Turning apples into alcohol: Edmonton pair seeks your excess fruit

A pair of entrepreneurial Edmontonians are hoping to change the way people look at apples, or any other fruits and vegetables growing in our city.

“They’re lining the streets, they’re in our parks, and they’re just going to waste,” Kristin Rhyason said.

Rhyason is the co-founder of Prairie North Cider Co.

“We started seeing a bunch of fruit around the city that was just hanging on trees and going to waste and we started making cider just as a hobby.”

In 2018, the friends turned the hobby into something more. They collected 12,000 pounds of apples.

“We bring them here, we wash them and pick out any ones that are rotting. Then we grind them up and then we press them,” Rhyason said.

They’ll juice just about anything that grows locally.

“We’ve also done pears, plums, rhubarb, sour cherries, black currants.”

But Prairie North isn’t after juice, they want booze.

“You add some yeast, or you can let natural yeast do their work and it will ferment and make an alcoholic drink. You let it age for a while to make sure the flavours are melded and then you have cider,” head cider maker Nathan Smith said.

They hope to process 20,000 pounds of apples in 2019, as they prepare to open a cidery downtown. They’re hopeful they can open a taproom before Christmas featuring seven per cent alcohol ciders, for a price that’s a little more than craft beer.

“We’re not focused on importing all kinds of food we can get elsewhere, because there’s lots of great fruit that grows here that people may not know how to process, or may not even be familiar with how it tastes,” Smith said.

Last year, they picked apples every day from the middle of July to Halloween. But this year they’re trying another method, hoping people will bring unwanted apples to them.

The pair has been accepting donations of apples at their temporary home at 10556 – 155 St. on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.

“A lot of the people that are bringing us donations have actually already make a freezer full of apple things and just don’t know what to do with the rest.”

Smith and Rhyason are especially interested in crab apples, because of their shelf life and sour flavour profile.

Other groups also accept fruit and vegetable donations, including Edmonton’s Food Bank, Meals on Wheels and Operation Fruit Rescue.

Prairie North Cider plans to help Operation Fruit Rescue with a free community cider pressing day on Sept. 8 at 9538 – 107 Ave. NW.

“They have some equipment and we come out with our equipment as well and people can bring their apples and we’ll help them press it and get some juice they can take home,” Smith explained.

The pair also plans to donate to the food bank when they get up and running.

“We are going to be donating a dollar per litre of our cider back to them and taking any apples they can’t use. They often get donations of crab apples or apples that aren’t great for eating.”

As for the leftovers from the pressing process? Smith and Rhyason hope to give the pumice to farmers with pigs, or to people that can compost it.

In the future, they may experiment with making a type of apple juice or even dog biscuits, as they attempt to use the entire fruit.

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