The trees are tapped, and the sugar shacks are hopping with activity. It’s maple season in Canada! Yes, there is a maple season, and yes, it’s as Canadian as it sounds.
The history of maple syrup goes back to 1606 when the Mi’kmaq would gather and distill sap from the trees and then later use the maple sugar in a myriad of applications like the preservation of meat (hello maple ham!). This is an art they would show to European settlers in later years.
Today Canada is the largest producer of maple syrup, responsible for a whopping 85 per cent of the world’s stocks, and it should be noted that the majority of maple syrup is still produced by family farms with the trees being tapped by hand.
Naturally, Canadians have taken the essence of maple syrup and infused it into everything from hand soap to spirits. In the past maple spirits have been saccharine sweet, lacking any real depth or usefulness. But there are a few distillers who have transformed our county’s liquid gold (or amber I suppose) into delicious, cocktail worthy booze. Here is a shortlist of Canadian maple spirits that don’t suck.
Les Subversifs Réduit Leo, Sore-Tracy, QC
Two things we never would have conceived coming together are maple syrup and gin, but in actual practice, these two are a beautiful compliment to each other. Les Subversifs is one of the best known craft distilleries in Quebec and their Marie Victorin Gin is one of the first craft gin’s ever produced in the province.
To create their Réduit Leo they take fresh run maple sap and while sugaring off the sap, add gin to the batch. The result is a spirit with classic notes of juniper, coriander and orange with sweet notes of burnt sugar and maple syrup. This is amazing in a Negroni, adding a warm depth to this classic cocktail.
Park Maple Rye, Banff, AB
Park Distillery is located in the idyllic mountain town of Banff where they use fresh, glacier fed water in each of their distillations. Their rye is made from grain sourced among the foothills in Alberta, and is considered to be some of the best rye grain in the world.
After distillation the spirit is infused with maple syrup from a family run farm in Quebec. The result is more of a liqueur than spirit, while still coming in at a boozy 30 per cent abv. Enjoy this poured over a big cube of ice or use in a Manhattan alongside a generous splash of Bourbon.
Kinsip Maple Whisky, Prince Edward County, ON
Kinsip is Prince Edward County’s only craft distillery following a true grain-to-glass approach with each of their spirits fermented, distilled and aged on site in their family-owned operation. For those of you who wish to dabble in maple flavours but want to avoid a full blown sweet attack, maple is not the star of this offering, and instead does an excellent job in a supporting role.
Kinsip has a close relationship with Nyman Farms, a maple producer in The County, and they age their spirit in old syrup barrels. The finished product is warm on the palate with a sweet alcohol burn and notes of toasted cereal, dried apricot and sweet and smoky notes of, you guessed it, maple syrup. Serve neat or mix up into a Whisky Sour!
Ironworks Maple Rum Cream Liqueur, Lunenberg, NS
We would be remiss in putting together a list of maple spirits and not including an indulgent, creamy confection for you. But the beauty of Ironworks Maple Rum Cream is that it manages to be all those things without tasting artificial or overly confected.
Made by taking the distilleries Maple Rum and adding Nova Scotian maple syrup and fresh cream, the final product is nothing short of delicious. The classic application for this is in your Saturday morning coffee, and it hits especially well this time of year with the crisp morning air of Spring.