An Insider’s Look at Maple Syrup Production

Sugar house with snow
Our rustic sugar shack.

It’s almost impossible to get this quality of syrup any more. Here’s why:

Today, the most easily profitable way to supply syrup to a large population is to automate the processing and remove as many labor costs as possible. We have not done that.

The large producer (which we definitely are not) must deliver their sap to the evaporator with miles of flexible plastic tubing and a vacuum pump. It is of course impossible to eliminate all plastics from modern food processing, but we have always striven to eliminate as much as we possibly can because of concerns about health impacts. So, we carry it by hand, which also allows us to see and discard the occasional low quality, off-tasting sap known in the industry as “bud sap.”

Large producers often use (unsustainable) oil or propane to fire their evaporator. We use wood that we cut sustainably as we do timber-stand improvement on our tree farm. To decrease bottling costs, many producers use plastic bottles or plastic lined cans. We use only glass.

So, call us a throw-back. We’ll never do it any other way. You’ll find “pure” maple syrup quite easily, but you’ll not as easily find syrup that is exceeds the organic standard by eliminating contaminants and low quality sap that are unavoidable when using plastic tubing. We know it’s unrealistic for large producers to do so. We understand that, and real maple syrup – any way it’s produced – is still a lot healthier than the fake stuff. Purchase it comfortably if that’s all you have access to. Ours is just better.

If you do buy some of our syrup, we ask that you try a teaspoon of it all by itself, at room temperature, and notice the flavor notes like you would those of a fine wine.
Prepare to be amazed.

PLASTIC: We want to clarify why we work so hard to eliminate plastic. First, let’s be realistic. It’s essentially impossible to get the impact of plastic out of our diet. When one does use plastics, crosslinked polyethylene (with no UV stabilizer, O2 scavenging or pigment) is the most stable, and least likely to leach anything into the liquids it contains. So, where we do use plastics, that’s what we use (pure polyethylene milk jugs on the tree to capture sap, and in our transfer/storage tank). To be clear: We don’t want to “run down” producers that must use tubing. We just want you to know that there is an alternative if you can get a tubing free producer. We’re concerned about the health impact of plastic in our diets and think we should all eliminate it anywhere we can. Understand that syrup is bottled hot, at least 1800F. We are not willing to put hot liquids in plastic and sell it. So, no matter who you purchase from, buy glass. 

Bud Sap
Bud sap (left) and high quality sap (right) in our upcycled collection jugs. With a tubing system, both saps would be used in syrup making, but we are able to use only the high quality (good tasting) sap.

BUD SAP: This is an off-color sap (normal sap is as clear as mountain spring water) that has components which impart an “off” taste to the sap. It takes attention and sensitive taste buds to pick up on it in finish product, but because we can eliminate it, we do. A common belief is that this sap only appears late in the season, but because we can see all of our sap as it hangs on the tree, we’ve found that some trees give off discolored sap for a day every once in a while, even early in the season, and then after a hard freeze, return to clear sap. We throw it away, which is impossible in pipeline systems, as it was in the old galvanized buckets, where the darkness of the buckets make it impossible to easily see the sap color. 

CARBON FOOTPRINT: The easiest way to reduce carbon footprint is to use wood instead of oil or propane. Next is to reduce boiling time, which can be done with Reverse Osmosis, which concentrates the sap by removing much of the water so there is less to “boil out”. Finally, if you use good forestry practices such that the biomass held per acre is at its maximum, more carbon can be held per acre. We do the latter, but do not use RO as we feel the longer boil time is in-part responsible for our unique flavor profile. Our 50 acres supplies all of the wood we need, simply by selecting for diseased and damaged trees for our firewood. The healthy trees grow faster because we remove the competition. 

Any way you look at it, pure maple syrup, via any production method currently in use, is a great, healthy product compared to other products in our food stream. Buy from anyone confidently. If you get a chance to try syrup produced the way we do, take it. Perhaps do a blind taste comparison. You might like a product other than ours more. Preferences vary. Our commitment to quality never will.

Maple Bottles