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Special Ingredient: Make It Sappy

Head for the trees: Maple or birch sap can offer more complexity to a brew.

John Holl Sep 29, 2019 - 5 min read

Special Ingredient: Make It Sappy Primary Image

Marika Josephson, co-owner and brewer at Scratch Brewing in Ava, Illinois, knows a lot about brewing with ingredients found right outside the back door. So the grove of maple and birch trees that are on the property of the rural Illinois brewery are routinely put to work. When you hear maple, the obvious second word is “syrup,” but in the case of Scratch, they found that using sap offered more complexity to a beer.

“We started fooling around with sap when we were homebrewers, and we didn’t expect it to taste like syrup because it was so thin; it’s really watery, but it is sweet with a mineral character,” Josephson says. “What we found was that after fermentation, it really dried out the beer, gave it a mineral character—like mineral water—and even cherry esters, too.”

The brewers have found that darker, maltier beers, such as strong porters and stouts, work best for brewing with sap. With lighter-grain bills, the mineral taste came off as medicinal, Josephson says. When they make beers with sap, they use the sugary liquid in place of water.

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John Holl is the author of Drink Beer, Think Beer: Getting to the Bottom of Every Pint, and has worked for both Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® and All About Beer Magazine.