Drinking Sap

My mom called me the other day to see what's been going on, which is a funny conversation nowadays, but I was psyched because this time I had an ace in the hole. I picked up a new stupid little project and it's great: I've been drinking sap. You guys ever try this? It's great.

Maple sap is what you boil down to make maple syrup, it's easily collected this time of year. When you make syrup you need to boil the sap down like 20 to 1 or 50 to 1, which is a lot of work. But if you don't want to keep the stove on for days, and who does, just as the weather is starting to turn (barely, maybe). You can collect the sap in jars and then just drink it straight, which is what I'm donig. Warm in a mug or cold in a glass, it's wonderful. The taste is basically just water with a little bit of maple syrup mixed in, but the quality of the water is incredible. Somehow it's thin, like alcohol, with a silvery feeling. It's like moon water. It's like winter with a hint of spring. I hope that makes sense.


OK so how do you get the sap out of the tree? Well you need a little widget, just go to ebay and look for "maple syrup tap" and you should find a bunch for sale. You only need 1 or 2 really. Each one has a little rubber hose that runs from the tap (ideally 2 - 4 feet off the ground) to whatever you're going to collect the sap in- I use a big jar with a hole in the lid but you could use a food-safe bucket or a 40 bottle or whatever.


If you don't want to wait around for the tap to arrive in the mail, I really think you could improvise something with like a straw or a Bic pen or something, and instead of the hose just prop the bottle on something to get it in the 2 - 4 foot sweet spot, and tie the whole contraption to the tree. Nailing a shelf to the tree seems like an obvious solution but I think you want to resist putting extra holes in the tree whenever possible.


I don't see why this wouldn't work? If you like using pro gear, order the thing. If you have the "bricolage weedian" gene, it's ok to try it this way.


Alongside the tap (or whatever you're using) you're going to need a drill, and a drill bit that is the same size as the tap, I think the standard size tap is 5/16ths of an inch. Incidentally that's the same size as the "crystal" Bic pen (the clear one with the pointy cap). If you don't have a drill you should get one, they're great. For the stealthy and/or whimsical, I think this project involves just the right amount of drilling that you could use one of these without cursing yourself:


But a power drill is much much better. It's a great tool to have around, and if you don't have one already, well, think about it.


OK then after that, or before all that really, you need a tree. Look around for a maple that is not far from you, ideally in a location that no one will mess with. We have a gnarly maple tree growing next to our house in Weird Area-- no one goes there except for rats, snakes, mice, a woodchuck, squirrels, bugs, garbage, sticks, purple flowers, and me. To be clear, I don't live in the woods, or on some majestic homestead-- I live in a city, in an apartment. You don't have to give up on this fantasy just because you don't live in an LL Bean catalog.

Most instructions say to seek out Sugar Maple, but I understand that any maple tree will get you something, the only difference is the sugar content. My guru in this activity is my friend Dan Mooradian, he has also tapped hickory and walnut trees, and of course birch. The tree that we tapped over here is a Norway Maple, an invasive species generally considered a nuisance. Birch trees are especially good I guess but there aren't any around me. If you don't know what kind of trees are around you, I'm sure there's a website or something that can help you out. First timers, please stick to maple or birch.

OK so what you do is drill the hole in the tree, 3 feet off the ground, ideally on the side of the tree that faces the sun. Drill the hole just 1.5 - 2 inches in, and angled slightly up (so the sap flows down). Push the tap in the hole-- you might require a few soft taps with a short section of a large branch. The tube is connected to the tap, the other end of the tube goes into the jug, and that's all there is to it. It doesn't flow out like an open faucet, it just drips out, like a closed faucet that leaks. Come back in a couple hours, pour the sap out into a jar or something, then put it in the fridge to drink whenever.


Regarding when to do this activity, the answer for the Northeast section of the United States of America, where I am currently located, is now. Dan says the traditional date to start sugaring in New England is Valentine's Day, which is a good rule of thumb, but he speculates that this date is actually too early and might be largely an excuse for old timers to avoid the holiday!

Anyway you want to get it just as the weather's starting to turn warm, like in the low 40s (Farenheit). And it flows for 4 weeks or so? more? I guess it'll be obvious when it stops happening. Sorry this is my first year doing it. As I understand it the sap is like antifreeze that helps the tree survive the winter, and when it seems like the tree doesn't need it anymore, it flushes it out so it can be, I don't know, reabsorbed by the roots or something [citation needed]. Anyway you gotta tap it while it's flowing. Do: try it. Don't: wait.


If you're wondering what to do with the sap or how to drink it, the answer is just put it in a glass and drink it. In the morning after coffee when I want to just keep drinking something hot from a mug, I warm up some sap and drink a mug of that. In the evening when I want to just enjoy a nightcap and a nature documentary, I have a glass of cold sap and whiskey. I'm sure if you're cocktail-minded (hi Charlotte!) you could come up with something ornate, but cold sap and whiskey, that's what I like- a pleasant drink too simple to name. I could see an upscale bar doing this as a special, or even wrapping their whole business model around the concept, but honestly there's no way you could possibly pay money for this and have a sap-drinking experience better than whatever you get from jabbing a Bic pen into a tree.


In a similar fashion to growing tomatoes, or dumpstering at the Odwalla factory, this will leave you with a glorious abundance, and you may find yourself chugging something that decorum tells you to sip. My feeling is that when decadent moments like this present themselves, they should be honored. You think there's elves out there in the forest drinking this shit in little "tpp tpp tpp" sips like it's a tea-party? They're up to their pointy ears in it. Chug-a-lug, baby.

Thank you to Dan Mooradian for sending me the taps and sparking my interest!


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