- The Maple Guild in Island Pond, Vermont produces 1 million bottles of maple syrup each year.
- It takes about 44 gallons of sap to make just 1 gallon of syrup.
- The Maple Guild pioneered a method called steam-crafting, which speeds up the production process.
Following is a transcription of the video.
Narrator: You’d never guess it, but tucked in this Vermont forest under a couple feet of snow is a giant maple-syrup farm. In fact, it’s the largest maple-syrup forest owned by a single-source producer in the world. But at The Maple Guild in Island Pond, Vermont, you won’t see guys in flannels carrying buckets of sap. OK, maybe you’ll see some flannel, but here, the art of sugaring is more like a science.
I think a lot of people look at maple syrup and they think of table syrup. They think of corn syrup. They think of some of the more popular things that they see on their shelves, right? And that’s not who we are or what we do. You can’t create this in a lab. This has to come from Mother Nature in the trees.
Narrator: Three Jersey boys founded The Maple Guild in 2013, and by 2015, they’d tapped their first maple tree. So the company may be young, but it’s not small. Today, it has almost half a million taps. That’s roughly 133 times as many as the average sugar maker in Vermont, and all those taps are on 24,000 acres of land. In the world of sugaring, that size forest is unheard of. So how exactly does The Maple Guild produce syrup on a macro scale? Well, it all starts with the trees.
These are sugar maple trees, and The Maple Guild has 460,000 of them spanning across the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and into Canada. Starting in December each year, crews spend two months putting plastic taps into each one of these trees by hand. The same tree can be tapped for decades.
Mike Argyelan: Next year, we reuse everything, and we tap 8 inches high or low and 8 inches over so that we never harm a tree. It always allows it to heal.
Narrator: The sugaring season usually runs from February to April, but that’s completely dependent on the weather forecast.
John Campbell: Obviously, when the weather cooperates, and when Mother Nature gives us sap to pull, and that’s when the temperature’s above freezing during the day and below freezing at night, that’s when the sap runs.
Narrator: When the sap is running, it’s extracted either through vacuum tubing or gravity. Six thousand miles of plastic tubing carry the sap from the trees to pump stations. These are called reverse-osmosis houses. This is where the sap is collected and the water in the sap is filtered out, leaving a high-sugar-content concentrate. Sap has 2% sugar, concentrate has 20% sugar, so what we’re doing in the reverse-osmosis process is we’re pulling water out of the sap and concentrating the maple syrup into another solution.
Narrator: Because so much water is removed during this process, it takes about 44 gallons of sap to make just 1 gallon of maple syrup. That sugar concentrate is loaded up into trucks and brought to the sugar house where it’s finally turned into maple syrup. In traditional sugaring techniques, turning sap into syrup means boiling it over direct heat so the water evaporates. But The Maple Guild pioneered a new method that speeds up the process. It’s called Steam-Crafting.
Instead of boiling the sap, it’s steam-heated at a lower temperature using coils. With this system, The Maple Guild can make 55 gallons of maple syrup in just 90 seconds, while in traditional boiling techniques, it can take anywhere between nine and 56 hours to produce just 1 gallon of syrup. Not only is the Steam-Crafting method quicker, but the company says it also produces a more nuanced maple flavor. Because sap can go bad quickly, it has to be transported to the sugar house within three hours of being tapped. And usually within six hours, it will become that golden maple syrup.
John: When the sap is running, it can run for a day, it can run for a week, and then it can stop for two days or three weeks, and it’s really whatever the weather gives us. But whenever that sap is running, we will have people at this plant 18, 24 hours a day nonstop while that sap is running because we can’t afford to lose any of it.
Narrator: Once the sap’s turned into syrup, it’s tested to make sure the sugar levels are right. Next, it’s sent through filters to remove impurities, and it’s tested for grading. The lighter the color of syrup, the higher the grade. Because The Maple Guild syrup has a short cooking time, it’s lighter in color, giving it a consistent grade A, golden rating.
The golden syrup is then pumped into stainless-steel barrels where it’s stored until it’s time to be bottled up. Each bottle is filled, capped, cleaned, and labeled by hand here. The company expects to fill over a million bottles this year. The Maple Guild is vertically integrated, meaning it owns every step of this process from tree to table.
Mike: The maple industry has been stagnant for decades upon decades upon decades. It’s all small farmers doing their own thing on their own property, selling to the big conglomerate operators, and those guys making syrup, mostly private labels, some branded, and selling it out to the industry until we came along. And we’re vertically integrated, we own the trees, right through the manufacturing. Very capital-intensive, which is probably the barriers to entry for anybody else to do this.
Narrator: In the last five years, the maple-syrup industry has undergone somewhat of a revolution, and at the forefront are companies like The Maple Guild. Canada has historically dominated this market, producing 70% of the world’s maple syrup, and while it still owns the top spot, the US is gaining ground. United States production has doubled in the last decade, rising from 1.9 million gallons produced in 2008 to 4.16 million in 2018, and leading the charge is Vermont. Dubbed the maple-syrup capital of the US, the tiny state produces 40% of the maple syrup in the entire United States. In fact, Vermont’s production has grown 254% since 2000.
So the market was set for a large-scale production, but no one in the Vermont maple industry had taken on the unconventional sugaring model until The Maple Guild. It entered the scene as demand was taking off. Breweries across the state had started using maple syrup in their products. Oversea interest in pure maple syrup had spiked, and Americans on a health-food kick were turning to maple syrup as a natural alternative to refined sugar. And The Maple Guild is still riding that wave, selling branded products across 50 states and infusing its syrups with flavors like coffee, pumpkin spice, and bourbon.
Abby Narishkin: You got original, vanilla, bourbon, coffee, and salted caramel. It smells like the woods, which is where it came from. It tastes like sugar. I’m in.
Narrator: And while it all depends on what Mother Nature gives them, The Maple Guild does have an annual production goal.
John: Our goals are 150 to 200,000 gallons of maple syrup, we’d be OK with.
Narrator: The company’s not only bottling it up as syrup but using it in about 17 other maple-based products. First, there’s the maple butter. Maple syrup is cooked down and then poured into this mixer until it becomes a luscious cream. That stuff is cooked and jarred by hand and then hits the assembly line to be capped and labeled.
Abby: This is what I’ve been waiting for this whole time. Mmm. It’s like icing. That’s so good!
Narrator: There’s also naturally fermented maple vinegar, eight different maple-sweetened teas, and seven unique maple-sweetened waters. The Maple Guild hopes that by introducing maple into as many categories as possible, it can show the versatility of the product and bring attention to where the golden syrup comes from: here, in a Vermont forest.
Next up for The Maple Guild: kombucha, a kefir drinking water, and nitro coffee, all made from and sweetened by pure Vermont maple syrup.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in June 2019.