Gears clank and chum as a century-old press drops down on a thick mishmash of apple pomace, filling the brisk autumn air with the sweet aroma that’s been wafting through Clyde’s Cider Mill for more than a century. A fixture along a rustic road in Mystic, Connecticut, Clyde’s has the distinction of being the oldest original steam-powered cider mill in the United States.
In this historic seafaring town with a prominent shipbuilding past, five generations of the Clyde family have made it their mission to continue production of sweet cider, tangy hard cider and apple wines using a process that hasn’t changed since the late 19th century.
“It’s fresh-pressed juice with nothing added to it,” says Amy Monk, mill manager and a fifth-generation family member. “It’s a very proud feeling. My family has been able to keep something going that was once so commonplace.”
It all started when Benjamin Franklin Clyde crushed his first apples on the site in 1881.
The current mill dates back to 1898 and has been continuously in use during fall months ever since. The mill’s 1896 original steam engine continues to power the process. It runs quietly, but why not update it with a new engine? “Because it’s been here so long,” says Monk. “It’s tradition and just wouldn’t be the same without it.”
On any autumn weekend, visitors flock to the mill’s retail store to taste the fresh cider and to purchase it by the gallons. Cider made that day often sells so quickly it doesn’t have time to chill.
From September through December, handpicked apples arrive weekly by the truckloads from New York’s Hudson Valley – up to 70 tons a week during October, the height of the season. Apple varieties include Macintosh, Empire, Ida Reds, Cortland and Red Delicious. “Whatever’s in season and whatever they’re picking,” Monk says. “I particularly like the Red Delicious cider.”
The process begins as the apples bob up and down on a conveyer belt. They are then washed and pass through a grinder. The pomace, or the crushed pulp, drops through a chute onto the press below and is placed between layers of cloth filters. The powerful press exerts 100 tons of pressure, squeezing the juice through the filters and producing up to 500 gallons an hour.
Freshly squeezed cider flows into a steel tank where it is chilled and stored. Hard ciders and apple wines, meanwhile, are fermented – first in a steel tank for four to six weeks, after which the cider is transferred to oak barrels for up to a year. “This year’s sweet cider is next year’s hard cider,” Monk says.
No preservatives are added, but the juice is pasteurized at 165 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds – a process started in 1999. The cider’s taste is not altered because it’s not boiled, Monk says. “If my grandfather can’t taste the difference, then no one can taste the difference,” she says with a laugh.
Monk’s grandfather, Jack Bucklyn, took over the business in 1948 from his grandmother, Abby Clyde, the wife of founder Benjamin Franklin Clyde, who died in 1927.
All about cider
The story of apple cider in America dates back to Colonial days, when cider was one of the most popular alcoholic beverages. It was often more readily available than beer, since apples were plentiful. “Sweet cider wasn’t a common thing because they didn’t have refrigeration,” Monk says. “For the most part, all farmers had small cider presses, and cider was something they could make on their own.”
In addition to traditional hard cider, Clyde’s produces varieties including apple blackberry hard cider, apple raspberry, apple peach, apple cranberry, apple cherry and even spiced apple hard cider. Raisins are added to make what’s called Blackout Hard Cider. Adding raisins makes the cider a little smoother so it’s not as tart.
Monk, whose parents took over the business in 1997, says the Clyde family’s youngest generation is now stepping up to the challenge.
“My kids are the sixth generation, and they love it – they’re working here already,” she says. “My daughter is 8 and runs the cash register. My son is 7 and stocks shelves.
“We started in 1881, and it’s been going ever since. And we’ll keep on going.”
For more information, contact Clyde’s Cider Mill by writing to 129 North Stonington Road, Mystic, CT 06355, or by calling (860) 536-3354.