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

Ingredients:

  • 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)

Procedure:
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…

3 Replies to “The Real Deal”

  1. I was wondering if you could tell me what the gravity of the sap was after you reduced it. I work at a sugar house which has a reverse osmosis machine that can raise the gravity without the time (and propane) consuming boil. With your results in mind, I could probably get pretty close to that with just the RO machine.

    1. As I recall, David, it was about 1020 – 25 after reducing… I would wonder, however, if the RO process would develop the characteristic maple flavors as well in this kind of a brew? I’ve always understood that it’s the caramelization by heat that really produces the desired color and sugar… Perhaps using RO and then later boiling works in the sugar house, but in order to get a maple flavor in a beer or mead, it seems to me a boil and its accompanying caramelization would be preferable… Just my perspective, you’d probably know better than I!

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