Retired chemist takes strain out of cider-making

Turning a hobby or pastime into a commercial concern is the dream of many an aspiring entrepreneur. For one retired industrial chemist, who amassed a string of patents during his career with oil major BP, that transition has become a reality and sales are now beginning to take off.

The inventor has struck a deal which sees the kit being made available via Vigo Presses. Picture: Helen Stewart

Nevin Stewart, a Scot who was raised in Linlithgow and is now based in Guildford, Surrey, is the brains behind a device for homebrew hobbyists to turn surplus apples into cider. His “Juice and Strain” (J&S) kit recently became available via Devon-based Vigo Presses, taking it to a potential global audience through its online presence.

The inventor developed the process with the aid of a couple of neighbours and friends – Nick McDuff and Dick Nevitt – and is hopeful that it can go some way to dealing with the estimated 90 per cent of apples grown in the UK which are ultimately discarded.

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Key to the kit, which sells for just over £200 making it “more competitively priced” than rival solutions, is the combination of a centrifugal juicer and containment and delivery adaptor, with the latter part undertaking the straining. Each kilo of “wonky” apples can yield roughly 600ml of cider. “Whole apples are fed in at one end and clear apple juice, by the demijohn full, is drawn off at the other,” explains Stewart. “It is a clean, easy, efficient and relatively low cost process that is suited for use in a domestic kitchen.”

The inventor faced a number of challenges fine-tuning the system before bringing it to the market, noting that it was developed as an outcome of “a full and frank exchange of views” with his wife in relation to the sticky mess that both juice and then strain was making in their modest-sized kitchen.

“Apple juice was going everywhere including the kitchen walls and the stains are still visible today,” he says. “The ideas leading to the J&S kit were borrowed from well known process engineering practices. What has proved more challenging has been to educate people such that they recognise the key difference between juice and then strain, and J&S.”

To date, Stewart and his potentially revolutionary cider-making kit have featured at a series of public events including charity fundraisers, country shows and cider and general food and drink festivals. He has also garnered publicity through a string of radio interviews and magazine articles.

Since J&S became available to purchase via the internet this summer sales have begun to build, both of the full kit and a “strain only” unit.

Stewart concedes that his target market is not the established, and traditional pulp-and-press cider makers. “They have already invested heavily in their kit and are unlikely to change,” he says. “This means that a new wave of hobbyist cider makers has to be generated. These people would fill a market niche for those wishing to produce tens of gallons of apple juice per season.”

He adds: “Historically, cider making has been regarded as a male dominated preserve. However, I see this changing with the widespread adoption of my J&S innovation. It means that any fit male or female can enjoy the pleasure of using low cost or surplus garden fruit productively to make clear apple juice and cider.

“Homebrew enthusiasts looking to extend their product range into ciders may also be interested. They certainly will already have the skills and experience of sanitising kit and of conducting successful fermentations.”

While Stewart sees the venture as a handy sideline in retirement, he says he would be delighted if it blossomed into a real money-spinner.

“In my time with BP I received some marketing training and I had learnt the importance of ‘influencing the influencer’,” he says. “I was also determined that I would constantly try to crank J&S up to a new higher level with each and every positive development realised.

“In intellectual property terms, there is no patent and a registered trade mark has yet to be granted. My first application in 2013 was rejected on the grounds that Juice and Strain is descriptive of use.

“However, I have been building the brand worldwide and a trade mark based on secondary meaning in language may yet be granted. A registered trade mark could have value for licensing purposes, or to be sold outright.”