Cider mills across Michigan will be churning out gallons of the autumn beverage this fall, but it likely will taste a little different and cost more.
The blame is largely the state's devastated apple crop. Farmers lost more than 90 percent of this year's crop because of the extreme spring weather, so cider mills are scavenging for local fruit and tapping Upper Peninsula and out-of-state orchards.
The Dexter Cider Mill, Michigan's oldest continuously operating cider mill is no different.
Located on the banks of the Huron River, the mill lost all its 500 trees this season, leaving owner Richard Koziski of Chelsea and his daughter Nancy Steinhauer to ponder life without cider in Dexter.
"I've never experienced anything like this, at least not to the degree we saw this year," Koziski said.
Determined to keep the mill open, Koziski, a retired Ford Motor Company employee who purchased the mill 26 years ago, reached out to a distributor in western Michigan to supply apples to the farm.
"Right now we're pressing McIntosh, gala, and golden delicious; the cider is becoming quiet sweet because of the properties in the apples," he said.
The limited local supply means higher cider costs for consumers, with Dexter raising prices as much as 15 percent a gallon.
"Being a small family operation, we can absorb some of the cost of paying for the apples, but not all of it," Steinhauer said. "I think our customers understand."
Apples: A fall favorite in Michigan
On any given year, Koziski said the mill attracts upward of 120 visitors a day during the fall season.
"Right now the traffic is quiet, but as the leaves start turning and there is a crispness in the air, we'll see the crowds coming for cider and doughnuts. I expect business will increase in the next week or two," he said.
The mill's popularity has been aided by a barrage of media coverage during the last several years. Most recently it was featured on the cover of American Profile magazine and was also spotlighted in an episode of Will Work for Food on the Food Network.
"We've brought a lot of national exposure to Dexter, which in turn has translated into business not only for us, but for local merchants as well," Koziski said.
For that reason, staying open — especially in a year of adversity — is more important than ever Steinhauer said, noting a trip to the cider mill is a rite of fall for many.
"It's a tradition for thousands of families," she said.
There's also an educational component to the mill as well. The mill was founded in 1886 by a Civil War veteran and has only changed hands three times in its 126-year history.
"All of the equipment is pretty much like it was 100 years ago," Steinhauer said. "A big part of what we do here is educate people. During the regular season, we open the mill up for tours and you can actually see the apple press. Our cider is unpasteurized; we don't want kids thinking that cider comes from the grocery store."
Koziski said it typically takes 1 bushel of apples (150 apples) to produce three gallons of cider.
In addition to cider, Steinhauer, her husband Marty, her children, and her parents spend 15 weeks out of the year preparing delectable apple-based products including apple jelly, apple butter, pies, turnovers, bread, and pasteries. This year the family is debuting its own "Vin & Vigor" apple cider vinegar.
"Our pies and doughnuts are probably two of the biggest sellers next to the cider," she said.
While the mill has had its fair share of setbacks this year, including flood damage from the that ripped the roof off of the building, Steinhauer said she expects a healthy season.
"We're taking it one day at a time," she said. "The biggest thing is that we're here and we're open."
The Dexter Cider Mill is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit www.dextercidermill.com.