Chasing cider mills

Despite the abundance of cider mills in southeastern Michigan, I can count on one hand the number I’ve visited over the years.

Every fall, I tend to gravitate to two: Franklin Cider Mill and Erwin Orchard in South Lyon. I like Franklin’s historic ambiance (though the crowds can be overwhelming on weekends) and it’s the mill I remember most from childhood. Erwin’s, though far less picturesque, boasts tasty cider and to-die-for pumpkin donuts. You can expect long lines at Erwin’s on weekends, too.

But this year my friend John steered me farther afield, to Alber Orchard & Cider Mill, far off well-traveled roads outside Manchester in Washtenaw County. The long drive along Route 52, past bucolic farms, helped transport us mentally and physically from suburbia to rural Michigan.

Drive too fast down the dirt road and you might miss the small family operation, where a mill has been pressing apples since 1890. It’s a low-key affair at Alber Orchard: A tidy barn houses the mill and counters selling donuts and apples and much else. On the afternoon we visited, a Cajun band played on the lawn outside the farmhouse. We were free to wander the well-kept grounds and the orchard, where the trees were thick with ripening apples, and to enjoy cider and donuts without bumping into throngs of people.

I’m not sure when I’ll make my way back to Alber Orchard, but the mill proved an ideal stopover before exploring nearby hiking trails. And I’m now inspired to visit other less-crowded and far-flung cider mills before the last of the leaves fall.

Greg Tasker
Greg Tasker is Detroit News Arts and Entertainment Editor and has been writing about travel for more than a decade. His travel stories have appeared in AAA Living, Frommer's Budget Travel, Scouting, AMC Outdoors, Vermont Life and Island Life.