Do Be Sappy
Side Dishes: Fiddlehead Brewing partners with Vermont Folklife Center on sap beer
Like true Yankees, Vermont’s sugarers of yore didn’t let anything go to waste: Some fermented their last maple-sap runs — which tend to be lower in sugar — into beer.
The practice faded out decades ago, though pockets of home brewers, among others, have kept sap beer alive. Now comes a commercial revival: Two weeks ago, Matt Cohen of Fiddlehead Brewing company used 700 gallons of late-season sap from Monkton farmer Matt Davis to brew a beer called Frog Run.
The idea for the brew was hatched when the Vermont Folklife Center’s archivist, Andy Kolovos, stopped at Fiddlehead to pick up some beer. “For a long time we’ve been looking for a brewer to partner with to do a production of [sap beer] that could serve as a fundraiser,” says Kolovos. “I asked Matt, ‘How does this sound to you?’ He said, ‘I like it; let’s do it.’”
Inspiration came from an oral history from the late Edgar Dodge, a longtime Tunbridge farmer. In the VFC’s recording, Dodge recalls how sap beer was an integral part of the agricultural cycle, usually ready by “haying time” — close to the Fourth of July. “I doubt if there’s a barrel of sap beer in the state of Vermont today,” he muses. “It was a pretty good drink for haying.”
Cohen couldn’t find many historical references to sap beer, but “[Dodge’s] piece led me to believe that people threw in any type of fermentables they had,” he says. To make his more palatable, the brewer used malted barley. “In any part of the process where we’d use water, we used sap instead,” Cohen says. Though the sap he used had just 1 percent sugar, he expects the brew to taste more malty and sweet than hoppy. The name Frog Run refers to the peepers whose appearance marks the end of sugaring season.
The beer’s release will coincide with a July 7 brewery party and fundraiser for the VFC featuring regional traditional music.