Mainers and Vermonters may quibble over this claim, but when it comes to a maple sap harvest, it’s historically a Canada thing.
So is Canadian rye whiskey, of course, which, by no accident, tastes delicious with maple syrup. Thus begins the story of SAP56 Canadian Maple Whisky.
Long before European explorers came to North America, maple sap harvesting was a way of life for natives. Centuries later, Adam Duhamel, 38, recalls how when he was 3, his parents took him on trips to the family’s farm, which included a vast stand of sugar maples and a sugar shack. Now, before you think sugar shack sounds like a sweet song title, it isn’t. To anyone who’s worked a sap harvest, the sugar shack is a micro-factory for maple syrup making.
“The gathering at the sugar shack created an incredible atmosphere because it was part of something important to our family,” said Duhamel, creator of SAP56. “It was festive, a celebration of the arrival of spring and something I was privileged to do. I was working alongside the people I loved, and it brought a lot of joy to my heart.”
Perhaps Duhamel is remembering the process through the rosy lens of nostalgia: the process is real work. Harvesting maple sap starts in early spring, when snow still covers the ground, but outdoor temps are ideal for working. It starts with drilling a series of tap holes into sugar maple trees and hanging a metal sap pail below the opening to capture the runoff. Since the sap is mostly water, and since water weighs eight pounds per gallon, there was a lot of heavy hand hauling to get that sap to collection barrels that—in Duhamel’s days—were drawn by horses to the sugar shack. Once there, the sap is boiled for hours to reduce it to an amber syrup.
Cool story, right? Especially when whisky gets involved. Hang on, I’ll get there.
Those decades of harvests—and the endless syrup tasting done during the process—trained Duhamel’s palate on the nuances of the good stuff, not those imposters made from corn syrup, flavoring and coloring. In blind tastings, Duhamel still can spot his family’s own syrup hidden among a host of others. Those taste memories formed the flavor foundation for SAP56.
SAP56 references the 56 days required to harvest and process pure maple sap into a Grade A syrup. (I repeat myself: syrup making is work! Think about that the next time you wince at paying high prices for a bottle of such deliciousness.) The maple syrup used for SAP56 is 100-percent and, of course, the ideal playmate for—you’ve waited for it, I know—a 5-year-old Canadian whisky. This whisky is distilled from a mashbill of 85 percent corn, 10 percent rye and 5 percent malted barley, and barreled in used bourbon casks. When blended with the maple syrup, the sugar source is so rich and hearty that SAP56 uses 50 percent less sugar than comparable liqueurs and flavored whiskeys.
Sounds delicious to me.
Duhamel views SAP56 as a product whose arrival is perfectly aligned with the surging popularity of Canadian whisky.
“It’s a labor of love for us, and we’re excited to introduce our passion for authentic Canadian flavors to the U.S. market and global retailers in 2021,” he said.
At 61.6 proof, I’m told that SAP56 is delicious sipped neat or on the rocks, yet bold enough to take the leading role in a wide range of cocktails. That’s good news since high-flavor, lower-proof cocktails are not only on trend, they’re needed for we liquor lovers who usually want just one more pour.
“Because it’s a whisky for every occasion, we tell people to let their imaginations run wild when it comes to enjoying SAP56,” Duhamel said. SAP56, he added, was voted Canadian Flavored Whisky of the Year at the 2021 World Whiskies Awards. “We’re pretty proud of that, of course, because it’s our whisky. But it also it reflects our heritage and our love of nature. This is more than just a good drink to us, it’s a tribute to our way of life.”
There are lots of flavored whiskeys on the market, and few have quite the story that this one does. I’d not just try it, I’d buy it to try it. And then I’d cocktail and cook with it. Count me eager to get a bottle.
Steve Coomes is editor of BourbonBanter.com. A Louisville restaurant industry veteran turned award-winning food writer, he has edited and written for dozens of national trade and consumer publications including Pizza Today, Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living over his 31-year journalism career. As a spirits writer, Steve's work can be found in Bourbon Plus, Bourbon Review, Bourbon & Banter, WhiskeyWash.com and other publications. In 2014, he authored the book, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and has authored other titles as a private ghostwriter.
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