Mad River Maple wins The Royal
A Singhampton maple syrup producer has taken first prize at The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.
Brian Thomson will tell you he makes maple syrup for fun, as a hobby, but he also knows his stuff, as proven by the big win.
Under the Mad River Maple label, named for the river that runs through the sugar bush off Grey Road 4, the local syrup placed first in the very dark category. With his wife Cheryle, and self-proclaimed labourer Sue Clarry, a dedicated team works year-round to keep the operation in tip-top condition, unless they are turning their attention to the bees on the property, whose honey is packaged under the Mad River Honey label.
Thomson met Clarry after he purchased beekeeping equipment at a yard sale and then had to find someone with the expertise to teach him about how to get the bee boxes going. Both retired educators, they share a love of the bush and don’t shy away from hard work.
Thomson is a third generation maple syrup man. In his sugar shack he points to photos of his parents’ operation – Marjorie and Archie Thompson – and that of his maternal grandparents, the Browns, who had one just up the road.
Thomson took up the serious hobby of making maple syrup about 10 years ago. He says after a win at the Feversham Fair, celebrating with a couple of drinks, they decided if they could win that, why not The Royal? Mad River Maple got a fourth place ribbon last year and took the top prize this year, beating out many big producers from Ontario, Quebec and the United States.
There is a lot to entering the contest, and only the best samples make it through without getting disqualified. Thompson says he goes for the extra dark syrup because it is a crowd favourite and is harder to make. The longer caramelization process gives it a more intense maple flavour. The sugar content of the sap, fed into the boiler through a long series of tubes, determines the boiling time.
Mad River Maple syrup is made the old fashioned way, without reverse osmosis. It is simmered down in a special boiler that is fuelled by hardwood, which is constantly stoked to keep a steady flame. Clarry said they went through 10 bush cord of wood this past spring, to convert 17,000 litres of sap into 350 litres of syrup.
From the time the sap starts to flow, the sugar shack could be going steady for 4-6 weeks.
In past years, Thomson says the shack, set way back in a 300-acre wood, is a gathering place for family and friends with people from all around wanting to be part of the fun. They make taffy for the children, who may dip into a sap bucket now and again, and can stand around the hanging cauldron to see how syrup was made back in the day. With the arrival of the pandemic, they had to rely on their small but mighty team to create the winning batch.
Their syrup, like the honey, is not available commercially but it does get distributed through a network of friends and family if one is lucky enough to have a connection.