That Time Of Year…

Cold nights, warming days, snowbanks shrinking and longer hours of daylight… Spring is coming, they say…

At my house, that also means sap – maple sap, with which I make a gallon or two of syrup for household use, and with which I also brew at least one maple-influenced beer…

My maple beers go in one of two ways – sometimes I brew something light in color and bitterness to showcase the maple; alternately, I use maple as the base of a rich dark beer. That is the case this year – my last lager of this season is a Baltic Porter, big, sweet, black as night, smooth and delicious.

Maple Baltic Porter, 3 gallons, all-grain


  • 4 gallons condensed maple sap (from 9 gallons fresh)
  • 5 lbs. brown malt (I had Crisp and Simpson’s on hand)
  • 1 lb. Carafa II
  • 1/4 lb. roasted barley
  • 1/4 lb. chocolate malt
  • 1/2 lb. amber candi sugar
  • 1 oz Denali hop pellets (15.4% aa)
  • White Labs Copenhagen Lager yeast (WLP850)
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup for priming


Reduce 9 gallons fresh sap to 4. Crush grains. Mash for 45 minutes at 154°F. Runoff sweet wort (no sparge) and bring to a boil. Add candi sugar. After 15 minutes, add 1/2 oz Denali pellets. Boil 25 more minutes and add remaining Denali pellets. Boil 5 minutes and turn off heat. Chill to 70°F and pitch yeast. Ferment at 65° for eight to ten days. Rack to secondary, lager as close to 40°F as possible for three weeks. Prime with maple syrup and bottle. Condition cool (50 – 55°F) for three weeks.

OG: 1074

Optional: I am aging this brew on rum barrel oak chips in the secondary. Why not?

Lessons Learned

For the second year in a row, I donated a brewing session to a charity auction at the Vermont Law School, sponsored by the Women’s Law Group. This year’s winners, Susan and Kayvon, braved the muddy back roads and joined me this morning to brew a nicely-timed Smoked Maple Märzen, which I will be rolling out as my Oktoberfest in the fall. Susan has brewed before, at the extract and steeping grains level; Kayvon is new to brewing but I think he caught the bug this morning… Great conversation ranging from beer to politics to chickens and cats. It was a pleasure to have them on hand to brew. And I got a delicious chocolate-pecan pie out of the deal!

This was the second brew made with some of the grains I smoked a few weeks ago. Although I was using maple sap, the grains were actually smoked over oak, so I am mixing woods…. The weather has already turned too warm for much more sap to run, I fear, but I have enough sap in storage for the three beers and the mead I will brew with it. I may not be able to make any syrup this year, but I have my priorities!

Märzen/Oktoberfest 2012

5 gallons, all-grain


  • 6 gallons fresh raw maple sap, boiled down to 14 quarts
  • 2 lbs. oak-smoked Munich malt
  • 7-1/2 lbs. pilsner malt
  • 1 lb. 60°L crystal malt
  • 1/2 lb. melanoidin malt
  • 1 oz. Perle hop pellets (@8% aa)
  • 1 oz. Tettnanger hop pellets (@3.5% aa)
  • White Labs German Bock yeast (WLP830)
  • 1 cup maple syrup (for priming)


Crush the grains. Heat condensed sap to 166°F. Dough in and hold mash at 155°F for 60 minutes. Heat 14 quarts water to 168°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 24 quarts sweet wort. Bring to a boil, add 1/2 oz. Perle hops. Boil 30 minutes, add Tettnanger hops. Boil 15 minutes, add remaining 1/2 oz. of Perle hops. Boil 15 minutes (60 total), remove from heat. Chill to 70°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour wort into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment at 60°F for eight to ten days. Rack to secondary, lager cool (45°F) for three months (!). Prime with maple syrup, bottle and condition cool for at least two months.


IBU’s: 30.4

Notes on maple: I have the luxury of being able to tap my own trees and get fresh sap. If you don’t you can approximate the sap for the mash by adding about a pint of maple syrup to 14 quarts of water. The warning I always repeat at this stage: use REAL maple syrup (preferably from Vermont, of course), not the 2% maple flavored corn syrup!

Notes on yeast: I reused the yeast culture from the Doppelbock I brewed in December, built up to a quart of slurry. This is reputed to be the yeast used by Ayinger, who make a fantastic Märzen…

Another note: You too can arrange a brewing session with the Guru – see the link on the home page for info about how to hire me to teach you to brew, or lead a beer tasting session!

More info on Oktoberfest-style beers: see the book “Oktoberfest, Vienna, Märzen” by George Fix – not the best book in the AHA style series, a little too technical and scientific for me, but contains a lot of interesting history and some good recipes…

The Real Deal

I grew up with those maple-flavored corn syrups with folksy names. That’s what we put on our pancakes, French toast, waffles, etc… I remember quite well the first time I tasted 100% real maple syrup. I didn’t like it, frankly, it was too smoky, too sweet, too intense… it just didn’t taste right. I don’t remember when I started using only real syrup, but it was before I moved to Vermont. Since I’ve lived here, which is going on 20 years, I have made my own syrup nearly every year. Since I have also been brewing for 20 years, I suspect that some do-it-yourself part of me must have switched on back then, and I am thankful it did.

I am fortunate to have a fair number of sugar maples on my property, a few of which are ancient, huge and easily accessible. This year I hung six buckets out for sap, and depending on the weather, I hope to get two gallons of syrup, in addition to three brews. Last week I brewed a maple mead, using 9 gallons of sap. Today I used another 6 gallons of sap, and plan on using another 6 next week. Which means that I need to collect about 100 gallons of sap total – 21 for brewing, 80 or more to boil down for syrup… Thus far, I have gathered about 40. Hmm, maybe I need to put in a couple more  taps…

Anyway, today’s brew was designed to showcase the wonders of maple. It’s a fairly light-colored, medium-bodied golden ale, roughly based on the classic Canadian Ale style. The use of fresh sap (although I boiled my down 50% to increase the sweetness and OG) gives the beer a maple base. The addition of syrup in the kettle brings the maple flavor to the fore. It will also be primed in part with maple syrup, just to make sure you know there’s maple in there…

Maple Golden Ale
5 gallons, all grain


  • 6-1/2 lbs. pale malt
  • 1 lb. cara-amber malt
  • 1 lb. toasted pale malt (375° for 15 minutes)
  • 1/2 lb. 20°L crystal malt
  • 1 pt. 100% real maple syrup
  • 1 oz. whole Cluster hops
  • 1/4 oz. whole Willamette hops
  • 3/4 oz. whole Cascade hops
  • White Labs California Ale yeast (WLP001)
  • 1/2 cup corn sugar (for priming)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (for priming)

Toast 1 lb. pale malt. Crush all grains. Heat 15 quarts water (or maple sap) to 165°F. Mash in crushed grains, hold at 152°F for 60 minutes. Heat 13 quarts water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge. Collect 24 quarts sweet wort. Heat to boiling, add maple syrup and Cluster hops. Boil 30 minutes, add Willamette and Cascade hops. Boil 30 more minutes, 60 total, and turn heat off. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour into sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal, ferment at 64°F for 7 – 10 days. Rack to secondary, age cooler (55°F) for 10 – 14 days. Prime with corn sugar and maple syrup, bottle and condition 10 – 14 days.

OG: 1068
IBU’s: guessing around 42 (no idea what my own hops are at…)

Style notes: This is a little stronger than the typical Canadian golden ale, partly because I reduced the sap in half. If you use water or fresh sap instead, your gravity will probably be around 1053 or so.

Notes on sap & syrup: The rule of thumb among sugarmakers is that it takes between 30 and 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup, depending on the weather and the length of the season. My fear is that the weather will get too nice too soon – once the trees start budding and the nights no longer go below freezing, sap flow stops.

If you end up buying syrup to use in this brew, don’t spend a ton on Grade A Fancy – this beer will actually be better with a Grade B Amber or even darker – and the lower the grade of the syrup, the cheaper…