I t’s the time of year people start craving pancakes drenched in maple syrup and find themselves watching the bounce between daytime and nighttime temperatures, praying for a good sap run.
This Sunday, watch for steam coming out of the sugar houses because it is Maine Maple Sunday, the time when maple syrup producers open up their doors to the public for tastings and demonstrations.
We usually run stories on how the season is going and share ideas for what you can do with all that springtime sweetness besides pour it over pancakes and ice cream. This year, inspired by a maple latte from Arabica, I decided to take a look at maple drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
I experimented a little myself at home, but also enlisted the help of Steve Lovenguth, the bar manager at Walter’s Restaurant in Portland, and New York City mixologist and cocktail consultant Duane Fernandez Jr.
Lovenguth created a maple syrup-inspired cocktail especially for us that he’ll be serving at Walter’s through the weekend, if you’d like to try it yourself. Lovenguth, known for creative concoctions that combine ingredients such as bourbon and peanut brittle, took a day or so to brainstorm after being given this challenge.
“This is just a given,” he said, setting a bottle of Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur on the bar. “That was the very first thing that came to my mind; using that product right there. It’s based on maple syrup.”
Lovenguth decided lighter spirits like vodka, gin and tequila wouldn’t work well with maple syrup, so he decided to go with bourbon. “I wanted something that was more smooth and maybe even had a twinge of sweetness to it,” he said.
He settled on Maker’s Mark, which “almost has a little bit of a maple quality.” It also gave him a spiffy name for his new cocktail: “Mark of the Maple.”
Another Walter’s bartender suggested Lovenguth incorporate macadamia nut liqueur, which (along with real macadamia nuts) turned out to be perfect for balancing the sweetness of the maple.
Lovenguth dipped the rim of a martini glass in Maine maple syrup, then rimmed it with crushed macadamia nuts. He gave the bourbon, liqueurs and maple syrup a good hard shake, poured the cocktail into the glass, and floated a whole macadamia nut on top. (Yes, macadamia nuts will float. Who knew?)
‘LIKE A BARBECUE IN YOUR MOUTH’
Fernandez went with rum for his maple creation, “Maple Madness.”
“I’ve always been a fan of that flavor of maple,” Fernandez said. “If you just think about it, it’s a sweetener almost like agave or a flavor of simple syrup that you can put in any spirit to give it that flavor. Personally, I think that it goes best with bourbon and rum.”
Fernandez mixed Flor de Ca?even-year rum with Vermont maple syrup and a little liquid smoke to create a smoky maple cocktail rimmed with smoked salt.
“What I essentially created was almost like a barbecue in your mouth,” Fernandez said. “With us having this horrible winter, I want to get peoples’ minds into the springtime and barbecues.”
I had sampled the salty-sweet flavors of the “Mark of the Maple” at Walter’s, so I decided to make a “Maple Madness” at home. This cocktail tastes – seriously – like you’re actually drinking a slab of barbecued ribs slathered in a sweet maple sauce.
It can be a bit overpowering, kind of rich for a cocktail, so a little goes a long way. But it would be perfect for a pre-dinner drink. And that, it turns out, is exactly what Fernandez had in mind.
“It’s almost like an appetite stimulant,” Fernandez said. “I always suggest it to be the first cocktail that you have.”
What if you want a thirst quencher that doesn’t contain alcohol?
The Maine Maple Producers Association publishes a cookbook, “Beyond Pancakes,” that has a few ideas for maple beverages, including a maple mead and a lemonade made with maple syrup. I tried the Maple Chai, which was originally a creation of Harry Schwartz, a former Press Herald food columnist.
It involves heating in a small saucepan a half-cup of milk, one tablespoon of maple syrup and a quarter-teaspoon of vanilla. Prepare a cup of green tea or tea of your choice (I used black tea) and add it to the milk-maple mixture. Top with a dash of cinnamon and cloves.
This chai is a nice little warm-up, but I would make a couple of changes. It didn’t have much zing, so I would add a little fresh grated ginger and strain it. I also found it lacking in maple flavor, so I would add more maple syrup to taste.
A new book that just landed on my desk contained four maple beverage recipes. “Maple Sugar: From Sap to Syrup, the History, Lore, and How-To Behind this Sweet Treat” by Tim Herd (Storey Publishing, $12.95) also has maple syrup-inspired recipes for meat and vegetables, bread and rolls, dressings and sauces, and desserts.
The Maple Egg Nog and Hot Maple Apple Cider seemed more like fall and winter treats, and the Maple Milkshake seemed a little too standard. Who hasn’t added maple syrup to ice cream during sugaring season?
But the book also had something called a Maple Fizz, made with milk, maple syrup and ginger ale. It’s similar to a Maple Cream Soda in “Beyond Pancakes,” which calls for just three tablespoons each of syrup and cream. For the Maple Fizz, combine a quart of milk with a quarter cup of maple syrup in a blender and mix. Pour this into tall glasses, about two-thirds full, and then top off with 12 ounces of ginger ale.
I cut the recipe in half, and it made enough for two to three people, depending on how tall the glasses are. My blender broke, and I haven’t replaced it yet (see tiki-party column a few weeks back), so I shook the milk and maple syrup hard in a cocktail shaker to get it a little frothy before adding the ginger ale.
I must admit I did not have high hopes for this, but it was actually delicious, and will make for a nice cool drink once it starts to warm up outside. It tastes like an ice cream soda without the ice cream.
What could be better than that?
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]