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Food by VICE

This Man Wants to Make a Dirty Pint With Your Apples

A London drinks-maker is transforming the city’s unwanted and unloved apples into craft cider.

by Phoebe Hurst
Feb 26 2015, 6:45pm

UK households throw away 6.7 million tonnes of food every year; more than a quarter of it being fruit. In the same period of time, the average Briton over the age of 15 will drink 11.6 litres of pure alcohol.

Not the country's most glittering stats. (Although check out Britain's figures for having sex in cars. We're great at car sex.) But what if there were a way to amalgamate our inability to predict how many oranges we'll eat in a week with our love of boozing? Preferably in a vaguely alcoholic form with a nice craft beer label.

A drinks company from London might have cracked it. Last week, Hawkes launched Urban Orchard, a cider that blends culinary apples with those donated from backyard trees and community gardens. Anyone with an abundance of unwanted apples and Johnny Appleseed-esque generosity can donate fruit, and receives a personalised bottle of Urban Orchard in return. Hawkes also plans to share ten percent of the cider's net profits with the community gardens who share their excess produce.

"Our thinking behind Urban Orchard was: How cool would it be if you picked some apples, gave them to us and were then able to drink the cider, knowing that your apple was in there somewhere?" says Hawkes founder, Simon Wright. "Everyone knows that food waste in the UK is reaching absurd levels, it's a crime. There were community orchards being planted and nurtured, and people collecting unwanted fruit, but there wasn't one central, tangible outcome that the whole of London could embrace."

Searching for hobbyist apple farmers in London does seem slightly misguided. If you're living in Zone 1, you'll be lucky to have three cubic metres of outdoor space to shove your wheelie bin in, let alone the type of green pastures that accommodate over-productive apple trees.

But the trend for urban fruit growing is on the rise. The Urban Orchard Project works with communities in major cities across the country to plant fruit trees and introduce city-dwellers to the pleasure of homegrown produce. In December, the charity planted a 26-tree orchard at Alexandra Park and its new Helping Britain Blossom project saw Camden Town receive its first orchard, complete with plum, pear, and apple trees. Hawkes' new cider rides on the golden wave of a new taste for apples.

"Last harvest it was a race against time, as we only found the resource to start sourcing the apples in July, and the apples would be ready in September to October," says Wright. "It was literally a case of visiting each place in the van and stocking up. We also spent a good few days ourselves and with volunteers forging and picking, where we had permission—or not, in some cases."

But with all these apples rolling around in the capital, how does Wright stop Urban Orchard from turning into the kind of unspecified liquid that sits at the centre of a Ring of Fire game?

"The majority of the cider is made up of culinary eating apples, where we know the varieties going into the production," he explains. "We then blend the juice of the urban apples into the overall makeup of the liquid. Every batch has a very subtle difference but is largely unnoticeable at this stage. The plan for the future is to increase the percentage of urban apples in our blend and also produce some small batches using 100 percent urban apples."

Whether intentional or not, Hawkes seems to have invented the Battersea Dogs Home of the alcohol world: a place for unwanted apples to find new hope.