Tapping Sap: Dream Barman William Ward on Making His Own Maple Syrup and the Cocktail it Inspired

Editor’s Note: The holiday issue of Edible Manhattan is just hitting streets as we speak, and in it we include the wonderful recipe for the Winter Warmer from William Ward, the Beverage Director at Marble Lane at Dream Downtown Hotel. A blend of rye, heated milk, Calvados and maple syrup, it’s a perfect hot drink for chilly city afternoons and even chillier evenings, a little like a session eggnog, to borrow the term for easy-drinking from the beer geeks. Better still, the cocktail was inspired by Ward’s family tradition to tap sap on his brother’s New Hampshire land each year. What follows is his own report of the experience, and his cocktail inspiration. You can also read our story, and get his recipe, right here.

At the end of winter when the days start getting longer and the temperatures rise above freezing during the day, trees begin their yearly ritual of sending stored energy to the limbs, branches and buds.  These warm days signal to the trees that Spring is almost at hand, and preparations need to be made to ensure another year of growth.  The energy these trees have been hoarding throughout the long cold winter and is now coursing through their roots comes in the form of sap.  For each of the past 10 years, this temperature swing means one thing: Sugaring Season is upon us.  At which point, plans are made and the brothers Ward (Roger, Tyler and me) migrate to “Terry Burburner’s Sugar Dome” in New Ipswich, New Hampshire to make maple syrup from the sap collected on Tyler’s property.  The land is 9 acres on an eastern facing slope, which provides a great deal of sun exposure for the core temperature of the trees on the property to increase enough so that the sap will flow across the entirety of the property at the same rate.

Before sap can flow however, preparations need to be made to ensure a successful Sugaring Season.  During the middle of winter, when stews are eaten and fires are stoked, the necessary chore of tapping each of the sugar maples in a different location from the previous year must take place.  Additionally, every foot of tubing that runs between these taps and the 1000 gallon cistern are checked for cracks and holes that would keep the flowing sap from making its way to the collection tank at the base of the hill.  This holding tank is in a perfect location on the side of the road and is eventually surrounded by snow pack that has been plowed off the nearby roadway, thereby ensuring that the sap that has been collected will stay fresh.  From this location, we use a sump pump which carries the sap back up the hill to the sugaring house, and into a smaller 100 gallon holding tank which is then fed into the evaporator for boiling.  This evaporator pan sits atop a 55 gallon steel drum which is turned on its side and used as a wood fired furnace.  During the boiling process, it is imperative that a constant temperature is maintained and that a steady flow of fresh sap is sent into the pan to replenish the sap that is evaporating.  Temperatures are taken near the faucet where syrup is eventually drawn off, and once we hit our ideal temperature – and the liquid maintains a certain density (which we measure with our hydrometer) – we have finally made syrup!  The ratio is roughly 30+ gallons of sap for 1 gallon of syrup, so the process takes a very long time but it’s a great chance for our family to catch up, trade recipes and stories, work on jigsaw puzzles, play with the dogs and just take our mind off the stresses of our normal lives.  Wood needs to be chopped, the fire needs to be fed, and we simply wait.  The syrup that is drawn off – one cup at a time – is then held in a pan at 180 degrees until we have enough to begin bottling.  The sanitized bottles and flasks are filled and capped and laid on end until cool.  A natural vacuum seal occurs as the temperature slowly lowers and the product is then ready for storing in a pantry, or basement – if it lasts that long!

The end result is delicious, medium amber pure New Hampshire maple syrup and it serves many purposes.  We use it as gifts for local friends and family in Toronto, Cape Cod and Palo Alto.  My brother donates it to his sons school for use at fundraisers such as pancake breakfasts and for use in the cafeteria.  My wife and I even bottled a special batch as our wedding favor when we were married seven years ago in Wilmington, Vermont.  Obviously, we eat a lot of it too!  We’ve become accustomed to using this liquid gold in many cooking applications including pork roasts, in our coffee and tea, in salad dressings, as a sandwich condiment along with spicy mustard.

It wasn’t until last year that I began tinkering with it as an ingredient in cocktails and beer.  The natural sugars in the syrup make for an ideal use as the fining sugar during the secondary fermentation in beer making.  I did just that when I brewed a batch of Chocolate Maple Porter after last season.  The bitter hop notes were tempered by the maple and the roasted malt brought a nice chocolate flavor and rich color to the beer.  When designing the cocktails here at Marble Lane, I knew I wanted to use my homemade syrup in some of the cocktails on the menu. As with food, a well made cocktail shouldn’t lean too heavily in one direction; not too sweet, not to bitter; not too fruity.


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