Brand of the Month: Runamok Maple
Who We Are
Runamok Maple is located in northern Vermont, along the western slopes of Mount Mansfield. Spanning 1,100 acres in Cambridge and 250 acres in Fairfield, our crew taps 81,000 trees to bring you one of Mother Nature’s most exquisite pleasures: pure maple syrup.
Throughout the sugaring season, the flavor of the syrup varies due to temperature, moisture and acts of nature that remain a mystery even to the experts. As it changes, we constantly taste it until we hit the absolute peak of flavor. Since this is the syrup we bottle for ourselves, we call it The Sugarmaker’s Cut.
Along with our pure maple syrup, we have created a collection of infused, smoked and barrel-aged maple syrups. Maple marries exceptionally well with a variety of flavors. Some of them are tried and true like cinnamon and vanilla and some are unexpectedly out of this world, like our original Makrut lime-leaf.
We are constantly working on new recipes to highlight the unique flavors in our syrups, and have gathered them here, on our website, for you to try. We hope you will explore it for ideas as well as information about our operation.
There are no two ways about it: maintaining a productive sugarbush requires a lot of cold, gritty, manual labor. We use tracked vehicles to get into the woods, but each tap must be placed by hand – in our case all 81,000 of them – every season. It’s incredibly rewarding to be in the forest, working in teams and using hand tools in much the same way as sugarmakers have for hundreds of years. Proper preparation in the woods ensures the sap flows into the sugarhouse efficiently and in large volume.
Once the sap comes into the Sugarhouse, it’s all about the pipes, gauges and heat. From the tank room, the sap is filtered through a reverse osmosis machine. The RO, as it is known, is the same technology used to supply communities with clean drinking water. For us, it removes up to 90% of the water from the sap before we boil it. This is the revolutionary bit of kit that has transformed modern sugarmaking over the last several decades. Without it, we would need to use eight times as much fuel.
After being concentrated, the sap is then sent back to the tank room and from there to the evaporator where it is boiled down to syrup. The boiling process is intense and the hours long. If the weather is perfect and the sap is flowing, a run can last for up 20 hours and require constant fiddling with the equipment. When we have roughly six weeks to make a year’s worth of product, there is no stopping and starting mid-run to catch some sleep. It’s an art in endurance and on-the-job problem-solving.
At Runamok, we use steam to boil the sap because it gives us precision control over the process and we find it results in the best flavor. The 400 horse power steam boiler produces roughly 13,000,000 BTU/hour creating a roiling but controlled boil in the steam pan. Billows of steam exit through the stack creating a heavenly smell of maple syrup throughout the farm.
The last step of the process is to send the finished syrup through a filter press, creating a clear, amber liquid. The color of maple syrup is lightest at the beginning of the year and continues to darken over the course of the season. The taste also changes as the winter recedes and the temperatures warm. We taste the syrup each run to determine the peak of flavor for our Sugarmaker’s Cut. We never know when that peak will come but it is a pleasure tasting maple syrup almost daily, looking for it.
The Runamok Crew
The Runamok crew are some of the hardest working people you will ever meet. Ranging in age from 18 to 55, they are a group of self-described hunters, farmers, hippies and hipsters. The one thing they all have in common is dedication and a true work ethic.
Conditions in the sugarbush can be brutal. We start at dawn when temperatures are often in single digits. Deep snow, ice and sometimes incessant rain can make progress very slow. For the sugarhouse crew the hours are long; the schedule is set by Mother Nature and she often sets the sap running for days.
Every year we face challenges of storms and broken equipment but the Runamok crew gets the job done, and does so better than any other bunch of folks out there.