Alber's Cider Mill
Sippin' sweet cider in the fall was one of the fancy festivities back when grandmother was a girl, and still is. It is just as American as Thanksgiving Day and pumpkin pie—and every bit as delectable.
The Alber' cider mill, last one in the Manchester area, is still grinding out apples every fall. The farm, owned and operated by Nathan Alber and his son, N. Allen Alber is at 13011 Bethel Church Road, about four and a half miles northeast of Manchester. If the weather stays mild the Albers plan to operate for several weeks in December.
The mill is part of a typical American farm—with a large white frame house—which Michael Alber, Nathan's father built 68 years ago. All of the other buildings are painted red and trimmed with white and neat as wax.
The cider mill was built in 1870 as a barn and converted to a cider mill in 1890. It is part of the 217 acre farm. There are about nine acres of apples with about 300 apple trees, which are graded and sold by the peck and bushel.
Alber will tell you the best cider comes from the presses late in the fall—when the apples are good and cold.
If the apples are good, you can expect about four gallons from bushel (50 pounds). Crates hold more than bushel baskets.
When Michael Alber first had his mill, there were many others in the area. All of the farmers had at least a few apple trees and there was a real demand for cider mills. They first had a steam engine for power for the presses. This gave way to the gasoline engine. And in 1928, when electricity first went through on Bethel Church Road, they immediately changed to electric power.
When Albers grind their own apples—they do custom work, two-pickers in the orchard load the apples for cider on a truck which holds about 200 bushels of apples. They are taken to the mill, where they are put on a conveyor and carried through a water tank and washed. Then they are put in a grinder, which is electrically operated.
The ground apples are carried down a chute to a hydraulic press, where the juice is squeezed out and pumped through a screen. The clear juice runs through a conductor to the mill basement and into waiting barrels.
Alber says the most cider he has processed is about 3,300 gallons a day. The average is about 2,000.
They do a lot of custom grinding for orchards and customers who bring in tons of apples, such as a concern at Michigan Center which sells to the Jackson area.
Work begins at sunup and takes until sundown to complete. Nothing is added to the pure apple juice. The farmer gets back the cider from the apples he brings and Alber can remember when he did it for 2 cents a gallon.