Here's a quick primer on how to make maple syrup the right way. Drill a few holes in a few dozen trees. Stick taps in said trees and connect them with thousands of feet of plastic tubing. Do this when it's 15 degrees out and there's 2 feet of snow on the ground. Run all those plastic lines slightly downhill to a huge collection bucket.
Spring hits. Days have to be above freezing and nights below freezing for the sap to flow. Flow is a word that overstates what happens, actually. Sap drips into the line. Drip, drop. A big 2 tap maple might make 2 gallons of sap a day, on a really good day. Most days, they make a half gallon or so.
Collect that sap from the holding tank and put it in an evaporator. Shovel endless small chunks of a wood in a wood boiler from the 1800's. That wood has to be about the diameter of a downtube or smaller, so you have to split it with a camp axe before you feed it into the fire. You start with a piece of wood about the diameter of a 2x4 and make that into 3 or 4 new pieces. You have to be pretty handy with the axe to not cut your fingers off.
Wait. The sugar house! You need a sugar house, aka a sugar shack. Oh, and the stand of maples you got the sap from is called a sugar bush. Fun!
The sugar shack is usually made from local hemlock, old recycled roofing, and some windows you found at the dump. There's a transistor radio hanging from a nail by the front door, and it's always tuned to country music. Under the radio, a too small bench, where two grown men have to sit next to each other. One is in charge of handing out fresh beers (Keystone, generally) and the other is either in charge of feeding the fire (called the fireman) or is in charge of working his way through a plug of Redman. Just spit right on the floor, check all pretenses at the screen door.
You need a master of ceremonies, the guy who tells the fireman when to add more wood, or has you dump in more sap to the evaporator, or predicts how many gallons, quarts or pints will be made that night. A good night would be 4 gallons, 1 quart and 1 half pint. That's a long night of work.
There's usually 2-3 more hangers-on, who do menial tasks. Candice might be bottling the syrup. Dan might be in charge of letting the dog in and out. I might be in charge of washing the syrup filters.
You boil and evaporate the syrup, watching, waiting, being patient, telling stories and yarns, mixing the comic with the tragic. No one speaks about politics. The world is small up here in the woods, and the stories are about snow mobile trips, rogue raccoons, ravens that fight their own reflections, turkey hunting, cars buried in mud, family blood lines and how the doctor tells them to lay off the beer, so they drink ale instead. "It's not beer, say's right there on the bottle. "
That's how maple syrup should be made. With love, by people who make no money at it, and who just do it because it's what you do in the spring when the nights are cold but the snow base is melting, the turkeys are off limits and the garden isn't ready to be tilled.
This syrup is made by our friend Gary, aka Gary of the North, who lives across the wetland from us. He taps the trees on the 8ish acres around the shop, and shows us how to make syrup the old fashioned way. He makes less than 50 gallons a year. Every gallon is made with love. Not just Gary's love, but the love of those 4-5 other guys, too, and Candice and I. It's a community effort, and that's priceless.
Vermonters will tell you that VT syrup is the best there is. If you came over to Gary's sugar house, he'd tell ya his is the cleanest syrup you can get.
Buy this syrup. Put it on everything. There's basically nothing it's not good on. Burgers? Sure. Corn? Yeah. Pancakes, of course. A dollop in your Keystone, coffee, bourbon, or seltzer? Perfect. We use it daily in our oatmeal. Try it on a roast, even roasted veggies, with some salt and pepper.
Don't worry too much about the grade. Dark, medium, whatever, it's all good. Gary's syrup tends to be on the darker side, and if you ask Vermonters, that's the way it should be. Just grab whatever we have in stock, and next time you see some lesser factory made syrup, you will know you have tasted the real stuff.