Beyond Maple: Tasting Syrups Made from Trees, Flowers and Fruits

October 22, 2020

Ten tastes of nature and why they are worth seeking out!

Syrups from Silver Lake Syrups: Dandelion, Rhubarb, Caramelized Spruce Tip and Elderflower.

Here in Vermont, maple reigns supreme. And, truth be told, it may always be our favorite syrup. But there are a whole world of other natural syrups out there. We found them. We tasted them. And we loved them. Curious? Read on.

With the generous help of several friendly customers and tastemakers (shout out to Alaska Wild Harvest, Cooper’s Daughter Spirits, Silver Lake Syrups, and Williamson’s Farm) we bring you the following ten tasting notes. As with wine, we attempted to arrange our tasting from light and delicate to dark and robust. We think we succeeded. Here goes!

DandelionSilver Lake Syrups’ Dandelion Syrup is honey-colored and smells just like a field of the eponymous flower would without its friend-and-neighbor green grass. For the advanced nose, there are hints of spice. The taste is light, delicate and evocative of the classic honey-lemon combination but with a softer tart and with a warm spice finish. Clearly absolutely perfect for teas. No wonder this syrup is award winning!

Elderflower – A medium amber syrup with a soft, citrusy smell, Silver Lake Syrups’ Elderflower Syrup is complex, with a mixed-citrus marmalade, bitter-tart front and a flowery finish. Our choice for bubbly drinks, this syrup will stand its ground sip after delicious, intriguing, refreshing sip.

Syrups from Alaska Wild Harvest: Raspberry Rhubarb, Birch and Blueberry.

Rhubarb –  Silver Lake Syrup’s Rhubarb Syrup sounds simple, but isn’t. This beautifully opaque, pink and sweet-tart smelling syrup has a jammy front quickly followed by a sharp, tangy wave that crashes into an elongated, soft savory rhubarb finish with a hint of ginger. See what we mean? This is not your grandmother’s rhubarb pie filling! It’s better. (Sorry, Grandmas.) And the next time we taste it, it’ll be on vanilla ice cream.

Blueberry – You think you know a fruit, and then Alaska Wild Harvest goes and proves you wrong. Made from wild Alaskan blueberries and wildflower honey, this syrup tastes like every perfect summer day you’ve ever known condensed to something the size of your sip.  A deep, opaque magenta color, Alaska Wild Harvest Blueberry Syrup smells like a cooling pie and tastes of gently-sweet honeyed-blueberries and cream. We crave crepes and corn muffins to pair with this lovely, comfortable, familiar-yet-wild syrup.

Homemade Apple Cider Syrup made from hand-pressed Cortland, Honeycrisp and McIntosh apples.

Raspberry Rhubarb – An opaque, plummy pink, Alaska Wild Harvest Raspberry Rhubarb Syrup smells of wild raspberries and is jam-packed with taste. The chewy, jammy sweet of the raspberry at the front is perfectly balanced with the bitter of orange zest and savory of rhubarb in the middle and surprise, playful tart at the finish. Shortbread cookies everywhere take note! This syrup is your perfect mate.

Apple Cider – This one we made ourselves on our Sapling Evaporator just last weekend from hand-pressed Cortland, Honeycrisp and McIntosh drops picked up at a local orchard. (For more on how easy it is to make apple cider syrup, check out our recent post on the topic.) This jewel-toned russet syrup has a tart and mineral dried-apple smell, and the taste follows the nose perfectly: the tangy front is intense then powerful and the finish is sharp, dry and earthy. Apple syrup is a house staple here, well-loved in pulled pork or drizzled over meat pies.

Black Walnut Syrup in a bourbon bottle from Cooper’s Daughter Spirits.

Birch – We’ve been told many times that birch syrup tastes different to different people. And Alaska Wild Harvest Birch Syrup did not disappoint! This medium amber syrup smelled like tart molasses to one of us and earthy bark to the other. While we both characterized the taste as deep and soft, one of us tasted alternating bright molasses and intense cream caramel while the other tasted rich, sweet earth. We agreed to heed the serving suggestion that came with the bottle, though: pairs well with grilled salmon. Yes, please!

Black Walnut Cooper’s Daughter Spirits makes Black Walnut Syrup (on a Sapling Evaporator, no less) for their Black Walnut Bourbon. It is the closest taste to maple that I’ve ever experienced, stunning in its deliciousness. This syrup is medium amber with a tart, peaty smell. It somehow tastes tangy, nutty, and earthy with a maple-like sweetness, all at the same time. We understand now why some of our customers alternate between making maple syrup and black walnut syrup (the sap of these two trees runs at the same time of the year). This is our pick for our next stack of pancakes.

Sweet Sorghum Syrup from Williamson’s Farm.

Caramelized Spruce TipSilver Lake Syrups’ Caramelized Spruce Tip Syrup left my co-taster able to say only one word between sighs and successive tastes: “delightful.” A medium-light amber, this syrup smells like a Christmas tree farm under a dusting of powdered sugar. It is a full-altitude, sugar-frosting, cotton-candy sweet with a lingering dry, aromatic, spruce finish. Not for the faint of taste, but a just reward for culinary bravery, we’d like to try it on roasted root vegetables and in mixed drinks with gin.

Sweet Sorghum – Last but certainly not least, is Williamson Farm’s Sweet Sorghum Syrup. With the look of molasses, but thinner, this syrup has a full, malty smell and a simple, grounded, full sweetness with lingering hints of bitter cocoa in the finish. This much-anticipated taste would comfortably be at home in a salty, molasses-cookie like confection, and we mean to find such a recipe!

There’s so much to say about the traditions behind all these new tastes and the small-but-mighty companies working hard to bring them to to the fore. We aim to tell you more about all of this, and them, in future blog posts. Until then, think about choosing from among them a new taste or two for you and your family to enjoy this fall. And be well!