Watch our 2014 video to see our collection systems and syrup making process.
Birch Syrup is a truly unique flavor from Alaska’s forests and other northern forests across the globe. Alaska’s boreal forests, carpeted with mixed birch/spruce, are ideal for sustainable syrup production. Birch syrup is rare because it is difficult to produce. Worldwide production of birch syrup is less than 5,000 gallons per year. We are currently the world’s largest producer, making about 1000-1300 gallons annually.
At Kahiltna Birchworks, we collect the sap in a short harvest each spring from the paper birch and evaporate it to syrup. It takes an average of 110 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of birch syrup. Maple syrup, by comparison, averages 40:1. The sap, containing only 1-1.5% sugar, looks and tastes much like water right out of the tree. Concentrating the sugar to 67% by evaporation gives the syrup its color and distinctive flavor. The sap (called birch water) from the tree can also be enjoyed as a refreshing beverage. Try our birch water.
The first step in making syrup is tapping the trees. While we still collect a portion of the sap using traditional tap and pail techniques, we are transitioning to the latest technology, a tubing and vacuum system. Each year we tap 11,000-15,000 trees in the Talkeetna area. In 2019, 8,800 of these were on a tubing and vacuum system. To produce a higher quality syrup and save on time and fuel, we pump the sap at high pressure through a reverse osmosis machine which removes up to 90% of the water before evaporation begins. This concentrates the sugar to approximately 10%. Concentration to 67% sugar is completed in an evaporator originally designed for maple syrup production.
The time to tap Alaska paper birch is when the sap rises in early April. The season averages three weeks until the leaves emerge on the birch trees. Production varies from season to season. Each tree averages .6 gallons of sap per day during harvest, resulting in about 15 ounces of pure birch syrup per tree for the season. For more information on seasonal variations, see our harvest journal blog.
Tapping the trees does not injure them as we harvest only 7-10% of the tree’s total sap production. We adhere to the sustainable practices of one-tap-per-tree and we do not plug the holes at the end of the harvest as it has been shown to impede the natural healing of the tree.
Our syrup is distinctive in flavor that we describe as rich, complex, and spicy-sweet. Our customers tell us they are reminded of sorghum, honey, or molasses. There are hints of berries, citrus, chocolate, and coffee. Birch syrup is a versatile and delicious sweetener that blends well with other flavors in a wide variety of recipes.
The well-known Marx Brothers Café chef, Jack Amon, uses our birch syrup to glaze duck and for his dessert specialty–birch butter pecan ice cream served over fresh berry crisp. Denali Brewing in Talkeetna makes their “One Tree” Belgian stout with birch. An increasing number of chefs and breweries across Alaska and beyond are using our syrup to create signature dishes and craft beers.
Birch water is a traditional drink in Europe, Russia, and Asia and it is rapidly becoming popular in the United States. In 2017 we reserved a portion of the sap we collected to make into a delightfully refreshing beverage, rather than processing the sap to syrup.
Our Alaska Wild Birch Water is the pure springtime sap of Alaska birch trees tapped in the boreal forest near Talkeetna, Alaska. Birch water, filtered through the tree, contains approximately 1% naturally occurring sugars and an abundance of minerals. Traditionally used as a spring tonic, the sap is refreshing, energizing and hydrating.
When we bottle, we lightly infuse the sap with wild harvested goods from our woods, including blueberries, lingonberries and chaga. We add a little organic lemon or lime juice for taste and product stability. Our birch water embodies the Alaskan forest and the rejuvenating energy of our welcome spring.
WILD CHAGA MUSHROOMS
Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) is a fungus that grows primarily on live birch trees in cold climates. Acting as a cancer that will eventually kill the tree, chaga draws nutrients from the host tree that can be extracted and used for your health and enjoyment. Our pure, cold climate Alaska chaga is sustainably harvested primarily in the winter from wild Alaskan birch trees near our homestead in Alaska’s remote Susitna Valley. Because it grows far from air and water pollution, our chaga is prized for its purity.
After we harvest the chaga it is carefully dried before being ground into tea. To make the extract, we infuse the ground chaga in alcohol and then water for increased potency. This process takes several months before we are ready to bottle the extract.
There is a great deal of research being done on the potential benefits of chaga. It is high in anti-oxidants. Known as an adaptogen, chaga is believed to be energizing and possibly effective in stimulating the body to heal itself.