It’s that time of year again: Sugar maple trees are waking from their wintry slumber, and the flow of their sweet sap brings everything from maple-infused ales to festive plates of pancakes after a brisk, woodsy walk (looking at you, Sugar Moon Farm). Maybe it’s just the Canadian stereotype talking, but maple syrup is also the perfect way to sweeten or spruce up a variety of classic and contemporary cocktails.
I’ve mentioned it briefly in a previous column, but the maple Old Fashioned is an unforgettable cocktail that warrants a second look. At its base, the recipe is simple: two ounces of whisky – ideally bourbon or Canadian rye, but a young scotch is good too – plus a quarter-ounce of maple syrup and a couple dashes of Angostura bitters, all given a long stir with plenty of ice and strained into a rocks glass. From here, the curious bartender can begin to experiment. Citrus lovers, for example, can swap Angostura for orange bitters and garnish the whole ordeal with a hefty slice of orange peel. Others might add a cinnamon stick and a few cloves, or contribute some herbal flavours with a dash of Bénédictine and a fresh sage leaf lightly toasted over a wooden match’s open flame.
The Old Fashioned is so versatile, it doesn’t even need to feature whisky. The Connecticut bullfrog, for example, comprises four parts London dry gin to one part each of light rum, lemon juice and maple syrup for a refreshingly medicinal-tasting mixture tempered with a forest-like sweetness. A similar variation, the roadrunner, features reposado tequila at its heart, shaken thoroughly with a few dashes of bitters and a half-ounce each of lemon juice and maple syrup, all garnished with a strip of lemon zest. I should also divulge that Appleton Estate rums benefit greatly from a bit of maple syrup and the bitter oils of a shred of orange peel.
Maple syrup also pairs perfectly with tea or coffee. Try spiking a Saturday mug of hot dark roast with rum or whisky and a bit of maple liqueur, or even swap simple syrup for maple syrup in an elegant espresso martini. If you can get your hands on some lapsang suochong tea (or any other smoky black or oolong variety), give the leaves a long steep to fully extract their bacon- and gunpowder-like flavours, then sweeten with a dose of maple syrup and top off with a peaty blended scotch such as Black Grouse or Johnnie Walker.
For something a bit less fancy, try refining your average glass of hard cider – preferably a drier one like Strongbow or Angry Orchard – with a quarter-ounce of maple syrup and an ounce of bourbon or Tennessee whiskey. Best to do it sooner than later; by the looks of it, this year’s maple season will be much shorter than usual (thanks, climate change).