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More bourbon barrel aged maple syrup

Dave Klish

This week I will bottle more bourbon barrel aged maple syrup. This will help us stay in stock on it for the upcoming Christmas sales. In the last few seasons this has proven to be a great gift item.

My process for this product starts with fresh table grade maple syrup, it is then heated to 200-210F, filtered and pumped into a recently emptied bourbon barrel, generally a 10 or 15 gal barrel. While the barrel has been drained there is still plenty of the bourbon that is captured in the char inside the oak barrel. That char is what gives the bourbon it’s color. Once filled the barrel sets while the maple syrup takes on a tasty amount of the bourbon flavor, it takes several months to finish getting GREAT. Once done aging it is then pumped out of the bourbon barrel and into my finisher (a 2′ x 6′ propane fired Stainless Steel pan). In there the bourbon barrel aged maple syrup is heated to 190-200F and left to set a day or 2. Then it is reheated, filtered and sent to the water jacketed bottler. The water jacketed bottler has a large inner tank with a surrounding tank which is full of water. An electric heating element keeps the water at 186+/- 1 degree F which in turn keeps the syrup at the same temperature. In there the syrup is held heated for at least 16 hrs. The purpose of heating the syrup and holding it these times is to boil off any alcohol that may be in the syrup. That is needed because I do not have a license to sell alcohol, nor will I get one. Next comes the bottling, I bottle the bourbon barrel aged maple syrup in 2 size bottles, a 200ml (6.76 fl oz) and a 375ml (12.7 fl oz) glass flask type bottles. I then wax seal the caps so they are tamper proof, and besides it looks good.

I then sell the bourbon barrel aged maple syrup in single bottles as well as in full cases. The 200ml is 24 in a case while the 375ml is 12 in a case. A few customers have bought the full case for the price savings, especially as Christmas gift giving gets near.

Since I first packed my first bourbon barrel aged maple syrup in the summer of 2017, it has been a winner. In fact, in 2019 bourbon barrel aged syrup sales accounted for more than half of my sales dollar wise. It looks like the % of sales are running about the same balance between table grade pure maple syrup and the bourbon barrel aged maple syrup again in 2020. I will not know for sure until Jan which sold more. Right now pure maple syrup is ahead but Christmas sales have proven to change that in Nov and early December the last 2 years.

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More Amber syrup has been bottled

Dave Klish

After a few more delays I finished packing more Amber syrup today. The newly added stock has been updated in the inventories shown in the store. Thank you for your patience.

It was a struggle for sure. I started to do it last Friday. While washing the equipment my propane ran out. Long story short, I was trying to empty the bulk tank and planned to switch suppliers. Arrangements were made. Unfortunately the new bulk tanks won’t be set in place and filled until 9/21. I then decided to move the nearly full tank I had at my permanently parked RV on site. I unhooked that, put a sling on it and moved that tank to the sugarhouse and hooked it up. The old supplier will be called about 9/17 to pump out and remove both tanks, the full one and the empty one, but only if the forecast does not call for a possible freeze. While unlikely, it would not be the earliest first freeze. If any risk of a freeze I’d wait to call them and I’d unhook the full one, lift it again using my tractor on the day of the new one being hooked up. I have one room in the sugarhouse that houses my reverse osmosis (RO) which must not freeze. While the tanks are bulk tanks, both are only about 4′ tall and stand upright. They are labeled as being 57 gal tanks, but that is the 100% full capacity, they only get filled to 80% max. or about 45 gal.

While I’m not low yet, my next product to bottle will be my next batch of bourbon barrel aged maple syrup. That will be needed for Christmas sales. I will likely do that a day or 2 early next week, even before my tanks get changed.

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I ran out of Propane

Dave Klish

I was getting started heating my next batch to pack some Amber syrup. As I was washing equipment the temperature of the hot water from the tankless (instant) water heater dropped. I immediately went to check the gauge on the bulk propane tank, it was at zero. Normally I never let it get below 30% in cold weather and 20% in summer, but I was trying to empty the tank because I’m in the process of switching suppliers. It just happened at a time when I have to wait until after the Labor Day holiday. The tank actually ran empty at a rather good time because the barrel of syrup in the finisher will be fine for a few days because I got the finisher cleaned before the propane ran out. I will call the old supplier and have them pick up their tank(s) and have the new supplier place their tank and fill it. Hopefully they can do it Tuesday or Wednesday. If it will take longer than that I do have a second bulk tank that is almost full which I could unhook from what it’s hooked to, carry it with a lifting sling using the tractor and set it up on the sugarhouse. That tank is from the old supplier and it will also be leaving and the new supplier will then set both up.

The reason I’m changing is two fold, first the price coupled with the fact that I keep telling the old supplier not to fill the tank unless I order it (I keep a close eye on the propane gauge except this time because of changing suppliers). They said ok, but still filled it at times when I didn’t want that large bill to pay. The second reason is simply that the new supplier I chose will only deliver when I order and I get their best price if I pay COD, the old supplier insisted on billing and didn’t offer a savings even if I was at the sugarhouse when they filled the tank and had my checkbook with me. I don’t normally carry my checkbook unless I plan on making a purchase and with them showing up unannounced I likely never had it with me.

My propane uses at the sugarhouse include the finisher which has four 6′ long tube burners, a wall furnace to heat 1 small room where my reverse osmosis (RO) is kept, it must be protected from freezing and my tankless instant water heater. Before I bought my water jacketed (WJ) bottler, which is electric, I also used to have a propane bottler. That was hard to maintain the exact temperature and thus made it difficult to always get the syrup to finish perfectly, the WJ bottler holds the temperature exactly where the thermostat is set +/- 1 degree F. The propane bottler used to be heated to about 190 F and turned off, then while busy bottling I had to keep an eye on the thermometer, when the temperature fell to 182 F I had to stop bottling, light the burner and if there was 4+ gal of syrup remaining in the tank (it held about 18 gal when full) I could bottle while it heated and watch the gauge after each new bottle or jug was filled, then turn the burner off as it go to 190. If there was less syrup in the tank I had to wait and watch while it heated because it could heat fast enough to get above 190 easily if not monitored closely. The WJ bottler removes that problem, and besides, when heating with a large burner (similar to a gas grill burner the heat could easily get too hot directly over the flame before the thermostat showed it was hot enough, with the WJ bottler, there is an outer tank full of water and a 240V electric 4500 watt element which heats the water. The syrup is in the inner tank, heated only by the hot water in the outer tank, thus no direct flame to cause issues. Besides, I have enough solar that I make more energy than I consume except for the months with the shortest days. The other months my excess power is credited to my home bill at a different location. I think my total electric bill for what I used above what the solar generated has not totaled $100 if I add all years since Nov 2012 when my solar was connected.

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Finally I got temperatures I could pack syrup in

Dave Klish

I was finally able to pack a good supply of dark syrup, my best seller by far. It took 5 days, but it is finally done. The reason for 5 days is because even with outside temperatures in the mid 70’s, it gets up to 95-100 in the sugarhouse when I pack syrup, 95-100 does not agree with me so I just do it in stages. One morning re-wash the finisher, mix tank, filter and bottler, then I pump the syrup into the 2′ x 6′ finisher. The next morning I heated it to about 160F and tested it for grade (the amount of light that passes thru a sample cuvette, (a round glass vial that is used in a test instrument to measure the amount of light that passes thru the sample). This time it was too near the low end of the scale to be Dark and since syrup gets a little darker each time it is heated I needed to make it lighter. I then opened a barrel of Amber syrup and blended in about 10 gal of amber which lightened the blend 12 points, perfect. The blend was then in the middle of the scale for dark syrup. The next morning I heated the blend, filtered it as it was pumped into the bottler. Then I brought the first 18 gal (the capacity of the bottler) up to 185 F for bottling. When that was finished the temperature in the sugarhouse was at 96F and it was real muggy, I finished labeling and went home for the day. The next day I pumped the next batch into the bottler and repeated the process, when finished it was 97 in the sugarhouse, I again went home.

The next day (yesterday) I had 14 gal more to process, I finished the hot part about 10 a.m. and then labeled the jugs. It had taken me 5 days, a process that takes me 1 or 2 days when the outside temperature is below 60F and when I have help, in cool weather just 1 day. With Covid-19 this year I am doing it all solo to minimize any risk of getting covid myself.

Jugs, seem to be an issue. In June I tried to get 4 cases of half gal jugs and 2 cases of qts, the supplier only had 1 case of each. This had never happened before. I bought them and held off bottling because of hot weather, my 2 coolers were still well stocked. About 9-10 days ago I tried to get more half gallon jugs because the forecast called for temperatures I could bottle in, they still had no jugs. I originally thought it just a Covid issue, I’m now wondering if that vendor might be getting ready to retire. At any rate, I bought another brand jug but as stated above, the half gallon size is a bad dimension for shipping. I had just 64 of the good for shipping jugs, the rest I bought will be used at my one retail outlet. I also had one local farmer who asked if I wanted to put some syrup at their farm stand, I may put some there too, it will help their sales and I’ll get another outlet. Maybe not needed so much this year but will be needed next year because I will then have more taps and the land owner from my recently retired lease will be selling me his sap, (he retires in December). I will then have far more syrup to sell.

I may need to think about putting AC into the sugarhouse, for use just when bottling in hot weather. I think an 8000 or 10,000 BTU unit would be fine ad I have the power to run it. Just thinking for now. I do own a 9000 BTU roll around unit, maybe I’ll try that. The issue is space, I’d need to shorten a counter top to fit it without blocking an aisle in the sugarhouse, a window mount type would not need that space even though if I go that route it would be wall mounted not window, my windows are all sliders and don’t accommodate an AC.

I need to figure what I’ll do for half gallon jugs, either another vendor who carries the brand I like, or I could go back to the brand I used to use, their HG jugs ship well, or find a way to get a good shipping rate for the new brand I got that does not fit in a medium flat rate box.

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Cooler temperatures

Dave Klish

Finally we got some cooler weather and the next week will mostly be cooler. With the cooler weather, I hauled a barrel of dark syrup and a barrel of amber syrup to the sugarhouse from my storage barn. I pumped the dark into the finisher yesterday. I noted it is near the change between dark and very dark. I will add some amber to the finisher to lighten the blend. That will be either Sunday or Monday because those days will be the coolest in the forecast. The reason I add the amber is because every time syrup is heated and cools it becomes a little darker, without adding some amber the dark would darken enough to end up as very dark, which is a poor selling grade, dark is my best.

At the latest, on Monday 8/31/2020 I will have more dark in stock and by 9/1/2020 I will get counts and reflect some of the new inventory in my online store. The rest will be used for my local retail outlet and for my sales from home. A day or two after I pack the dark I will pack more amber and will also reflect that in my store inventory.

My next thing to pack after that is my next batch of bourbon barrel aged maple syrup, getting ready for the Christmas sales which have been very good since I added bourbon barrel aged maple syrup to my product line.

Other things in the works:

#1. Remove the sprayer from my tractor. It is used to spray my blueberries, and that season is over. I already winterized the sprayer, I just need to remove it from the tractor.

#2. I need to finish my firewood for the 2021 season. The logs have been down for 3-6 years, I just need to buck them to 21″ lengths and split them to wrist size.

#3. Then I’ll be repairing maple lines. Between the trees and limbs that fall and take the tubing down I always have to clean up and repair any damages.

#4. Next I plan to add up to a maximum of 50-100 more taps in sections not yet tapped on my sugarhouse property. Any additional taps will get routed so the sap flows directly to the sugarhouse, like all of my existing taps.

#5. I may ask one neighbor if I can tap some of her maples. If I get that permission that sap would also be routed to the sugarhouse. She has enough for at least 50 more taps, but I will need her permission. When I tap trees owned by others I pay the landowner a per tap rate every year.

#6. Last but not least, somewhere in all of the above I’ll need to educate the landowner from my last lease, that landowner retires in December. He said he wants to tap the trees I used to tap and sell the sap. I will likely get much of that sap too. That would bring my taps to boil from up to well over 1000, maybe as many as 1400-1500 taps.

#7. If I do get near 1200 or more taps I’ll need to add another R.O. I already have the membranes and the pressure vessels, I would need a pressure pump, a feed pump, and the high pressure hoses , gauges, wash tank and valves. With that I could handle 1500 taps OK. If I don’t get another R.O. I’d sell my existing R.O. and buy a bigger one. If I go that route, I’d need to build a bigger heated R.O. room. (for those who don’t know, an R.O is short for reverse osmosis. It is really a super filter, it removes pure water from the sap. Sap can start with 1-3.5% sugar in it, the R.O. , by removing water can take the sugar up to 12-14% which reduces the time and firewood needed to concentrate the sap by boiling to end up as pure maple syrup. Any R.O. I’d either build or buy would only concentrate to 14, maybe 16 or 18%, R.O. s are out there that will even concentrate to 35%, but they are far too big and expensive for my to ever get.