For most graduates in their early twenties, alcohol forms a pretty integral part of daily routine. For others, it borders on obsession.
Happily, Nick Godshaw and Tom Daniell aren't clutching cans of Stella and shouting in the streets, but their addiction to drink—namely the obscure and naturally produced variety—did lead them to start Brighton cooperative, Old Tree Brewery.
The brewery makes drinks using foraged ingredients, with the aim of investing profits into sustainable agriculture. Their current offerings include classic ginger beers and pink lemonades, as well as green tea kombucha, nettle iced tea and elderflower cider.
Old Tree HQ stands next to the underground kitchens of SILO, the UK's first zero-waste restaurant, but the brewery takes Douglas McMaster's "Pre-industrial Food System" one step further. It not only produces zero waste, it make drinks from the waste of others.
"We get fruit from a whole load of places. We've struck a deal with a greengrocer who supplies stores in Brighton and London," explains Godshaw. "At the end of the week, we get his surplus stock that otherwise would end up in the bin."
Currently, the brewery's only waste product is yeast, and they give most of that to the baker who works next door. Over the past few months, Godshaw and Daniell have built up a network of farmers and suppliers from which they source their ingredients, intercepting the produce before it ends up in the bin.
And they have a wealth of waste to choose from. According to government statistics, the UK throws away 7 million tonnes of food every year. Food is discarded even before the onions rot in that tray at the bottom of the fridge or furry bits sprout on your plums. In the manufacturing of food products and within the wholesale and retail market, around 4.3 megatonnes of food ends up in the bin each year—the equivalent of 573,000 London buses (or a fuck-tonne of pugs according to this helpful chart).
Godshaw and Daniell aren't the only people attempting to tackle the country's food waste problem. The Leeds-based Real Junk Food project works with a network of volunteers to serve meals made entirely from salvaged food, and the number of people "skipping"—or raiding bins for food discarded by shops—is on the up. Last year, the House of Lords produced a report on the cost of food waste in the EU on the subject, claiming that "a tonne of food wasted in food manufacturing in the UK is estimated to have a value of at least £950."
Old Tree is all over the untapped value of food waste, and producing the drinks works out fairly cheaply. Godshaw and Daniell often only pay for the supplier's time and the cost of transport.
"One weekend a supplier called us up, and asked if we wanted 1500 over-ripe mangos, for next to nothing," says Daniell. "We said fuck yeah."
The doomed mangos were turned into juices, preserves, and mango wine, which I'm given a glass of. It tastes good: slightly fizzy and with a not-too-sweet tang—almost like an exotic Champagne. And, at about 10 percent proof, it does the job.
Showing me around the various vats and earns, Godshaw explains the brewing process. "To make it, we mix the fruit with water, and we put in some sugar and yeast, before leaving to ferment for a month or so," he says. "People have loved it, the mango story epitomises exactly what we aim to do, rescuing fruit from the bin, and making it enjoyable."
It's not just over-ripened fruit that ends up in Old Tree's bottles, a lot of food goes their way because it's "ugly." A couple of weeks back, Godshaw and Daniell got a phone call from a farmer near Eastbourne with nine metric tonnes of pears going to waste, after being "fucked over" by a major supermarket.
"They'd agreed to buy them, but then refused to take the fruit because they were too yellow, whatever that means" says Daniell. Old Tree Brewery is now using the fruit in its first batch of pear cider.
On the counter we're seated at is a jar filled with yellow liquid. Inside float shards of ginger, lemon, and the odd raison, with kefir grains lurking at the bottom. The grains are a yeast and bacteria culture that becomes nourished by the sugar in the fruit. It transforms the liquid into a probiotic drink by releasing enzymes.
The kefir concoction is one of Old Tree Brewery's most popular drinks.
"It's healthy and nourishing, particularly in introducing good bacteria into your intestinal flora," Godshaw explains."It's quite medicinal in flavour and it's good as a taster."
The pair are currently working to establish Old Tree as a not-for-profit organisation, with the goal of investing money back into the land. I ask Daniell if he can thinking of anyone else doing something similar. "Nobody," he says. "And if they are, then that's even better."
The brewery has 18 acres of woodland in the Sussex countryside, where Godshaw and Daniell are managing the forest, coppicing (cutting trees to encourage growth), and preparing to grow produce.
Their long term goal is to work with the local community to create a "food forest"—a way of harvesting produce that rebuilds soils and aids biodiversity. The pair hope this will allow them to grow a wide variety of fruits, nuts, vegetables and herbs.
"All the plants in food forestry, or forest gardens are perennial," says Daniell. "So they only need to be planted once."
Old Tree isn't the first to champion this agricultural technique, with food forests in Morocco dating back thousands of years. But using the land in this way and working with local communities to supply their production process makes the brewery something of an anomaly.
In coming weeks, Old Tree Brewery will be supplying a handful of local shops, but Godshaw has no plans to build a drinks empire.
"It defeats the point if we're centralised in a massive supply chain creating waste," he says. "We want see a creative alternative drink production culture all over the place, but we want do it through networks of drink producers supplying their own communities, under our ethos, which is taking any profits to invest in land regeneration."
As long as the UK retains its appetite for all-year-round fruit and supermarkets are rejecting wonky bananas, Old Tree will have a steady supply of ingredients. And with a recent report that suggests we'll be wasting £388 worth of food every year by 2030, it's about time we found new food production methods.
This post originally appeared on MUNCHIES in March 2015.