For years now I have wanted to tap our birch trees. Every year I talked about doing it, and every year the trees leafed out before we got around to it. Last year we did look for some taps, but didn’t find any. I did find some instructions on making your own, and I guess that was what we were going to try this year, but a couple months back a couple months we stumbled upon some taps at our local feed store. We bought 6, planning on starting small. Taps in hand I started doing research on how to tap the birches and how to make the syrup. I discovered some disappointing information. One, birch sap is a lot less “sweet” than maple. It takes about 40-50 gallons of maple sap to make a gallon of syrup, and with birch it takes 80-100 gallons to make 1 gallon of syrup! WOW how the heck was I going to accomplish that? Two, birch sap, being not as sweet, doesn’t really make table syrup like maples; the cute little bottles of birch syrup around town actually have fructose added to it to make it sweeter for that use. Ok, so maybe this isn’t going to be the best idea ever…. I do know that birch beer soda and alcoholic beer have been made, so I decided this was where I would start. Several years ago I saved a pdf I found online from the University of Alaska that talks all about birch, tapping, making syrup, and also has recipes for birch soda, beer and wine.
We tapped 1 tree; we think around mid April, we didn’t write it down. We used plastic milk jugs with a wire around it to hang from the tap to collect the sap. About May 5th the sap started flowing (we are having a cool spring, and are about 2 weeks behind last year). DH got the other taps in, great nothing to put it in! I bought a couple food grade buckets the next day because we had 5 gallons of sap. I highly suggest you have a PLAN when tapping trees, because I wasn’t prepared to do anything with it. I had thought about making syrup, but then the idea of 100 gallons for 1 gallon put me off. I decided to make the beer and soda recipe. So over the week I got together what I needed for both (much more will be coming about homebrewing). I also do not suggest you start researching homebrewing birch beer, if you have never done it before and have no supplies, AFTER the sap starts flowing. In fact, I suggest you research it MONTHS before! So we put it in buckets and put them in the cold garage hoping it would stay good. The beer recipe called for a pint of birch syrup, since I didn’t want the fructose added stuff, eventually I decided to try to boil it down and make some syrup. The sap that had been in the buckets for a week was spoiled. So refrigerate, freeze or use it right away when you get it, it really doesn’t store.
How to tap a birch:
- Drill a hole with a 3/8” bit, 1 ½-1 ¾ inches deep
- Hammer in the tap
- For birch, use plastic containers to collect, because of its acidity, metal buckets like for maple will make the sap taste like metal
- Collect the sap on a regular basis and refrigerate, freeze or make syrup quickly, it doesn’t store well
To make the syrup:
I have a large pot which holds 4 gallons, I boiled on high until it looked like tea and had about 2” left in the bottom. Then I turned it down and boiled at 200 degrees until about 1 cup is left. It had some debris in it so I filtered it through some cheese cloth. I just stored in the fridge because I am putting it right into soda and beer. It takes like 7 hours to boil it down to get 1 cup, I needed 3 cups for my plans. I’m still not really sure it is worth it, but I’m on my last batch today. I’ve read to do it outside if possible, because it can peel wall paper etc… I have a log home and my kitchen is all wood, so I did it inside. The finished syrup is pleasant, thinner than maple, sort of a molasses taste. Maybe I overcooked it, I'm not sure...
My next post I’ll talk about making the soda. I expect we won’t get any after today or the next day, I think we are getting ready to leaf out.