According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., sales of bourbon have soared over 30 percent in the last five years. Now brown spirits are everywhere—even the breakfast table.
In the case of bourbon (which must conform to Federal Standards of Identity) and some other spirits, aging barrels can be used only once. So, a handful of enterprising maple syrup mavens are letting them work their magic a second time, by refilling them with maple syrup. Some syrup producers scour the country for barrels that held choice bourbon, brandy or rum, while others rely on their local distiller.
“We created a relationship with Catoctin Creek Distilling Company in Northern Virginia,” says Ketzirah Lesser, a partner in Langdon Wood Barrel-Aged Maple Syrup. “It’s a great secondary market for their barrels. And they also sell our syrup, so it’s a reciprocal relationship.”
The vanilla, oaky, and boozy flavors within the barrels make a great complement for the sweetness of maple syrup. And, depending on how much flavor influence they desire, producers let their syrup rest in barrels anywhere from a few months to a few years, often tasting as they go, or blending different barrels together.
To coax out their flavors, I warmed these barrel-aged syrups to a nice pancake topper temperature and tasted them the same way I take my whiskey, neat from a brandy snifter. According to Lesser, there’s a better chance of going into sugar shock than catching a buzz, since the syrups never exceed 1-2 percent alcohol.
Don’t believe that everything tastes better from a barrel? Here’s the proof.
Crown Maple Syrup Bourbon Barrel Aged: $20
What is it: Organic maple syrup from sustainably managed farmland in the Hudson River Valley, concentrated using reverse osmosis (as opposed to traditional simmering) before aging in bourbon barrels
Tastes like: This is delicate and pure, incredibly bright, fragrant, fruity, and grassy. The golden molasses notes and generous booziness (up to 2 percent alcohol) make this like biting into a rum bundt cake.
Buy it: crownmaple.com
Burton’s Maplewood Farm Brandy Barrel Aged: $35
What is it: Indiana maple syrup aged for three years in 65-gallon Hungarian oak casks that held Starlight Distillery brandy
Tastes like: Complex and richly layered with oak and brandied fruit, like figs, sultanas, and cherries. After the chewy fruit and cognac notes, the finish is so balanced and pleasantly dry, you could sip it from a snifter, like I did.
Buy it: burtonsmaplewoodfarm.com
Blis 10th Anniversary Smoke Cuvée Pure Maple Syrup: $30
What is it: Grade A amber syrup aged for 18 months in 24 year-old single barrel bourbon casks and smoked over Michigan cherry wood
Tastes like: Intense campfire aromas waft over the underlying sweetness, offering a savory taste of smoked meats, like sausage bathed in syrup. The finish delivers butterscotch and a pleasant hint of smoky bitterness.
Buy it: blisgourmet.com
Langdon Wood Barrel-aged Maple Syrup: $20
What it is: Pennsylvania maple syrup aged in rye whiskey barrels from Catoctin Creek Distilling Company in Northern Virginia
Tastes like: The aroma offers caramel and nutty notes, smacking of Bit-O-Honey candy, while the palate has a piercing sweetness loaded with vanilla extract, finishing with biscuit and toasty oak notes.
Buy it: langdonwood.com
Burton’s Maplewood Farm Rum Barrel Aged: $35
What it is: Indiana maple syrup aged in rum barrels from Breckenridge Distillery in Colorado
Tastes like: Distinct oaky and toasty aromas, and sweet smells of grilled pound cake. The flavors include intense vanilla and a bold, lingering finish reminiscent of Bacardi and Coke.
Buy it: burtonsmaplewoodfarm.com