Sap Beer Stories

Blake Harrison of Middlebury, Vermont shares a more contemporary tale of sap beer:

I made sap beer a few years back in the early 1990s with my friend Jon in Dover, Vermont. We really didn’t know what we were doing, but in a time before the internet we did what anyone would have done—we asked a few older neighbors what they knew, and we somehow managed to string together a recipe. The general recollection was that it was consumed as a refreshment while farmers cut the rowan. We were told to find a sugarmaker who would let us clean out the partially boiled leftovers from their evaporator and to mix in the following ingredients: a handful of checkerberry leaves (a wintergreen-like ground cover that emerges from under the snow in early spring); the inner bark of a yellow birch; some handfuls of raisins (which have a natural yeast on their surface that would get the fermentation going). We added our own brewer’s yeast, too. Fermentation was pretty slow and on and off; it was a bit deceiving really, and in hindsight, we should have let it ferment longer than we did. One year we ended up bottling too soon and we lost a number of bottles to explosions. I had one blow up on me in the sun on the front seat of my car while driving down interstate 90 in New York. The end result was a sweet-champagne-y type drink spiced by the checkerberry leaves and bark. It was drinkable, I suppose, but not a huge success either of the two years we did it. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do it again. After moving away from Vermont for roughly 15 years, I am back and ready to give it another try.

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