‘Community at heart’ of Forest Gate Urban Orchard cider house
PUBLISHED: 12:00 11 September 2016
Forget moving to the country for the good life – you could dump the rat race and make your own cider right here in the city.
That’s what 33-year-old Simon Wright, who owns and runs Forest Gate’s Urban Orchard cider house, decided to do after quitting his job in marketing.
Born in Colchester and now living in Wanstead, Simon risked everything to produce his own cider and help the environment at the same time.
“The basic idea is that the community gives us apples, we make great cider, then we give back to the community,” Simon said.
“And so far that’s going very well.”
Operating from his HQ in Winchelsea Road’s Arch 361, Simon takes in apples from anyone and anywhere – supermarket rejects, donations from people who couldn’t finish a bag – and blends them with top-class farm apples.
The result is an excellent-tasting craft cider (it has already won two awards) that also contributes to the fight against food waste.
“Cider is so easy to make – you essentially just press the apples into juice and then leave that in a container for a few months,” Simon said.
“But it’s hard to make good cider.”
Before creating Hawkes Brewing Company three years ago – of which Urban Orchard is a brand – Simon worked for mega-brewers Anheuser-Busch and Greene King.
“I decided I really wanted to work for myself,” he said. “But I had no backing.” He added: “I did the silly thing and remortgaged my house, then I sold my BMW and replaced it with a white van and started the business in my kitchen.”
Starting slowly – and also making alcoholic ginger beer – he gradually grew his brand, which is now producing one million bottles a year.
“I’m working twice as hard for half the money, but I love it,” he said. “It gets me out of bed in the morning, even though I might have to drink a bit more than I’d like to.”
One of the deals Simon offers his customers is an apples-for-cider exchange: if you bring him 10kg of apples, he’ll give you one litre of cider.
It’s all part of being involved in the Forest Gate community as much as he can.
“Forest Gate is a fantastic area,” he said. “So many people are moving in – it’s a bit like an enclave of Hackney.”
He added: “I’ve been around here a while now and there’s a great feel.”
Now he wants Forest Gaters to help him expand his ciderhouse, including the planting of more apple trees, by coming forward with their cast-off fruit.
“The more apples we get, the more we can press,” he said. “The more we press, the more we can give back to the community.”
With pizza-maker Luppolo popping along and cooking fresh food on Fridays and Saturdays – with craft cider to wash it down – the ciderhouse appears to have accomplished at least one of Simon’s goals.
“In a nutshell, we’re trying to make cider cool – even though I hate that expression,” he said.