A night out in the Ship Inn at Elie is to blame for the creation of Lost Orchards cider brand, the outcome was entrepreneur Angus Morrison and fruit farmer Andy Husband deciding to join forces to grow their own Scottish premium cider business.
The vision behind the joint venture was to re-establish Scotland as a major cider producing country.
Andy said: "I had orchards and I was thinking of making cider and it just snowballed from there."
Angus added: "We thought, let's give this a try and it gathered momentum, before you knew it we were down in London having won a gold medal for our product."
Angus started off his business career in retail, having co founded USC, the first multi branded high street retailer in the UK, which was then sold to Sir Tom Hunter in 2005 and since then he has been involved in a variety of different business projects, but growing brands is his speciality.
His Lost Orchards business partner Andy Husband owns East Adamston Farm near Dundee, and, growing up, his summers were spent in the berry fields.
His great-grandfather bought the farm in 1940s, and his father used to grow raspberries.., "I would go with my dad on the bus to Dundee to collect pickers. I considered myself a bit of a nabbler."(Dundonian for a good picker)
Growing different fruit is Andy's passion, he grows 200 acres of it which includes blueberries and also blackcurrant which he supplies to Ribena.
The first apple orchard he planted was with his father in 2012, the idea was to diversify and grow new crops, to then sell the juice locally in farm shops. Initially it was a small scale operation but it has since grown.
He said: "People don't realise that over a hundred years ago this area was quite a big apple producing region."
He trialled growing eight different apple varieties: Katy, a Swedish variety, and Red Windsor, both came out on top. Katy produces a big red apple which grows really well in Scotland.
It is a great juicing apple, with high natural sugars and makes a great modern cider with low tannins which ripens early in September. Andy said: "The juice the Katy apples produce has a fantastic fruity, sweet flavour.”
When the apple trees mature they will be more than five meters (16ft) tall and will be productive for 40 years. Just now the trees are hand picked, but when they are taller and stronger the pair plan to invest in a high tech shaker harvester.
Angus said: "I always had an interest in getting into the drinks industry, and thought if the Japanese can make some of the best whisky in the world, then why couldn't we make some of the best cider in the world."
So the pair approached Bob Chaplin, a veteran cider expert from Hertfordshire to help them produce their Lost Orchards cider.
“We told him we wanted to make a world class premium product and wouldn't compromise on quality over profitability," said Angus.
He helped them produce their original cider which won a gold and best in class in the international cider awards, the first time a debutant had won gold.
Angus believes: “Ultimately if you make the best product in the market place people will buy it, and as long as you don't compromise with what you do, then you will have a successful business at the end of it."
Andy's son Fraser is the fifth generation of the family now involved with the farm and has been learning the art of cider making from Bob.
Fraser had been travelling in New Zealand and had worked in vineyards and, luckily, winemaking is a very similar process.
The apples are harvested, go along a conveyor belt where the bad ones are picked out and then the fruits are washed. They then go through macerator, which mashes them into pulp and through the belt press, which squeezes out every last drop of juice.
Angus explained: “We bought the Rolls Royce of presses from Austria." The apple juice is then pumped into fermentation tanks and champagne yeast is added.
During the fermentation process, all the sugar is turned to alcohol and becomes cider. Any leftover apple pomace waste goes to another local farmer as cow feed.
As 40 per cent of the cider drinks market is made up of fruit flavours, they decided to create a range as well as their award winning original cider; Scottish Red Berries & Lime (strawberries and raspberries), Dark Fruits (blackcurrants and blackberries) and a low alcohol version.
They also supply the original and dark berries in 50 litre kegs, and, apart from lime, all the fruit they use comes from Scotland.
To future-proof the business, they have enlisted three other fruit growers who have joined Lost Orchards as shareholders.
Angus said: “They have not only invested in planting, a total of 5000 trees in the past two years, they have invested in the company as well. That is a big endorsement that they believe in what we are doing."
In 2019 they were primed to launch, primarily to the bar trade when Covid hit, Angus said: "Jings.. the only good thing being we were going from zero to zero.
We didn't have a huge operation at the time so it wasn't going to cause real financial harm." Andy added: “It was tough keeping the faith through lockdown but hopefully we are through it now and we will be ready to go again."
Lost Orchards ciders are now listed with all the major wholesalers in Scotland. Angus said: “We have had a fantastic reaction to the brand. The traceability and provenance is key, so people can trace it right back to the farm.”
They also have plans to expand to produce apple cider vinegar with probiotic, and looking at others drinks categories. They have global aspirations, and plan to take the Lost Orchards concept into the international market, all based on the same model of growing, pressing and producing cider for a local market.
However, the pair are now concentrating on establishing the Lost Orchards brand with lots planned in 2022.
Angus explains: "If the brand value is there, you will win the hearts and minds of the consumer." Increasing brand equity value is also key. “If it is something you personally enjoy yourself and if you make the best product that you are happy with, then you would hope that other people would follow suit.
"We already had one of Scotland's largest established fruit growers with an orchard and the skillset to produce good fruit, so a lot of the hard work was done. Add in the best master cider maker in the world, then you know you are going to make a good product."
Lost Orchards don't use apple concentrates in their pure apple cider, that way they know exactly what they are growing and pressing into it. "We say don't put ice in our cider because we make an effort not to dilute it"
Cider is naturally vegan and gluten free, which is another trend in the marketplace, Angus keeps a close eye on the sector. "It is the premium craft end where all the growth is. We don't want to over claim but right now everything that we have that we sell in Scotland is grown here."
They now have contracts in place with a few English orchards to grow apples for them to supply demand down south.
Angus said: “They have to use the same variety of fresh fruit, which is grown under the stipulation that it is pressed freshly and as long as you stick to the main principals and recipe you can make the same gold medal award winning cider."
They currently have to transport their cider to be bottled down in England, because they can't get the quality bottling done in Scotland at a suitable scale, but in the long term they plan to make this happen closer to home.
Angus is originally from Stromness, on Orkney, he joked: “Where we have one tree and we take it in at night."
His first job was as a council gravedigger. "I enjoyed that, I did that for a year. " Growing up in a small community he said, "gives you a resilience that maybe others don't have, or it might be something in the Orcadian DNA."
After school he studied business at Napier College, then worked for a local sports retailer on Princes street. "I learned my trade, then launched USC in Waverley market with my partner David. I had come to the conclusion very early on that I was unemployable."
Luckily the Lost Orchards business partnership works and Angus added: "I'm only the right arm of this, the left arm is Andy at the farm."