• Re-imagining Tradition: Small Batch Maple Syrup in Québec.

    When it comes to Québécois, most of us feel that access to real maple syrup is a birthright.  I am not talking about generic pancake syrup;  I am talking about authentic maple syrup derived from sugar maple sap and boiled over flames to render a caramelized nectar of godlike perfection.  Maple syrup is a uniquely North American product and Canada accounts for 85% of annual production on the continent.  Sugar maples are widely distributed across Eastern Canada and New England and the hearty trees are a renewable resource: a healthy sugar maple is capable of producing syrup for up to 100 years.

    In Quebec, we make what is widely considered to be the best maple syrup in the world.  Syrup that is produced here (as per the industry standard) is available in glass containers of all shapes and sizes or in the classic metal cans that are found lining the shelves of most markets and epicurean boutiques across the province.  However in recent years, a few small-batch producers have started taking an old-school, quality-over-quantity approach to the production of – what is arguably – our most coveted gastronomical resource.

    We selected three high-end, small-batch maple syrups to sample and our thoughts on each can be found below:

    La Ferme Älska – Amber Maple Syrup ($20 for 1L)

    Älska Farms is the creation of Gab and Genevieve: a young couple devoted to natural foods and farming.  Using sap from trees on their family farm in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, their syrup is an all-natural product using no additives.  Additionally the couple use reverse-osmosis filters to remove almost 50% of the water content from the sap which – in turn – cuts down on the amount of wood needed to fire the boiler.  Älska means to love, adore or cherish in Swedish; it is clear through their adherence to organic principals and the care shown to their environment that love is in the air, not just the syrup.

    NOTES:  Älska is the sweetest and most liquid of the three syrups we tasted.  Reddish amber and slightly opaque with impressions of vanilla, salted caramel and nougat.  Älska Farms follow organic methods and principles but eschew formal organic certification in order to keep their prices down.  At $20 a litre, they are the most affordable of the syrups we tested.

    Desève – Grande Coulée Gold Maple Syrup ($25 for 500ml)

    Perhaps the most visible small-batch producer currently in the market is Desève (literally “from the maple water”).  This is a dark golden syrup produced on an organic farm that has been making maple syrup for the past 200 years.  Located in a particularly remote part of the Appalachian Mountains, they continue to produce a generations-old recipe in an environment far from urban environmental impact.  Traditional methods are the focus here whether via the use of snowshoes and hand drills during the collection of the maple water, or by using reclaimed fallen wood from the maple groves to heat the kilns.

    NOTES:  Their packaging and branding lean decidedly toward a style reminiscent of single malt whiskies and (not-surprisingly) the flavour profiles do as well.  Rich golden color, with impressions of roasted nuts, chocolate, toffee and molasses.  Well balanced and beautifully presented.  Tip: We opted to remove the flow controller from the bottle as pouring was painfully slow when the syrup was just out of the refrigerator.

    St-Léon Maples – Cuvée de Chez Cousin Louis ($30 for 750ml)

    James Simpkins and Amélie Guay are the duo behind St-Léon Maples.  Being oenophiles (they are both certified sommeliers), James and Amélie hold to the simple yet brilliant notion that syrup – like wine – has site-specific attributes that reflect the unique region (terroir) in which the sugar maples grow.  Their érablière is a single-source operation and – nestled in the mountains of Woburn, Québec between 600 and 800 meters above sea-level – is also one of the highest in elevation in the country.  This pristine environment is where the couple produce their two cuvées while adhering to Ecocert® organic standards.

    NOTES:  Everything about this syrup clearly represents the wine lovers behind it.  The bottle, label and wax seal recall the grand crus of Chablis and Beaujolais, and the flavours offer a pure and refined expression of place and time.  The backbone is clearly that of maple water and the delicate sweetness of the primary ingredient is not lost in the final product.  Light amber / copper in colour.  Subtle notes of sweet almond and candied fruit mingle with silky smooth maple sugar and a hint of wood smoke that makes you think – just for a second – that you’re standing in the maple groves, not sitting at the breakfast table.

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