First, we ask permission. Then, we drill. I remember my mom telling me as we would walk around the forest tapping trees when I was young. The idea that these trees are living, growing beings - not just something we can take from without asking. I know it may seem like an odd concept - to ask a tree for something. It’s about learning to appreciate and respect the trees for the sap they provide us with. Without the maple trees, there would be no maple syrup!
For sap to run in the maple trees, it has to be above freezing temperature during the day, and below it at night. It is this freeze thaw cycle that drives the sap up and down the maples. It’s something that does not last for very long in the early spring. Some seasons are shorter, lasting only a couple of weeks, while others can cycle on and off for up to six weeks. Either way, it’s a short time frame, which leaves no time to waste when the sap is running! At Tapped Out we don't use any vacuum lines in our sap collection process. We use traditional spiles and buckets and only take what the tree is willing to give. Each bucket is hand collected and brought back to the boiling site. We collect sap twice a day, having the sap trail split into two sections – one morning and one evening route.
Maple sap comes out of the tree at 2-3 % sugar content. The best maple syrup is made with the freshest sap. We strive to store sap for no longer than 24 hours. All of our sap is collected by hand and poured into our collecting tank that our old tractor Gertrude carries around the sap trail. Once the sap makes it back to the boiling site, it is time for the boiling to begin. The unique flavours of Tapped Out Small Batch come directly from our cooking process. We cook all of our sap outside over an open fire. This cooking process creates the smokey undertones that can be tasted in our maple syrup. Once lit, the fires burn almost continuously for the season.
So it begins: the sap is in the pans and the fires are lit, now the magic starts. Maple syrup is made by concentrating the sap by reducing the water content. At Tapped Out, the reduction of water content is done solely by evaporation. There are other ways to reduce the content before the boiling begins, but we feel that can compromise the flavour. This is the grueling cycle of the syrup season (but we love it!). During the season, we are constantly collecting sap, adding it to the pans, splitting wood, keeping the fires burning and the sap boiling.
At Tapped Out we cook our syrup in small batches. We add sap to the pans over the course of a few days, and then when the time seems right, we stop and start the final cook down. The timing is never the same, and usually dictated by mother nature through the ebbs and flows of the sap. Most batches average only around 20 litres of maple syrup, which contains almost 900 litres of sap that was evaporated. The sap to syrup ratio is 40:1, but at Tapped Out, we bring our syrup to a much higher sugar content - this results in a much higher sap to syrup ratio, and more flavourful syrup.
When you boil sap, a substance called sugar sand is created. This is essentially mineral that crystallizes during the boiling process. This sugar sand is the main reason why all maple syrup is filtered. We filter on average four times. The main reason for this is to remove as much sugar sand as possible before we do our final filtering through a thick felt filter. The thick felt filter removes the cloudiness that is also present in the syrup. On occasion a very small amount of cloud may settle at the bottom of a finalized bottle, but it does not affect the taste, texture or quality of the maple syrup inside. When filtering, the syrup needs to be at its final sugar content. If filtering is done too early, and the syrup needs to boil more, the filtering process must be restarted. Conventional maple syrup is 66% sugar and Vermont Syrup is 67%. At Tapped Out, we don’t bottle below 68% and have had some batches go as high as 75% sugar content. This high sugar content helps to concentrate the flavours even more.
Once the maple syrup has gone through its final filtering, it is now in its final state, and just needs to be bottled. The most important aspect to bottling is having the maple syrup at the right temperature, which is 182 - 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything below and the maple syrup is no longer sterile, and anything above 200 degrees and sugar sand will start to form again. Re-heating the syrup can take a long time, and the risk of scorching the syrup is very high. This is the final, and most stressful, part of the maple syrup process.
Each bottle of Tapped Out Small Batch is bottled just as this photo shows. Each bottle is filled by hand, and each individual bottle given a final quality check before the labeling and delivery process. This is often the most rewarding part – to see the hard work and passion that finally gets put into the finished product. Each batch always has its own unique colour and flavour, and no batch is ever the same.
After the bottles have cooled, they are then hand labeled and delivered to the amazing stores and people who enjoy it all over the world.
On each label there are three numbers. The first is the batch number, in order of when each batch was made over the season. The second is the brix number, which is the sugar content. Lastly, the bottle number and the number of bottles that were in the batch.
Well there we have it, the Tapped Out process. If you have any questions about how we do things here in the woods please feel free to reach out with them.