For B.F. Clyde of Old Mystic and cider lovers, higher apple prices a challenge

Annette Miner, left, of Old Mystic, owner of B.F. Clyde's Cider Mill in Old Mystic, stops to say hello to a customer waiting in line Monday as she makes apple cider doughnuts. The business opened for the season this weekend. Her twin sister, Susan Steelman, right, of Old Mystic, looks on.
Annette Miner, left, of Old Mystic, owner of B.F. Clyde's Cider Mill in Old Mystic, stops to say hello to a customer waiting in line Monday as she makes apple cider doughnuts. The business opened for the season this weekend. Her twin sister, Susan Steelman, right, of Old Mystic, looks on. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo

Stonington - Annette and Harold Miner, fourth-generation owners of B.F. Clyde's Cider Mill in Old Mystic, figured to get squeezed by the cost of doing business in 2012.

The rising cost of containers, labels and especially fuel oil would surely test them.

But they didn't think they'd have to worry about the supply of apples.

"I thought that would be the least of our challenges," Annette Miner, B.F.'s great-granddaughter, said Monday, as she "sugared" doughnuts. "But it was a very warm winter and the trees blossomed early in March. Then, there was that devastating frost in April."

The freakish conditions took a toll on a U.S. apple crop that was supposed to produce 54 million bins (there are 20 bushels to a bin), Miner said. Now, the crop's expected to yield about 15 million bins.

The result, she said, is that B.F. Clyde's, which imports its apples from growers in New York state's Hudson Valley, faces prices that have risen by 120 percent over last year.

"This is the worst year ever as far as availability goes," said Miner, who's worked in the family business all her life.

At one point, she even contemplated the specter of having to hang out a sign saying, "No juice."

Much to the relief of B.F. Clyde's loyal fans, thousands of whom have offered the Miners encouragement on the landmark mill's Facebook page, it hasn't come to that.

In early August, the Miners informed their customers that B.F. Clyde's growers had doubled their prices over last year and that a hike in the price of cider would be unavoidable.

"We are a small family business that has always prided ourselves in being able to offer a great product that won't break the bank of hardworking families that have been the backbone of our business," the Miners acknowledged on Facebook. "We have held our prices steady for the past 6 or 7 seasons, with no increases at all. … But this year we have no choice."

"Customers have said go ahead and raise prices - just don't close the place," Annette Miner said. "Really, the response on Facebook has been kind of overwhelming. After our first message, we had 6,000 answers in less than 24 hours."

On Monday, the third day of B.F. Clyde's season, a gallon of cider was going for $7.50, up from $6.25 in 2011, a 20 percent increase. Miner said the increase is on the low side. Even New England cider mills that have their own orchards have to deal with smaller crops this year and are raising their prices, she said.

For the Miners, shutting down was never really an option.

The 20 people B.F. Clyde's employs includes 11 family members. Annette Miner's sister, Susan, and two of the Miners' three children work there, as does Annette's mother, Barbara Bucklyn, who "retired" in 1997 but still puts in 40 hours a week. At age 84, Annette's father, Jack "Sugar Daddy" Bucklyn, still sugars doughnuts on weekends.

The mill's Labor Day Weekend exceeded Miner's "wildest expectations," she said Monday night.

Now if the growers can just keep up with the demand.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

IF YOU GO

What: B.F. Clyde's Cider Mill

Where: 129 North Stonington Road, Old Mystic

When: Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily until late December

Demonstrations: Saturdays and Sundays in October, 11a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m.; November, 11 a.m., 1 p.m., weather permitting

Amy Monk of Mystic reaches into a tray of freshly cooked apple cider doughnuts Monday at B.F. Clyde's Cider Mill in Old Mystic. The business opened for the season over the holiday  weekend.
Amy Monk of Mystic reaches into a tray of freshly cooked apple cider doughnuts Monday at B.F. Clyde's Cider Mill in Old Mystic. The business opened for the season over the holiday weekend. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo
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