Every year as winter cedes into the past, the maple tree sap starts to run. A time-honoured tradition in the north is to tap a spile into these maples and siphon off a few buckets of sap, then boil it down into a syrupy brown liquid and drizzle it on everything. That is the taste of spring. Since I’m in the midst of doing my yearly maple syrup harvest, I think it is appropriate to see how it works in drinks.
When it comes to cocktails, I haven’t found many maple syrup-based cocktails that I like, nor a maple soda. Maple syrup has a distinct taste that can dominate a drink or cocktail, especially when you get into the darker grades. Because of this, it is often used as a secondary flavour in a cocktail or paired with another strong flavour. Whisky seems to be preferred, but rum works well too. If you love maple syrup, you are probably okay with it dominating, but for me, I don’t want to feel like I’m drinking a cup of maple syrup.
The second—and more irksome issue—is that to balance the sweetness of maple syrup, most bartenders use lemon or lime juice. Citrus and maple do not go together. Also, if you shake citrus juice with brown spirits or liquids, it turns the drink an ugly brown colour. It is the same issue I have with using Grand Marnier in a Margarita, sounds good but makes an unpleasant looking cocktail. A good drink should be balanced and look good.
The solution to the issues above is Acid Phosphate. If you’ve read Fix the Pumps, you will know that Acid Phosphate has a neutral sour flavour with no additional flavours like the citrus oils found in lemon and lime, and it is clear. That makes it perfect to pair with things you don’t want to taste like citrus or look ugly. It also has phosphate salts that enhance flavour and give a “sparkle” to drinks.
Soda jerks made good use of maple syrup in the 1800s. At that point in time, it was a locally available sweetener, at least in northern states, and was included in many drinks, like the Sweet Clover (also called the Harvest Rome) that combined Tea syrup, maple syrup and Acid Phosphate. Maple syrup was even recommended on early versions of the Banana Split (Chicago Defender—July 22, 1911).
Where Acid Phosphate does its best is balancing out the sweetness of maple syrup and allowing the flavours to come through. If you have ever drunk maple sap straight from the tree—in South Korea, this is called gorosoe—you will know it has a mildly fruity and woody flavour. When mixed in a cocktail or drink, these are the flavours that you want to dominate.
When I wrote Fix the Pumps, low and no alcohol drinks entered my consciousness and historically, these drinks were not dull. Maple syrup has a strong enough flavour that, when used correctly, it can be a benefit, especially when paired with small amounts of high flavour ingredients, like rum. The following fizz is an excellent balance of flavours that is low in alcohol but sturdy enough that it doesn’t taste like maple flavoured soda water. The alcohol content is 2.5% ABV (8 oz serving), which is 1/3 of a standard drink (a standard drink contains 18 ml of alcohol; this drink has 5.7 ml).
This recipe is a starting point and follows the traditional soda fountain formula of 1 oz syrup per 8 oz serving. But it results in a pleasant, fruity drink that has lots of flavours but isn’t as sweet as you think it would be. I’ve already tried it with multiple rums, like Wray & Nephew Overproof and Sunset Rum—Wray & Nephew is less fruity and has a drier flavour that might work for you, give it a try and make your own adjustments.
Maple syrup-based drinks don’t always have to taste like breakfast, with some thoughtfulness, they can be an excellent addition to cocktails and soda.
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