whole day Friday, and then said he wanted to come back on the Sunday. You go home with a sense of pride that you're giving back, it is an escape for people—a chance to do something completely different."
This post originally appeared on MUNCHIES in May 2014.