Maple flavours in beer make it a must-have brew

Maple syrup bottle. (Fotolia.com)

Maple syrup bottle. (Fotolia.com)

Jordan St. John, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:39 AM ET

Only in Canada! Where else could it be a tradition to strap on a toque and head out into the woods at the first sign of the thaw in order to drive a spile into a majestic maple tree?

Canada is responsible for nearly 80% of all of the maple syrup produced worldwide (a fact which is borne out on fifth grade field trips all over the country.) Many Canadians have fond childhood memories of tolerating displays of sap filled buckets being carried to and fro by good natured historical re-enactors while waiting for a sugary treat to materialize. Educational, yes, but sticky! Many pairs of mittens have been ruined in this way.

It should come as little surprise that brewers are using maple flavours in their seasonal beers to take advantage of this fact. These brews combine two liquids that occupy a special place in the history of our nation. Maple syrup is well-suited to brewing, since it contains a high concentration of sugars that can either be used to create body or additional alcohol depending when they’re added during the brewing process. The real trick is finding a way to incorporate the syrup so that it doesn’t feel as though you should be pouring your beer directly onto a waffle.

From Alberta, there’s Amber’s Sap Vampire Maple Lager. At 5.3% alcohol, the main expression of the maple here is in the aroma, with a distinct sugary sweetness following in the body, which is not quite offset by a mild tart note. It professes to be all about the maple, and here the maple could not be mistaken for anything else.

In Ontario, there’s Lake Of Bays Spring Maple Belgian Blonde Ale, which is made complex by the Belgian yeast used in the fermentation process. The body has notes of toasted cereal and apricot. On the palate, the maple expresses itself as slightly woody, which goes well with the pleasing, spicy aroma. The maple sweetness comes through on the finish, and manages not to be cloying.

In Quebec, St. Ambroise brought in a ringer to help with their Erable: Chef Martin Picard from Au Pied de Cochon. It’s no surprise that this is the most refined of the maple beers, given that Picard has just published a cookbook with 100 recipes that include maple syrup. At 4.5% alcohol, there’s a great deal of subtlety at play and a number of different facets are expressed. There’s maple sugar on the aroma, a woody, sappy quality on the palate and restrained maple syrup on the finish. I’m infrequently left wondering “how did they do that?” This is one of those times.

Clearly, the correct food pairing for any of these beers is pancakes. Good thing that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Jordan St.John writes about beer at saintjohnswort.ca. He wonders whether there’s a Sap Frankenstein.


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