Diversifying Aberdeen’s economy using craft cider: Common Weal Cider

Creating a charity driven social enterprise that capitalises on Aberdeen’s historic apple growing heritage

-Building a network of cider makers to produce Aberdeen’s own cider
-A holistic environmentally friendly industry with economic benefits

-Re-using apples normally thrown out by supermarkets and food outlets
-Beautifying the landscape by planting apple orchards
-Reinvesting profits back into community projects

Imagine the Aberdeenshire countryside. Open hills of deep brown peat, swathes of purple heather, steel grey skies that are synonymous with the granite stone of North East Scotland and to add to this tempestuous scene, the green and red leaves of apple trees methodically planted across the landscape like the vineyards of southern France.

Common Weal Cider is a community scheme supported by the Grampian Housing Association that wants to build an industry which creates locally produced Aberdonian cider.

Re-using apples that would be thrown to waste

Saving apples going to be thrown out by supermarkets and other food outlets Common Weal Cider hopes to collect enough apples to begin pressing and distributing a unique form of cider exclusively associated with North East Scotland.

One of Common Weal’s initiatives is to establish new apple orchards on disused public spaces to produce indigenous strains of apples that would enhance the flavour when added to the mix of apples saved from supermarket rubbish bins.

Disused council space donated to Common Weal Cider at Hazelhead Park

Walled apple orchard under the steel grey skies of Aberdeenshire

Helping reinvigorate local economies and reinvesting profits

Branding itself as a ‘social enterprise’ Common Weal Cider will invite some of the North East’s less fortunate areas to help build a new cider economy which could improve community ties and introduce new activity to towns and villages across the North East.

Founding ambassador and Grampian Housing Association Chief Executive Neil Clapperton explains that the project would reinvest any profits it generates back into the community.

“The idea is that as a community social enterprise any profits or income made would go back into the community in terms of other environmental projects.”

Neil Clapperton, Chief Executive of Grampian Housing and founding ambassador of Common Weal Cider

Common Weal Cider is already beginning to plant new orchards in Cove, Huntley, Maryculter and Hazlehead.

It wants these orchards to become part of a holistic cycle that would give back to the land as much as it produces.

An environmentally friendly industry

Mr Clapperton explains that producing craft cider has a far smaller carbon footprint than importing industrial made cider from across the world.

Even the waste would be minimal with by-products from making cider such as apple pomace being re-used to feed livestock.

Apple trees will increase biodiversity and provide bees with nectar for their colonies (background)

Why cider?

Some of the benefits Mr Clapperton sees is the scheme generating traditional community activities such as collecting the harvest and taking advantage of new industries such as food tourism.

Clapperton explains: “It’s very much tied in with the development of local culture. If you look at somewhere like the Basque Country or Summerset (fruit picking and taking in the harvest) is part of the identity and social activity of the area and this is something that attracted me.”

A forgotten heritage

Although Common Weal Cider is branded as a new venture, the industry it wants to build on is actually as deeply rooted in the North East as the apple trees that have been forgotten.

There is a rich heritage of apple growing in Aberdeenshire with many of the country estates having secret ‘walled gardens’ full of mature apple trees. And while these trees are forgotten they still remain and produce fruit year on year which is sadly left to rot unpicked.

Established apple orchard at Cluny Castle
Apple trees growing on the walls of Haddo Estate, Aberdeenshire

Earlier this year Mr Clapperton arranged for cider expert Gabe Cook, the self-titled ‘ciderologist’, to come to the North East and hold a talk for local cider makers.

With extensive experience in the alcohol industry having previously worked for brands such as Heineken and Weimar Wines, and being based round the traditional cider counties of Somerset and Worcestershire, Gabe was impressed with the quality and taste of the apples here in the North East.

“While the idea that the North East being a hotbed of cider activity was something I might not have advocated until I took this visit up here, having seen the trees growing very healthy and having tasted some of the ciders in the region I see no reason why this part of the world can’t become synonymous with fabulous cider making.”

Gabe Cook (left) examining the apple crop at Cluny Castle

Apple Donations

Common Weal Cider needs apples now. So alongside the planting of apple trees Mr Clapperton wants to see ‘apple donations’ taking place.

“People who have apples in their back gardens rather than just letting them rot in the ground put them to Common Weal Cider let’s turn them into a really nice beverage and on the back of that create a local market.”

Keeping with the tradition of reticence and humility associated with the area Mr Clapperton remains composed in the wake of this potential golden new dawn for the North East.

“It’s a nice idea at the moment but we need donations for it to happen.”

If you wish to donate unused apples get in touch with Neil at neil.clapperton@grampianhousing.co.uk

Delivery of apples can be made to his office: 74 Huntley Street, Aberdeen

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