It is sap season, why not make birch syrup, too?

Birch trees can be tapped for syrup, as well as maple, but it is more work.

Birch trees can be tapped for syrup, as well as maple, but it is more work.

Making birch syrup has been on my to-do list for years. I am fond of birch-flavored beverages and am out there tapping maple trees each year as winter turns to spring. Birch sap runs right after maple sap is finishing. It just seemed like a natural fit.

I really wanted to tap yellow birch, as that is the source of our chaga, and getting multiple gifts from the same species has a pleasing completeness to it, but we have far more paper birch. Somehow every year the birch trees leafed out, and I wondered how I had missed it again, and vowed: “Next year I will be ready to get that sap…”

My husband was always a bit depleted after hauling all the wood required to keep our maple sap boiler going, and never expressed much enthusiasm for starting yet another sap rendering project. That may be another reason it just never happened.

After a conversation with a friend, I knew this year would be different. One of us said, “I’ve always wanted to try birch…” and before the sentence was complete the other was excitedly saying, “yes, yes yes!” I am not sure which of us is to blame for bringing it up. She has a daughter in Alaska and had gotten small souvenir bottles of Alaskan birch syrup. I spent some time in Iceland, and have been tearing through NORTH, The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland, by Gunnar Karl Gíslason and Jody Eddy. Birch syrup figures in several recipes.

I became giddy with the idea of making and selling this syrup, and had images of minimal bark patterned labels, slick modern bottles and started creating a list of outlets in my head. Who wouldn’t want a small bottle of Maine birch syrup as a souvenir? A little research and it turns out a few people are beginning to make and market it, which helps raise awareness. The more the makers, the more the interest.

We have much of the equipment from our maple syrup making, and we have the trees. Out the window I see the snow looking grainy, wet, and heavy. The temperatures have already been good for tapping maples. Time to gear up.

Visions of stocking the shelves of the gift stores around Acadia National Park began to fade, however, as we learned how the process the varies from making maple syrup. We tap primarily red maples, and it takes 42 gallons of sap to yield one gallon of syrup. Sugar maples have a higher sugar content, must be how they got that name, and it only takes 40 gallons of sap to produce a gallon of syrup. To get a gallon of birch syrup, are you ready, you will need over 100 gallons of sap.

Boiling maple sap down is a tradition for us, we love sitting around the fire, watching the steam billow the water from the sap, but it can seem a long process. With birch syrup, boiling will scorch and caramelize the sugars. This temperamental syrup needs to be simmered over a longer period of time. What, I will need even more patience? Since birch trees tend not to grow as large as maple, you will also need more trees to tap, which means hauling buckets from farther distances.

birch bark

Paper birch, Betula papyrifera

Bergún Anna Thorsteinsdottir, who produces Icelandic birch syrup, is quoted in North, “We add 25% sugar to each jar of birch syrup that we sell.” This is due to the bitter tannins in the birch. Some of the syrups sold in Maine add sugar, as well. I am not a fan, so really want to taste it straight, even if it might not have as much appeal to consumers.

More sap to tap, longer to reduce, and filled with bitter tannins—making birch syrup seems daunting. I will not be daunted, though. This is still the year to tap birch trees, and I am determined to simmer away. But, like our maple syrup, we will be producing for friends and family.

If you are looking to buy some, try (Out of stock till May, though)

If you want to try it yourself, here is a great tutorial.

We will be doing it too, so please share what you learn.

Karen O. Zimmermann

About Karen O. Zimmermann

Karen O. Zimmermann savors chance encounters with people throughout the state of Maine, and is endlessly delighted with the tales they have to share.