The Sweet Story of Wisconsin Maple Syrup Production

The Sweet Story of Wisconsin Maple Syrup Production

Record date: Nov 29, 2017

Ted Simpson, President of the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers Association, discusses how maple syrup is produced and explores the changes science and technology have introduced into the process. Simpson also focuses on the sustainability of the maple forests in Wisconsin.

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Episode Transcript

- Welcome everyone to Wednesday

Nite @ The Lab.

I'm Tom Zinnen,

I work here at

the UW-Madison

Biotechnology Center,

I also work for UW-Extension, Cooperative Extension,

and on behalf of those folks

and our other co-organizers

Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Public Radio,

the Wisconsin

Alumni Association,

and the UW-Madison

Science Alliance.

Thanks again for coming to

Wednesday Nite @ the Lab.

We do this every

Wednesday night,

50 times a year.

Tonight it's my pleasure

to get to introduce to you

Ted Simpson, he's

with the Wisconsin

Maple Syrup

Producers Association,

he was born in Rice Lake,

and as he explained to me,

he wasn't born actually

in the lake, but--


That was his joke.

(Ted murmurs)

It's good.

He went to Bruce High School

up in Rusk County, and then

studied math and computer

science at UW-River Falls.

Then got a Master's Degree

in Education at UW-Stout

and he taught at UW

Baron in Computer Science

and wrote several

textbooks in engineering

and computer science.

The reason he's

here tonight though,

is that his family,

particularly his grandfather

started sugaring in the 1920s,

I think this is going to be

one of the more

interesting and tasty,

perhaps tasteful talks

we've had in a long time.

I look forward to hearing

what Ted has to tell us

about the sweet story

of Wisconsin maple

syrup production.

Please join me in

welcoming Ted Simpson to

Wednesday Nite @ the Lab.

(audience claps)

- Didn't want to

turn it on too early

that you would hear

all my swallowing, ah.

So as Tom explained, I'd

been making maple syrup

ever since I can remember,

at my family's farm.

Currently my brother and I

own Rocky Ridge Sugar Bush,

started by our

grandfather in the 1920s.

It's located out of

Rice Lake, Wisconsin.

There's Rice lake,

and Highway C.

It goes up into the Blue Hills, so we're up in the hills there

out of Rice Lake

and my brother does a

lot of the operation now,

but I'm still involved,

and we have a little website.

If you have any point you

like to check out some

of our little videos and

things we put out there.

But really, the

start of the show,

well maybe Tom.


But I think it's the amazing

maple tree, acer saccharum.

There's like 148 varieties of

this tree throughout the world

and interesting that

the saccharum family

also includes sugar canes.

So maybe it's not surprising

that sugar comes from

these trees as well.

It has a very unique

sap-flow developed mechanism.

A tree like the one

shown in the picture here

is uncommon to have like 20

gallons of sap from this tree

and it can vary a lot by season.

They live up to 400 years,

and we haven't noticed

any real decline

in their life as a

result of tapping them,

so that doesn't seem

to affect them, they've

had them in Vermont.

They've tapped them

for hundreds of years,

and they're still

tapping them.

They have a height

of around 120 feet,

and they can get a

tremendous crown,

that's why they call them

sometimes a sugar bush

because a tree will bush

out, if it's in the open,

and all those leaves of

course, are all, you know,

carbohydrate generators, right, so the more bushy leaves we have

the more sap production

capability that tree has.

You can see that one, is

a real bushy big maple

in the picture.

They live as

little saplings

down on the forest

floor for years,

when you can see the

oaks, the ash, the popple.

But eventually those trees fall,

or get blown down or cut down and then these maples come up

and become the predominant

tree of the forest

as well as the white pine.

Well, there's 140 something

varieties of maple.

We're really interested

in just a few maple trees

that are actually

used in commercial production.

The sugar, or hard maple,

sometimes very similar

relative of it is a black maple,

and these have the

best sugar content

and the most quantity of sap.

And they're a hard wood.

Often times when you see

furniture made of maple,

often times it's the hard

maple that it's made from,

cause it's a hard durable wood.

When we cook that sap

it tends to create

a lighter more

delicately-flavored syrup.

We don't have as many

black maple in Wisconsin.

They tend to be a

little bit further south

and to the west, some.

The red maple, also quite

common in many of our forests,

but it has some less

sugar content in the sap,

being around two

percent, let's say,

and it typically has

less reliable sap flow

with a smaller volume.

So, while a lot of sugar

producers tap red maple,

it's not the preferred tree.

But if it's there

and it's handy,

I'll hang a pail on it,

or hook a tube on it.

We've gotta be careful though,

because they tend

to bud earlier,

and once the buds come out

then you don't get a good

flavored maple syrup.

It's called buddy syrup.

So if you have a lot red

maples in your sugar bush,

you've gotta be careful

that you don't take that sap

after the buds have matured,

or they'll off--

It'll taint your syrup flavor.

Silver maple, very

similar to red,

you're more likely

to find those in town

and as shade trees and so forth,

you probably have

them in your yard.

I know we've got

some in our yard

because they grow fast

and they have a nice top.

Interesting the box elder

tree can also be used

'cause it's actually a

relative of the maple,

and you can make

box elder syrup.

But it's not really maple syrup, a whole different kind of flavor

and it tends to be

darker, and again,

the sap is not as sweet.

One of the challenges we have

is identifying the maples,

especially in the winter

when there's no leaves.

I mean when you

can see the leaf,

you're pretty familiar with

what the maple leaf looks like.

But what about when

we're out here tapping

we've gotta go by the bark.

The hard maple has a

rougher scalier bark,

and the top, you know, tends

to be a little more delicate

in terms of its limbs.

The soft maples and red

maples and silver maples

tend to have more

of a smooth bark.

Sometimes they

actually peel some

because they grow quite fast.

So, it's a little bit

of a challenge at first

but you get to know your trees kind of like recognizing people.

And at first, you know,

beginning sugar makers

it's not uncommon for

them to think well,

this tree hasn't run

any sap what's wrong?

And, you come to me,

well that's an oak tree,

no wonder it's not

running any sap.

You know, it's an ash tree.

It's not a maple tree at all.

Sometimes they can fool you,

but you get to know your trees.

The hard maple,

particularly has this range,

Northeast U.S. and

southern Canada, Quebec

and Ontario, principally.

You can see we're located out

here near the western end,

up here in Minnesota

is kinda the--

oops, I wasn't

supposed to that--

They were gonna tape this

thing shut so I couldn't--

But, okay, and it

goes down to Iowa,

and then into Missouri.

So, the maple, that's

the maple belt,

that's where we make the maple

syrup, for the most part.

They like a variety of soils,

clay, loam, sandy, rocky

soils are all good,

but, the maple does better

if the soil is loose

and not compacted.

So you don't want a like

pasture a sugar bush,

although that used to be done.

Because it packs

down that top soil,

and most of the maple

roots are near the top.

So that really affects

the amount of moisture

and nutrients a tree can get.

The maple likes well-drained

soils for the most part

and they can tolerate

moderate drought.

The soft maples, like

the silver and the red,

can handle more water and

they can have their feet wet.

But the hard maple doesn't

like to have wet feet.

So if it's in a

swampy area, it probably

isn't gonna do very well.

And they have poor

salt tolerance.

So, having a maple

tree along the highway

where they do a lot of salting,

is not going to be

probably as good for it.

Okay, now we've told

you about the tree.

So, what is maple syrup then?

Well for many people,

probably not

Wisconsinites so much,

but for many people it's a

sweet golden brown sweetener

we put on pancakes,

waffles, and French toast.

However, many people are mistaken in terms of thinking

that flavor they get out of

the other syrups is maple.

It's actually a fake maple,

or like maple-ing or some

other artificial flavor.

It's not the real thing.

So, and pure maple syrup,

the flavor is derived

basically by cooking that sap.

And during that heating

and cooking process

is where the flavor

is generated.

Maple sap is a really

product in itself

because it's a natural

mixture of sugars of course,

water, it has minerals,

and a whole organic brew

of amino acids and

other compounds.

And when you cook that,

those things combine

to create that flavor,

and that flavor will

change a little bit from

sugar bush to sugar bush as

well as throughout the year.

We'll talk some more about that.

And of course, little

warning to beware of

what we call the

fake maple syrups,

because one of the things

that our association

is trying to do is work with

the international associations

to make sure

labeling is correct.

So that these big

companies aren't putting

something like maple,

or have a picture of

somebody collecting sap,

and there's nothing maple in it.

So we're trying to

get that outta there.

So, maple syrup's flavor then, comes from this cooking process,

and part of this is the minerals

and so forth from the soil.

The terroir the French call it

in terms of a wine vineyard,

and it's like with maple,

so depending on where the

maple tree is growing,

it'll have a slightly different

flavor to the maple syrup.

And it also varies by season,

and even by year.

Depending on the season

that we're having,

our flavor will be just

a little bit different.

If you were just to take

the water out of the sap,

didn't cook it, you'd have

a very sweet clear liquid,

but you wouldn't recognize

it as maple syrup.

So we gotta cook that

to make that flavor.

And speaking of flavor,

today we have a

new grading system,

and if you're used

to buying maple syrup

you might wonder why they

changed the name of it.

Used to be called "light amber,"

now it's called "golden."

Used to be called "Grade B,"

now it's called "very dark."

So, this is the new

international grading system

that's being used throughout

the U.S. and Canada today.

Prior to the states and Canada

might use different names,

but they wanted to grade

everything, have a common name,

so they finally

came up with this.

Golden is your real light.

It has greater than 75%

light transmittance.

And you'll see some of the

products up here are that way.

Amber is a rich, little

bit darker of syrup.

It has more of a smooth,

caramelized flavor.

"Dark" we call it robust, I

call it the bock of maple.

So it has that stronger flavor, lot of people really like that.

When we have people sample

syrup at our booth at the fair,

or wherever, we find that

half or more of the people

like the dark flavor

as compared to

that really light delicate

flavor, sweet flavor.

Then we have the very

dark, which is our Grade B,

traditionally used more

for cooking and baking

and flavoring foods.

Here you see some examples

of the different grades.

Lighter grades typically

come earlier in the season.

It has to do with

the sap chemistry.

It isn't like we're

doing anything different,

if we just do the same

thing, early in the season

we're gonna get

those golden ambers,

and later in the season

we're gonna get those darks

and eventually very dark,

because the little

enzymes and microbes

are changing the sugar

chemistry slightly,

and breaking down

the sucrose into

what we call invert sugars.

So here's one of our

favorite questions,

is maple syrup healthier?

Yes, it is.

What do you think

I was gonna say.

I didn't come here for nothing.


So according to

most studies it is.

But, why is this true?

Well according to November 13th, if you have Time magazine,

you might have seen the

article on how maple

is taking over pumpkin

spices as one of the

upcoming flavors, and

they said in there

that maple syrup contained

over 40 antioxidants

along with minerals and

other organic compounds,

and that's it's actually

lower in calories

than other sweeteners,

for the same volume.

Actually, our

associations say there's

54 of these compounds

been identified in

studies done in Canada

and by Proctor

University in Vermont.

But still...

Okay, sugar

is sugar, isn't it?

I mean, what's the deal here?

Okay, so I got carried

away with my little study,

I'm not chemist,

but I, you know,

had a little fun with this.

When you get a fruit from a

tree or sap from the tree,

it's primarily a sucrose

sugar that is coming from that

plant organism as

it is in the wild,

so we then take the

apple and eat it.

And the sucrose is

broken down by our bodies

into the fructose and glucose.

Glucose is the blood sugar,

it's the energy source

that our body needs,

and what is absorbed by muscles,

and, as I understand it,

that's kind of the sugar.

If you're diabetic you

measure your blood sugar,

it's a glucose you're measuring.

The fructose on the other hand is processed differently

and it's not as good for us.

Some people say it creates

more fat in the livers,

and just generally

speaking, fructose is not

beneficial to our bodies.

Well, so I put the

little guy up there.

High fructose sugar,

which is corn syrup, right.

I mean, it's got

a lot of fructose

and very little glucose,

so when it comes to sugars,

then we, we'd rather have

more of the glucose sugars,

and less of the fructose, and

that's what we get with maple.

So the sugar quality is

better for our bodies

and has all these other neat

antioxidants and minerals

and organic compounds in it.

This, I thought this

chart was kind of cool.

I'm not gonna go through

all this, but look it,

something like manganese,

95 in maple syrup,

and look at the rest.

I mean it just blows everything

else outta the water.

And then calories,

I guess white sugar's less.

Interestingly enough.

I think that's because

of the glucose,

but anyway, we actually

have less calories.

It's very similar to brown

sugar as you can see.

Okay, we take this information

and the maple syrup industry

then is going to use that

to help market our products.

But before we get

into that, who--

couple questions that

typically come up,

who discovered maple syrup?

Couple of you guys

know that one.

How was it used?

And where does Wisconsin

stand in the production

of maple syrup?

And a little bit about the

roots of Wisconsin's production.

So, as we saw earlier,

maple syrup is unique

to North America and Canada.

No Chinese import options here. They can't make it over there.

They don't get the weather.

They don't have the maple trees.

Originally this was the

main source of sugar

for Native Americans, and

then of course the pioneers.

And as people are learning more,

not only do they like the

flavor of maple syrup better,

but they're finding out

that it's better for them,

we're seeing an

increase in demand,

and part of our job in

industry is to market this

to people so they understand

what maple syrup is.

So where does Wisconsin rank?

First of all you've

got Camden, Quebec,

making like five million, at

least five million pounds.

Although, there was

some kind of hoist,

remember reading about that?

How maple syrup

all of the sudden--

They didn't even know they

were missing for a long time.

They've got so much.

They store it up in

the tundra in barrels

where basically the

ground is frozen right,

so they keep, syrup keeps

indefinitely up there.

So when they have good years

they store extra syrup there,

when they have a poor year,

they bring it back out,

so that they kind

of act as a buffer,

which really helps keep

the price of maple syrup

more stable.

Well, in the US, Vermont

is first, of course.

You know, they

consider themselves

the maple, don't they?

Then we have New York

state, followed by Maine.

And then, when we get past

that, guess who comes up.


(fight song)



I think that's where we rank

in the football standings.


Okay, whoops,

jumped a slide there,

but after Wisconsin,

we have Ohio, Michigan.

Some guys that wear

purple to the west of us,

and they're in that group too.

So, there's a lot of

other states that make--

New Hampshire. So there's, Michigan.

There's a lot of states

that make maple syrup,

but Wisconsin, and

Wisconsin's probably

one of the fastest growing

states in terms of production.

So, you know, maybe we

can knock out Maine there,

one of these places,

um, keep working at it.



Come on guy.

Oh, there we go.

(soft Native flute music)

We're gonna take

it back in time.

A long time ago when the

Native American tribes

were the origin of

maple sugar production

in our state and in our nation.

Sugar maple trees

were almost unlimited

in the original forests,

large maple trees.

So, they had a great

resource for making the sap.

There's main legends that

exist in the Native culture

about maple syrup and

they used to treat it

almost as a sacred item from

the tree, from the Earth.

The manufacture of

sugar was one of

the principle Native

American industries.

The Ojibwe up in the

Northern part of the state.

We have the Menominee,

over in the east.

The Ho-Chunk, all

them, all those tribes

did a lot of maple.

(Native American chanting)

In the early days, of

course, they didn't have

metal buckets to collect sap in.

They had to use

birch bark vessels.

They cooked it by

putting hot stones

into 100-gallon birch

bark tanks I guess.

I wonder how our state

inspectors would think of that,

(laughter) if I was doing that back in the woods.

They probably wouldn't

like it so well.

But, they didn't cook it to syrup, all the way to sugar.

So we're talking here about,

maple sugar kind of production

because how would

you store syrup?

They put the sugar into

little birch bark containers,

and buried in the ground for--

And they kept well for

future use and for trade.

(bird chirping)

There's my cardinal.


Along came the

Europeans in the 1600s,

and one of the things

that really advanced maple

was the iron pot

to cook the sap in.

An observer reported a band

of 1500 Menominee Indians

made over 90 tons of this stuff.

Can you believe it?

That was a major operation.

120 pounds of sugar

per individual,

often used in place

of salt for seasoning

as well as for sweeteners

and it provided

energy in lean times.

Well, the first Europeans

didn't really discover

the use of maple syrup,

it was our French voyagers.

And they found it was a

great source of energy

when they were doing portaging.

They learned this

from the Natives,

and they, you know, began

to produce maple sugar

for that purpose as well.

Then long come the

American pioneers

which used maple syrup as their

main source of sweeteners.

(fiddle music)

Thomas Jefferson called

it a free man's sugar

and considered it an

important trade item

potential for the US.

He is quoted saying, "I will

eat no sugar but maple sugar."

That's the way those

folks worked, right?

It was all or nothing.

He started a maple grove

on his Virginia plantation,

but the weather wasn't

very conductive there

so he never got the

production he'd hoped for.

(fiddle music)

Now settlers moving

west come to Wisconsin,

they find this great resource

of maple trees and things,

and of course, they right

away put that to use

in making syrup for trade and

for their own consumptions.

I think every little farm and

rural area had a maple bush.

(music stops)

So it was a major

source of the sugar.

Cane sugar was very expensive,

or difficult to get,

so they would use this

for their sugar as well as

trading with the Natives.

Most of the sap still is cooked

all the way to solid sugars,

and even up into 1900,

sugar was probably

the major produce

of the maple sap.

Not the syrup that

we're used to today.

It really, syrup started to

take off as we had the advent

of sealed jars and you

could put the syrup in there

and seal it and it would keep.

It was a source of sugar, we

mentioned, for the pioneers.

And as a result,

we did some biking

on the Katy Trail this summer, down in Missouri,

and, encountered

a few different

occurrences of Daniel

Boone, which was

really interesting

to me that he spent

the last 20 years

of his life there.

And, I was reading up

some on it, he would make

over 300 pounds of

sugar each spring.

He actually had a little sugar

house that he cooked it in.

Then he would go up the

Missouri on hunting trips.

He went all the way

up to the Yellowstone

and he would use the sugar

to trade with the Natives

as he went, as well

as for their own use.

And as we mentioned,

Thomas Jefferson

looked at it as a potential

for U.S. trade.

Well, let's take a look

here at the source,

as I skipped one slide

there which was just,

you know, what is maple sap?

And well sap starts

basically in the leaves.

The leaf is this beginning

of this whole process.

Because of photosynthesis,

it's taking that light energy

along with the

carbons and the waters

and it's producing

the carbohydrates.

The maple tree is kind

of unique in that it has

little fibrous straw-like,

porous transfer material,

fibers that can be

used to transfer

the water into carbohydrates

up and down the tree.

So this process is happening

throughout the summer.

And I could tell cause when you

see that tree sitting out here,

it's making maple sap.

It's an amazing process,

and then as we get towards Fall, the process stops.

The chlorophyll, that

was the important piece

of the green leaf that

makes this possible,

production is stopped,

and the natural color

of the leaf is seen.

So we have the beautiful reds and the yellows and the oranges.

Of course, without the

chlorophyll the leaf dies,

drops to the ground,

tree goes into dormancy,

and, you know, conifers kind

of wonder what's going on.

(audience chuckles)

So we go through

the Winter that way.

And then, ahh, Spring!

The sun's out, the day's

longer, we feel the warmth,

and things are starting to melt.

And these fibers

in the maple tree,

because they're hollow,

is that we get that frost,

and the freezing and thawing,

it generates, a vacuum,

and these microscopic

straws then,

move the liquid up the

tree, up to 100 feet,

up a tree, through this

process of the thawing

and the expansion of

those little fibers.

This process is not

totally understood.

But, they have a lot

better handle on it

than they used to,

and you certainly notice

that, as a maple producer,

how much difference

that frost makes.

So, as this water

moves up these fibers

it picks up the carbohydrates

that were stored

throughout the

Summer, and moves them

up into the tree,

into the sapwood.

The sun activates little

microbes and enzymes.

These enzymes break

these carbohydrates

into sucrose sugar essentially,

and give off carbon dioxide.

And these little microbes

are typically active in

a temperature range of around

35 to 40, maybe 45 degrees.

If it gets warmer than that,

they quit.

They don't work when it's warm.

They don't work

when it's too cold.

So they're picky, you know.

They've got their job and they

know what they need to do.

So, during the right

temperature range then,

this tree will be like a

pop can, with 20 pounds

per square inch of

pressure in there.

So any break in the bark,

or a hole that we drill,

the sap gets pushed out.

If we don't get that,

the right conditions,

if it never gets the right

temperature during the day,

or gets too warm, or

doesn't get warm enough,

or it doesn't freeze at night,

and all those kinds of

things make a difference

in whether we get a sap run.

You can put a bicycle tire

pressure pump in the sap hole

and check the

pressure in the tree.

And if it's like under

20, 15-18 pounds,

you won't have much

sap run that day,

but if it starts

getting up there, then,


they'll take off.

Here we see a little sap run,

and the maple sap looks

pretty much just like water.

(bird chirping)

There's my cardinal.

So, you can see it's

running pretty good there.

They can run 150

little drops a minute

without much trouble.

And if this runs throughout the

night it'll fill your pail up.

You'll have a full pail of sap

by the end of the day

or into the night.

Course here, we're

poking a tube on it.

This sap is really quite tasty.

I don't know if you

wanna drink a ton of it,

it may have some other

effects on you, but uh,


maybe get ready

for a colonoscopy.


So, because it has so

many beneficial effects,

it's really equated

to like maple water.

Or excuse me, coconut water.

And we call this maple

water, after that,

and I think one of the,

probably, up and

coming products,

and I don't have it on

the table here today,

is maple water.

Anybody seen that in store?

Keep an eye peeled, in

the next year or two,

as right now, we're in the

process in the industry of

setting up guidelines

and standards

so that maple water will, you

know, what is maple water?

We wanna make sure everybody's

labeling it the same.

But, so this is something I

think you're gonna start seeing

in the near future,

because studies have shown

that people prefer,

it's much more palatable

than like coconut water,

and contains many of the same

healthful kinds of nutrients.

So we'll see.

Okay, how often then, and

when does sap runs occur?

Well, really, sap

can run anytime

there's no leaves

or buds on the tree.

We can have a sap run tomorrow.

We can have it in January under a certain thawing condition,

or February, just

about any month,

but typically in those months you won't get much sap.

And it's really not worth the

effort to try to collect it

and to tap your

trees and so forth.

Under a really strange year

you might get a little sap run.

But the best sap

runs in Wisconsin

occur in March into April.

We're seeing these run

a little bit earlier,

the season's taking in and I

think if you looked at a study

which would be very

interesting to get,

it would find that

we see the sap

runs earlier now

than we used to.

I know my dad used to make

most of the syrup in April,

now we're seeing most of

it at the end of March.

So on a good year we should

get three major sap runs,

and these are separated

by cold spells typically.

Maybe four or five days

of cold weather, a snow,

it's just, people are

ugh, not again, you know.

But if you see a Joe

with a smile on his face,

probably the sap collector, (laughter) because

that means we're

gonna get a new sap run.

And typically we

have three of those

if we have a good season.

How much sap does it take to make a gallon of maple syrup?

I think some of us

were talking about that

before the show today,

and it can vary a lot.

There was a

researcher and proctor

called Professor

Jones, back in 1903,

developed what's

called the Rule of 86.

So if you take the sap test,

how much percent sugars

in the sap divided in 86,

you'll get how many

gallons it's gonna take

to make a gallon of syrup.

So if you have two percent

sugar, it'd take 43 gallons.

Typically hard maples will be two and half to three percent.

Maybe sometimes,

depending on the year,

we may be down around two,

and again, soft

maples will be some less.

So if you had three percent sap,

you're getting closer

to 30, 35 gallons of sap

per gallon of syrup.

Can you make your own syrup?

And has anybody made

their own syrup?

Anybody raise their hand?

A couple people have

made your own syrup.

Great, you just need a

couple maples in a yard,

and maybe some kind of

a little tapping kit.

And you can buy the tapping

kits at any farm supply store

a lot times, Fleet Farm,

Farm and Fleet.

Some of these places will have

these little tapping kits.

Often they come with

a few little bags

and some spouts

that you can tap in

and a drill bit.

So with an electric drill,

and some of these

spouts and a few bags,

you're ready to go,

you're collecting sap.

If nothing else you

could drink it, you know.

But you probably wanna cook it.

I know one guy's collecting,

making wine with it,

and beer, you know,

'cause he uses that

in place of water

as wine and beer

and it's very tasty.

So, a typical tree,

probably can get 10-20 gallons

of sap during the year.

So if you had a few trees,

you'd make yourself

a gallon of syrup.


Got carried away there.

One way to cook it

is in a turkey cooker.

Or in a little flat

pan over a fire.

If you're doing that

though it's better to

take one batch of sap

and cook it down

till it gets close as--

so it doesn't burn,

but cook it down

as far as you can,

save it, take another batch,

cook it down

and combine the two,

and cook them down to syrup.

If you just keep

adding fresh sap

what you're doing is recooking

those sugar molecules

over and over again,

and you start losing

some of the flavor.

You could finish in

the house but be careful

because if you have too

much steam in the house,

something will happen to your plaster or whatever.


Spouse may not like that.

You can use a candy thermometer.

Take our sap to 7.5 degrees

above the boiling point

of water, so it's

around 219, 220 degrees,

you should be able

to then take it off

and put it in a

bottle and seal it.

If you do that when

it's good and hot,

it'll keep indefinitely.

So, what I wanna do

next is talk about

some of the steps.

So you can do this yourself,

or you can have

somebody else do it

and appreciate their efforts.

But there's really four

steps in the process.

It starts with

tapping the trees.

Now, this means you gotta

find the right trees to tap.

And our little fellow

here on the left,

somehow wasn't looking up

and tapped telephone poles.

Didn't get anything out of 'em.

And I, this is kind of dumb,

but I've done this in the woods,

go tap this tree, I'm tapping,

and then come back.

Jeez there's no top on that too,

that thing's dead.

No wonder it didn't

run any sap, you know.

So anyway, look at the

tree tops, make sure

it's a healthy tree,

find good wood,

rotate the tap holes,

and you'll get used to

identifying maple trees.

They kind of all look the

same when you get started

but later you find that they,

they have, you know, you

recognize them easily.

Usually we put one tap in,

but if it's a big

tree over 15 inches,

you could probably put

a couple taps in it.

When would you tap?

We mentioned probably

early mid-March,

depends on your location

and each year can be a

little bit different.

This last year, we sort

of missed some of the boat

because we should have

tapped in February,

up there in Rice Lake area.

But we typically don't have

any luck tapping in February

so we decided to

wait 'til March.

Then we missed

the first sap run.

So, you wanna make

sure you get good wood,

good wood is big, you know,

if you just tap an

old tap or something,

you're not gonna get much.

Rotate the tap holes

around the tree.

Even though it's

typically good to tap,

a lot of people like to

tap on the southeast

side of the tree because it

warms up quicker in the spring.

But, studies have shown

doesn't really matter.

But the main thing that matters

is having a good tap,

a good solid wood,

and electric drills,

(chuckles) has that

been a life saver.

I can barely remember

the old brace and bit.

My grandfather

used it and my dad.

Then we got a chainsaw

with a drill on the end,

he had to lug this

thing around, you know,

and now of course, electric

drills, a couple batteries,

you just get it done quick.

The spiles have changed

from big 7/16th inch,

large spiles, I've

got some up here

you can come look at

later, the 5/16ths today

is very common and

they make little bitty

1/8th inch tap spiles that

you can put in small trees.

So you can tap

today a small tree,

by just drilling a

small hole in it.

You don't have to put a

great big old hole in there.

We've also found that

one of the things

that really ages a sap

hole is when you tap,

put a spout in there

that's not clean,

'cause all kind of little

microbes and stuff on there

and those grow in the sap,

and they close the hole up.

New spiles can increase 10%,

so a lot of people

are buying new plastic

spiles every year and

increasing production.

We mentioned rotating

the tap holes.

Here you can see the tap.

We have a slight

angle, and when you tap

that spile, you

want to be careful,

don't give it a big whack, you'll crack the wood.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, get

it in nice and gentle,

make sure it's in solid

or it'll fall out.

That's disappointing if you have your bucket on the ground.

Okay, we've got

our trees tapped.

We're ready to collect.

It depends on your collection,

how you tapped them.

In the old days,

you had one choice,

the size of your sap bucket.

A lot of people had little one

gallon, 10-quart buckets.

Of course they would run

over right away and

you'd lose a lot of sap.

So, trees can run

three to four gallons of

sap in just several hours,

so you want to make sure

you have a large enough bucket

or you're right on top of it

to collect it when it fills up.

The collection of buckets

is rather labor intensive,

going around and

picking these things up

and lugging around

through the deep snow.

It's not for us older guys.

Also, with buckets, you

gotta take them out,

then the covers out,

pick them up, wash them.

It's a lot of overhead.

They say one man can

gather 500 buckets a day.

Seen some of these operations

have eight or 10 thousand trees.

Think of the team you'd

have to have out there to collect all that.

So, buckets are good if

you have small operations.

The other problem

with buckets is,

you have to get into the

woods with equipment,

four wheelers,

tractors, something that

compresses the soil.

Bags, they're

easier to take out.

You can put a whole

sled full in there

and take them out.

My brother's kind of

ingenious and he drilled

a hole in these PVC pipes

and then put a bag on

with a hose clamp, and

these work pretty slick.

And the bags only cost us

a 10, 15, 20 cents apiece.

The problem is dumping

the bags can be a little

tricky because you got

this big gelatinous

bag and you're trying

to put it into your pail,

and it's easy to spill it.

So, along came sap tubing.

Advantages, reduces labor

in collecting the sap.

Increases the sap

flow, especially if

you put a vacuum on

and you sucked the sap

off the buggers.

By gosh, we're gonna get our sap one way or the other.

And if the tree can't

generate enough pressure

then I'll suck it

out by creating a vacuum

on the sap hole.

It's much faster

to tap these trees

because you got the

spout and everything

sitting right there, you

come up, put the thing in,

tap, walk to the

next one, same thing.

And you don't have to worry

about felling your maples,

because the sap lines are running right by the maples.

You can get people that

don't know a maple from

an oak and they can still

drill a hole in there

and put the tap hole in.

Just make sure they

don't goof the tree up

by drilling too deep, they

should know what they're doing.

The disadvantage is,

of course, the cost

of setting up these

tubing systems.

More difficult to

move around the woods.

You've got to be

on top of tubings.

There's things called

squirrels out there,

rodents, bears,

all kind of stuff,

deer, they knock it

down, limbs fall on it.

You gotta be out walking

your tubing lines.

There's two types of tubing

systems we see today.

The one you see in

the pictures here

are conventional ones

that has mainlines

that we run the mainline

through the woods.

It's this thicker pipe,

and then we connect

onto the mainline the

laterals, and then the lateral

runs up, you can hook

maybe seven or eight

trees onto the lateral line.

Quite a bit of setup to

get this all together.

But once you've got

it, you're a happy guy.

Bears are big troubles.

We've had them chew

holes in mainlines.

They decide to suck the sap out.

They tend to round

up the laterals

and put them in piles,

and I don't they're up to.

I guess they got

nothing better to do.

Interesting, they're

working in the woods.

A new type of tap, this is

kind of a recent development.

This much thinner line

is called 3/16ths,

and you don't use

mainline with this,

you just run this down the hill.

You can run up to 30 or 40 trees

onto one of these,

and because it's thin,

as the sap comes in here, it

creates vacuum by the hill.

You can get over 20 inches

of vacuum at the top

of a 50 or 60 foot hill just

by the weight of the sap.

You don't need to put in

vacuum pumps and things,

and this is great for small

operations that have hills

and trees they want

to tap that way.

If you want to, you

could take all that down,

I suppose if you had

a small operation,

you wouldn't have to

leave it up all year.

We can create

hybrids, here's one.

We've got 3/16ths

in this woods here

running down the hill

and getting around

20 inches of vacuum.


However we did it, we've

got sap at the cook house.

We either lugged it in,

pumped it in,

it ran in,

somehow it got here

and it's sitting in

a tank by our cooker.

Now we gotta make our syrup,

and let's take a

look at this process.

Conventionally, what we

did was boil the hell

out of it, just boil and

cook and cook and cook.

The bigger your

cooker, the better.

In our sugar bush, we

have two 16-foot long

by 5-foot wide

evaporators, they burn

wood like you wouldn't

believe, you'd think

you're running a steam engine.

And here I am

stoking up one of the

evaporators, cooking both rigs.

But you burn a lot of

wood and, you know,

you don't get as much syrup

at the end of the day

as we'd like.

So there's many

changes in the process.

Let's take a look at some

different operations here.

What's going on with this guy.

(Host is fiddling

with computer.)

Come on, wake up.

Oh, there we go.

It went like mad.

You can buy little, bitty

evaporators like this.

I was talking to one of

the producers up here

at Cadott he said,

he was amazed at how

much the hobby market has grown.

So, people cook their

sap inside a turkey cooker.

Here's a big

evaporator, it's called

Continuous Flow

because, you see,

the sap comes in the back

and there's little flues

that drop into that firebox,

which really increases

the surface area, and the

sap starts in the back

and just kind of

works its way forward

as new sap comes in,

so that by the time

you get over to the

other edge, you've got

very rich, almost maple syrup.

And we'll usually

take the temperature,

when it gets up to

the right temperature,

we'll draw it off.

Some of the changes have been

going on with the evaporators.

Fuel Oil is one of the

first big changes.

People started using

fuel oil instead of wood.

That's kind of expensive,

but then again,

it costs time and

money to make firewood.

So it really isn't as

bad as it may seem.

Better efficient flue

pans, steam-aways.

Look at this rig down here.

It's got big steam-away

pans so the steam

comes up and actually

reheats and boils sap

so that we get the most

out of our wood calories.

But probably the

biggest thing today

is this guy, Reverse Osmosis.

Raw sap is pumped

under high pressure

into a membrane.

Then the water molecules

go through the membrane,

but not the sugar,

and minerals and those

kinds of things stay out

so we concentrate the sap

by squeezing the

water out of it.

ROs can take over 80% of

the water out of your sap.

And you can get from 3% sugar

to, like, 18% sugar coming

into your evaporator

on some of the newer ROs.

There's many different sizes.

There's little hobby ROs

for people that maybe

have 100 or 200 taps,

and there's gigantic ones

for people that

have 10,000 taps.

One of the things

that we see changing

is how the ratio between

the evaporator size

and the RO size.

Today, it pays to

have a great big RO

take most of the

water out and a small

evaporator to cook

it enough to get

the flavor and the color,

and then you can process it.

One of the researches

that we're studying is,

how does this high

concentrate sap

effect the flavor

of maple syrup?

Are we getting some

of the same flavors

from the syrup that

we did when we cooked

it right from scratch?

And, you know, I think

some people are on

both sides of the fence here.

So anyway, that's

something that the industry

is concerned about and studying.

How do we know when

the syrup's done?

Well, you can thermometer,

about 220 degrees,

and I'm using kind of what we

have at our elevation and stuff,

this will change depending

on atmospheric pressure,

and again, how high you are

and what you're cooking,

which of course, affects

the atmospheric pressure, doesn't it?

If you want to go

all the way sugar,

take it to 241 on your

candy thermometer.

Then take it out, once

it gets to 241 degrees,

you can beat it, get

the crystals to form,

pour it out into

molds or onto a dish.

So, if you want to make

your own maple sugar at home,

take a cup of maple syrup in

a little pan and cook it up to

that 241 degrees and stir it up,

and you'll be able to pour

it out and make maple sugar.

Hydrometer, as we've

got right here.

This is a hydrometer,

also use this

if you're making beer maybe.

And you put your sap in

and you float it in there,

and when it comes

to the red line

where it's maple syrup,

you know it's done.

You gotta make sure

it's hot, it should

be boiling hot because if

it's cooler it'll be denser

and it'll flow it higher,

so you gotta make sure

you're sampling the hot,

like I am right here,

sampling the syrup

out of the syrup pan

and checking to make

sure that we have

the right density.

I'm more high tech as

using refractometer,

you got to calibrate it

for your temperature,

but then it is a good

way to test your sugar percentage, it'll tell you.

And once you get the 66% sugar,

it's technically maple syrup.

We like to go a

little bit further,

makes it a little thicker

and a little better,

we feel, but if you go too

much, it'll crystallize,

you'll get little sugar crystals

on the bottom of your bottles.

If you know maple

syrup, this is no problem,

but people who don't

say, what's happened

to my maple syrup,

there's little crystals

growing on it, and they

think it's something bad,

but it's just that it's

overly cooked a little bit,

a little bit too sweet.

Okay, fourth step,

filter and bottle.

Here, we see a filter press,

and in the background,

you see the finishing pan.

We take it off the

evaporator by temperature,

we put it in the

finishing pan and cook

it to the exact density

we want, we pump it

through a filter

press, take out all

the sediments, probably

all the good stuff,

and then we put it into

a nice stainless steel

barrel like the boys

are doing down there.

Those guys are all sap

gatherers hoping for a sample.

Then we should grade the syrup,

and Wisconsin is

really encouraging,

we as an association

would like to require

people to grade their

syrup so when you buy

it on the store shelf,

you know whether

or not you're buying

the same syrup you did,

you know, last

time you bought it.

You can usually tell,

if it's in glass,

if it's darker or

lighter, but even then,

that doesn't tell you

the flavor sometimes.

So, you should grade the

syrup, make sure it's labeled.

We put it into

a bottling machine.

If you're a small operator,

you probably have a little

bottling machine like that.

You heat it up to 190

degrees, you keep a real

close eye on the temperature,

because if it drops below 180

and you fill

your bottle, it may not,

it may get some mold spores

in there and it'll mold on you.

You want to keep the

temperature up there.

If you seal that

syrup in a bottle

at around 180 to 190 degrees,

it'll keep for years.

I mean, there's no

issues with that.

You know, a lot of

people, in Wisconsin,

we tend to use more glass

for bottling our syrup,

but a lot of states

put more into plastic.

And I am a little concerned

about longterm storage

of syrup in plastic.

We think it darkens

a little bit.

But, you know, studies

are still being done.

Okay, now let's get some money.

We made the syrup, we've

been out here working,

so how are we gonna sell it?

What are the selling options,

what are the regulations,

and what are some

common products?

Well, one selling

option is to take those

barrels you made and take it

off to the bulk syrup buyers.

Another one is to sell

direct from your farm,

a farm stand, or

maybe sell it online,

or optionally through a store.

But if you're gonna sell through

stores, you need a license.

That means you need to

have an inspection, get the sap,

the syrup license before you

can sell it in the stores.

You can sell limited amount

of bulk syrup to the packers.

Now, these aren't

Green Bay guys because

they don't buy certain barrels,

they buy beer in barrels.


Anyway, so you sell to a packer.

A packer is a person

who basically bottles

maple syrup and distributes it.

We have some large

packers in our state,

and you can find out

packers that are around

you by checking our website.

Here's some of our

standard products,

and I've got those

on the table here.

We've got the syrup in nice gift

bottles for this time of year.

Different kinds of

syrup we'll talk about,

then there's the

maple cream or spread.

We can open that there.

And then, of course, your sugar

candies and all that good stuff.

There's some special

products, we've got

maple mustard, barbecue sauce,

cotton candy, I got

maple root beer up here,

we've got flavored

syrups, cherries,

cranberries, apples,

cinnamon sticks.

The guys are trying

all kinds of stuff.

Organic maple syrup

is catching on.

More and more producers,

you have to go through

kind of a complex process

to get certified organic.

I mean all syrup's

organic, but this way,

you just get certified.

And if you're shipping

syrup into cities and things

where people don't

understand the process,

maybe that's a good thing.

Then one of the ones

that's really catching on

a little bit on the

side market is taking

year-old bourbon

barrels that have

had aged bourbon for 25

years in this barrel,

a nice oak, it's been fired,

and they drain the

barrel and then you put

your maple syrup in there.

Let it age for three or four

months and then bottle it.

Got a really nice flavor, no

alcohol, so it isn't like you're

getting a buzz off this,

but it's just really

nice flavored syrup.

A lot of things

happening in the market.

I mentioned earlier

that maple is replacing

pumpkin spice, and I

have evidence of that,

because I have some

Jelly Belly maple beans.

(laughing) So, there,

you guys can try

some if you want later.

Alcoholic beverages--

by the way,

non-alcoholic beverages are

85% with maple flavoring

like the maple root beer there.

Then you have the alcoholic,

like maple-infused

whiskeys, maple-infused

vodkas are growing.

Microbrews, they're starting

to use maple for making beers.

And I've got a nice bottle

of maple wine that's made.

So there's lots of

different specialty products

and we mentioned

maple water coming.

That might be,

really a big product

if that takes off,

like it has the potential to.

Canada's been

doing a lot of work

in marketing maple syrup

overseas in Europe and Asia.

So, and those

markets are growing.

What are some

concerns for the future?

Climate change, the maple

belt's moving north further.

We're not sure how climate

change, how fast it happens.

How the maple industry

may be affected.

But it is, we're

noticing our seasons

are more random.

We'll have a really good

season and then we'll have

a bad one, a really bad one.

And then you'll have

the season happen early

like in February and

the trees aren't even

hardly ready to run yet

and the weather warmed up.

Vacuum pumps, vacuum systems,

and tubing systems like

this are helping a lot,

because you don't

need the perfect weather

to get a good sap run.

So the big producers that are

sapping several thousand trees,

they can't afford to have

half a crop. They'll go broke.

So with high vacuum,

getting over 20 inches

of vacuum on the sap lines,

it really makes a

difference on bad seasons.

If it's a good season

the gravity guys

gonna make about the

same as a vacuum person.

But the good seasons

happen about once

in three or four years.

So, the vacuum guys can

get pretty consistent

seasons every year.

It doesn't really

take a lot more sap

out of the tree and

the biggest change

we've noticed in some

of the research is

that the surplus

sap of the maple

tends to be used

for seed production.

So, maples seem to do

pretty good with seeds,

so probably not

hurting them too badly.

Another big thing

is invasive insects.

I think the longhorn

Asian beetle

is the biggest threat

that maple producers

encountered in recent history.

And it started out in

Massachusetts, I think.

And they've been able to

keep it pretty well contained.

The good thing about it is that,

when these longhorn

Asian beetles

drill holes in trees and

lay their eggs in the young,

they pretty much stay

in that tree until the

tree starts to die.

Then they move, and they

don't move long distances.

So we can see that a

maple tree's infected,

we can get rid of that tree,

get rid of the Asian beetles.

So if we're on top of woods,

which one thing about

maple producers,

they're out in the woods a lot.

They see if their trees

aren't looking good,

something's happening, so

I think we're, so far,

hoping to keep that contained, but who knows what's next.

Another thing is regulations.

Regulations are,

two-edged swords are good,

but if we're

over-regulate an industry

we can also cause that industry

for that state, to

be less competitive.

So we're, in our Maple

Association, working with the

State Agricultural

Department to make sure

the regulations make sense.

Like for example,

this last year they thought,

the evaporators should

be cleaned after every cooking.

What, did I hear that, what? Please tell me that again.

No, no, you couldn't

clean that great big

rig after every cooking.

You'd go broke.

It costs you all your time,

so there's no need to.

So anyway, the same

with reverse osmosis.

The regulations for

using that equipment.

And we need to work

with the state.

They want to do

good and so do we.

And education is a lot of that.

And that's where our

Association becomes so important

to the industry.

Wisconsin Maple Syrup

Producers Association

promotes maple syrup

production marketing

throughout the state.

Our members are all

sizes of producers.

We have very large producers, several thousand, 10,000 taps

and a lot of producers

with only 120 taps.

But they-- It's funny, some of the people that know the most

about maple are the hobbyists

and the people with the

small number of taps.

They are really on top of it because that's their passion.

It's their hobby,

it's their interest.

We hold annual meetings

and conferences.

We hosted an

international convention

at Green Bay in 2006.

I'll be hosting one

in La Crosse in 2020.

So we'll have producers

from all across the U.S.

And Canada here to

learn about Wisconsin

and our maple syrup

and how things are

in this part of the country.

We work with national


We let people be a

voice to stick up--

People say, "Nobody

listens to me."

Well be a part of

our association,

because as a group,

we can get attention,

we can work through problems.

One of the things

that we're big on

is getting property

tax relief, and we're,

I think, the only two

states in the country where

if you tap maple trees,

not just one or two,

but a reasonable

number, your property

can be treated as

forest ag, and you get

a lot less tax, and

this has caused a lot of

people who are land

owners to say to the

maple producer down the road,

hey, come on over here and

tap my trees, would you?

Because then I can

get a tax break.

We're doing a lot of

promotion for the public.

We have a fall tour,

which is open to the public.

We did it over

in Southwestern Wisconsin

this year, it had

like 100 people.

We went around a couple

maple productions.

We went to a microbrewery.

We had a good time there.

And we saw other

businesses, cheese factories

and things, so we learn

about local industry

as well as maple production.

We do syrup judging in

May, people can bring

their samples in, and

if their syrup is judged

blue ribbon, then

they're able to bid

the syrup through

our state fair booth.

If you come down to Milwaukee,

stop by at our state fair booth

and see what we've got.

We maintain websites

and work to get grants

for education, we're

working right now

so that teachers can get

packets for their schools

so they can show the

kids how to tap trees

and make some maple syrup.

And we're exploring

new marketing methods.

One of the things

we're looking at is some

billboards around the state.

And we'll show you,

I've got a lot of publications,

maps that show

all the producers

in the state, which

we are putting online,

booklets like the "Beginners

Guide to How to Make Syrup."

I've got these here for you

if you'd like one tonight.

So, we do a lot of things

to kind of promote maple.

Here's our website,

Go on there and you'll

learn a lot about maple

as well as our events and things

that are happening

around the state.

How about sustainability?

One of the things we wanted

to talk just briefly about.

We've had trees in

Vermont and other places

tapped for over 100 years and

it has shown no adverse effect.

We've decreased the

size of tap holes.

They used to be like

7/16ths, now we're down

to five or even less.

Because with vacuum,

we don't need a great big hole,

we can suck sap out

of a small hole.

And so, smaller holes

for smaller trees,

vacuum enhances it

without the need--

I mean like, the natives

used to cut a big notch

in the buggers and then put

a stick out to run the sap off.

Here's an interesting

picture of a tree

that's been tapped

for many years.

Sometimes people

in the log industry

don't like sap producers

because they say, "Well,

you're ruining my butt logs."

Well, they found out that

people pay a lot more

for trees that have this

kind of neat pattern.

So, come on in, tap my trees.

Maple forest sustainability.

One of the best

things about maple

is that people take good

care of their trees.

We're out there,

we want our trees

to be healthy and

strong and growing well,

looking for insects and

other kind of problems.

Typically, you can get

60 or 80 taps an acre.

And forest diversity,

we don't want a pure

maple forest, we want to

have ash and oak in there too

and other varieties, because

that creates a healthier forest.

Here's a few

references that I used

during the program,

there's a neat book called

"Sweet Maple," if you

can Google that one,

that's a really

interesting book.

"North American Maple

Syrup Producers Manual"

which is done by the Ohio

State University Extension.

It's very complete and

modern research in there.

There's a neat little booklet on

"Making Maple Syrup in

the USA since 1650,"

which I used to get

some of the information

on the natives and some

of the early settlers.

Of course, that

Time Magazine article,

and how much can we

learn by Google-ing, eh?

A lot of my pictures

and stuff come by

Google-ing different sites.

Some of the product

donations you see here today

come from Roth Sugar

Bush up in Cadott,

Anderson Maple Syrup,

up by Cumberland.

I got some stuff

from our Sugar Bush,

Voltz's provided the maple cream

and some other

stuff, and of course,

Wisconsin Maple Syrup

Producers provided

me with lots of materials.

We take a couple questions,

but one last thing

I want to end with,

because this is kind of interesting technology

called Plantation Maple.

In Proctor, Vermont,

they're saying,

"How can we maybe utilize

some of this land,

"which is no longer

productive agriculturally

"by growing trees?"

It takes, like,

30 to 50 years for

maple tree big enough

to tap conventionally,

so what Dr. Tim Perkins has done

and his assistants, is they

have put maple saplings

in rows, they've

run a wire line like

you would in a vineyard,

and there's a sap

tubing line along there

with a vacuum pump.

They cut off a chunk of

the tree, as you can see here,

and they put a little sap sack

on it and sucked the sap out.

And research has shown

that they've been

able to get more

sap per acre through

this method than

conventionally big trees.

It doesn't kill

that little shrub,

it just grows out and they cut another piece off, and you know,

you trim it just like

you do in a vineyard.

So, who knows,

they're doing research

on it to see if it's really

gonna be a feasible method.

One nice thing about

it is, these little trees

do not need

quite the weather.

They can grow in a

wider range of climate.

They're not as effected

by insects and things,

so he says there's a

potential way to kind of help

the industry as

we go through

some of these challenges.

Okay, what I want to

do now is kind wrap up,

so if you guys

had some questions

and hopefully you

have a lot better idea

today as to the story

of maple and Wisconsin

and where it's going,

what we're doing.

And it's just wonderful to have

such a nice crowd

here, and we hope

that this has been a

worthwhile presentation to you.

Please feel free afterwards

with some questions

and take a look at

some of the products.


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