Maple Cocktail Season

It's not spring just yet: how to use the seasonal ingredient in cocktails

Maple syrup cocktails, yum.

Snow, slush, freezing rain: By March, winter’s weather has lost all of its charm. But there’s an upside: maple syrup season. As we make the transition from winter to spring, over a massive swath of North America, from West Virginia to Nova Scotia, the sap is flowing.

Yet when it comes to cocktails, maple syrup is typically cast as a fall or winter ingredient. These cold-weather  concoctions, including the Maple Old Fashioned, are great, but if maple syrup is a spring product, why can’t we use it immediately?

In fact, we can. It just takes a little imagination. In its fall and winter wardrobe, you find maple syrup accessorizing brown liquor — bourbon, apple brandy, etc. — with which its caramel nature works very well. But it’s actually quite versatile.

Most maple syrup cocktail recipes recommend the darker, richer, maple-ier Grade-B version. (Maple syrup is graded by its color.) Indeed, Grade B expresses itself more loudly with heavy spirits. But the lighter, elegant Grade-A syrup is also useful, as it plays nicely with lighter base spirits like vodka, gin, and even pisco. Texturally, it’s lithe and robust, as maple syrup is chock-full of minerals and antioxidants. Flavor-wise, it’s complex, with a compelling buttery richness.
To get the sap flowing in your home bar, try my Trees Cocktail, which pairs maple with another forest favorite, pine. Or my attractively red Papal Maple that matches it with Italian staples grappa and blood orange juice. And the Master Cleanse (pictured above) is a shot or short drink I created as a more enjoyable alternative to the famous regime that allows solely lemon juice, water, cayenne, and maple syrup to be consumed.

Click here for the Trees Cocktail, Papal Maple, and Master Cleanse recipes.

Jordan Mackay is a San Francisco-based writer and co-author of the James Beard Award-winning book Secrets of the Sommeliers.

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