Thursday, April 3, 2014

Maple Sap and Maple Syrup

This spring we decided to try our hand at making maple syrup. The west side of the property is loaded with maple trees, some more than 18' in diameter. Last autumn, I marked about 20 sugar maple trees (Acer saccharum) with green paint. Early this spring, I bought a beginners syrup making kit from Anderson's Maple Syrup and additional supplies to tap a total of 10 trees. This kit uses five gallon blue plastic bags for sap collection and 5/16" spiles for tapping.

Beginner's Maple Sap Tapping Kit
On a Sunday morning  in early March, we tapped ten trees. This involves first drilling a 2" hole 5/16" in diameter, 10° below horizontal into the south side of the tree. The tap is pounded into the hole tightly, the sap collection bag is attached to the red-handled holder, and the holder is clipped onto the spile.

Later in the day as temperatures rose well into the 60s, the sap began dripping into the bags, slowly at first. By evening, there was perhaps 1/2 gallon in some of the bags. It got cold on Sunday night, but when the sun came up on Monday and temperatures rose, the sap started flowing much faster and the bags started to fill up quickly.

Full Sap Bag
By about 11 am, the bags contained between 1-4 gallons of sap each, so we pooled the sap into five bags for a total of 12-13 gallons, tied the tops of the bags with wire, and stood the full bags upright in five gallon pails for transport. When we got them back to Columbus, we iced the sap down in a cooler, and on Tuesday morning I made a run to Cabela's for a propane stove and to a kitchen supply store for a 10 quart brazier.

Then comes the boiling down part, which takes forever. Maple sap is about 2% sugar, mostly sucrose. The ratio of maple sap to maple syrup is about 40:1, so that 10 gallons of sap should give one quart of syrup. The reduction needs to be done outside, otherwise the steam will deposit a small coating of sugar onto walls, cabinets, and anything else nearby. So I boiled all Tuesday afternoon and a good part of the day on Wednesday, producing about four quarts of concentrated maple sap. This was filtered and brought inside, to finish on the stove.

Boiling Down Sap
There are two ways to determine when one has sufficiently reduced the sap to syrup. The specific gravity (or density) can be measured with a hydrometer, one of which was included in the above kit and which I inconveniently left in West Virginia. The second method is to accurately monitor the temperature of the sap as it is reduced into syrup. The process is supposed to be complete when the temperature of the syrup is 7 °F above the boiling point of water, adjusted for altitude. This is about 210.5 °F in Columbus, so I continued to reduce the sap until the temperature registered 218 °F. The product was light brown in color and became syrupy when a few drops cooled on a plate. It tasted absolutely fantastic, very sweet with a nice clean maple flavor. I compared the taste with some dark amber syrup we had in the refrigerator, and the commercial syrup tasted burnt compared to the clean, crisp taste of our maple syrup. I filtered the hot syrup into sterilized half-pint canning jars, which sealed on their own as the syrup cooled. Out of about 12-13 gallons of maple sap, I obtained four half-pints, or one quart of pure, 100% natural, homemade maple syrup.

One Pint of Maple Syrup
Finishing the Syrup
At the end of March/beginning of April, temperatures soared into the 70s, and the sap literally flowed from the trees. In this second production process, after reducing probably 15 gallons of sap, as I was finishing of the syrup on the stove I decided that I had not boiled down the first batch sufficiently far, so three half-pints of the first batch were combined with the second batch, and a hydrometer was used to determine the end point of the reduction. The syrup ended up at just over 66% sugar as measured with the hydrometer, and boiled at around 220 °F. It was now a medium brown with a strong, clean maple flavor. The total 2014 production of maple syrup was 2.5 quarts. The pint jar shown above represents the reduction of five gallons of sap. It is delicious.


  1. I guess your farm is on lower dryfork? My friend put a maple sugaring operation on Dryfork
    18800 taps he is in Randolph County
    Mark Bowers President WV Maple Producers Assoc.

  2. Mark,

    Thanks for the comment. Our place is located on the south face of Weiss Knob, just above Red Creek. You can find it on Google Maps. We probably have 100+ sugar maples in an easily accessible area, so if we wanted, we could produce quite a bit of syrup. At this point our "farm" produces food mostly for us and our friends. At some point, it will expand when I'm there full time.

    Best, Rob

    1. Rob,
      We are having a tubing seminar at Dry Fork Maple Works, on Sat. 13th 2014.
      If you ever think you may expand your syrup production this is free seminar,
      We have two reps. from Leader Evaporator Co. coming to lead the seminar.
      If your interested contact me at
      My guess this will be the closest educational event to you ever?
      Mark Bowers cell 540 383 8605