VAIL — You’ll see a familiar, bearded face smiling away at Gourmet on Gore this weekend. Tim Burton, owner of Burton’s Maplewood Farm in Indiana, will be at the event for the fourth year in a row, giving out tastes of four varieties of pure maple syrup. What started out as a simple trip to the mountains to sell syrup at a three-day event has spiraled. The second year, the Burtons did Gourmet on Gore and the Minturn Market. The third year, they added Dillon, Golden and Breckenridge farmers markets to the mix.
This year? Well this year is a little crazy. Burton’s journey began more than a month ago. In that time, he’s introduced his sugary elixir to people all over Wyoming — in Jackson Hole, Casper, Buffalo and Cody. He did a handful of markets on Colorado’s Front Range as well as in Winter Park and Dillon. He wraps up his expedition this weekend with a booth where it all started — at Gourmet on Gore all weekend, as well as booths at the Minturn Market and the Edwards Farmers Market today.
So is there any syrup left?
“Yes, there is, don’t worry,” Burton said.
Burton and his wife, Angie, son, Greg, and niece, Christina Molinari, will be selling four varieties of his syrup this weekend, the grade A and B maple syrup, as well as syrup aged in Breckenridge Distillery’s old rum and bourbon barrels.
“We have one of the best barrel ages we’ve ever done with Breck,” Burton said.
While it’s hard to improve on something as naturally perfect as pure maple syrup, the Burtons seem to have found a way. Drawing inspiration from small-batch distillers, Burton re-purposes used rum, bourbon and brandy barrels as storage vessels, infusing his amber elixir with the subtle, yet distinctive, flavors of each respective spirit.
Burton does a “fire infusion” to impart extra flavor in the maple syrup.
“We take all the barrels, twice a month, and put them right next to the Rumford fireplace and raise the internal temp of the syrup by 30 degrees. That helps infuse the flavor into the maple syrup,” Burton said.
Distillers estimate they leave behind 2 to 2-and-a-half gallons of spirits in the oak staves.
“What’s left in the barrels is called the ‘devil’s cut,’” Burton said. “You’ll also hear distillers talk about the ‘angel share,’ that’s what makes its way through the oak wood and into the atmosphere. But what’s trapped in the wood barrel, that’s what we’re looking for. We want the devil’s cut so we can infuse it into the maple syrup itself.”
BLACKBERRIES AND PEACHES
While he’s been in Colorado, Burton got the chance to visit with a few other Colorado alcohol purveyors with whom he’s struck up partnerships.
“Last year at this time, we stopped in New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins and picked up two barrels,” Burton said. “We also picked up two barrels from Leopold Bros. in Denver — blackberry whiskey barrels.”
Since Burton barrel ages the syrup for 12 months, he’s not selling those particular infusions quite yet. He’ll have them next year. And in 2016, he’ll introduce another dear-to-Colorado-palates flavor.
For the past few years, people have been telling him over and over to head west, to Palisade.
“I kept hearing about these unbelievable peaches near Grand Junction,” he said.
Burton recently contacted the distillers at Peach Street Distillery in Palisade who have agreed to give him two used peach brandy barrels.
“They’re going to ship them or I will come back after they empty another batch,” he said.
Speaking of peaches and maple syrup, the two are a tasty pairing, Burton said.
“One of my customers now is Wolfgang Puck at Spago in Beverly Hills,” Burton said. “He and his pastry chef invited me to go to the Santa Monica farmers market with them; he showed me that one of the things they do is slice peaches really thin, drizzle B grade maple syrup over them, put them in a saucepan, hit it with the heat and let them caramelize. Two ingredients, that’s it. It’s so good.”
Why B grade? “It has a more robust flavor; it has more maple flavor. It’s the grade of choice for most chefs and home bakers,” Burton said.
There is a common question that Burton asks of the people who sample his sugary elixir.
“How many gallons of sap does it take to make one gallon of maple syrup?” he quizzes them, often before the sweetness has disappeared from their tongue.
The most common guess is 10 gallons.
“When we say it takes 40 gallons to make one gallon of maple syrup, people are shocked,” he said. “That’s why maple syrup is such a luxury item.”
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984, email@example.com or @caramieschnell.