Tapping birch trees is a fun and educational spring outing for cooped up kids of all ages. Turning that sap into syrup is a time consuming, but potentially rewarding activity. Or you can simply drink the refreshing and energizing sap – straight out of the tree! We encourage you to give it a try! We have TAPPING SUPPLIES and INSTRUCTIONS ready for you!
SAP COLLECTING SUPPLIES
As winter comes to a close and the temperatures warm-up, you’ll start to see some greening buds on your birch trees. You should have your taps in, especially Willow, Talkeetna, and other areas with snow cover. Once the buds burst, the sap will get cloudy and sap flow will diminish; meaning it’s time to quit! Until next year …
TAPPING A BIRCH TREE
Picking the Right Tree
You can start tapping birch trees 8” in diameter or larger around Mid-April. Be sure your tree looks healthy and avoid any trees that have been exposed to pesticides.
You can get a good idea if they are healthy but looking for ones with a good full crown. If there are lots of deadwood in the crown or fungus growth on the trunk, you could have a very old and less then healthy tree. If you tapped in and got brown wood instead of white you could be in a dead part of the tree. Look for an area of the tree to tap that looks full or prominent, like a vein. It will often have a healthy branch above it.
EXPERT’S TIP: Tapping the tree on the side with full sun exposure might help get them running sooner. But be careful, this will also cause the sap turn earlier. I like to tap the east or north side of the tree to keep the sap out of the sun and fresher. I have learned to “read the trees” after 30 years; you may not get it right the first time!
Installing the Spout
When tapping the trees, use a 7/16” drill bit, to correspond to the size of the spout used. Drill approx. 1 ½” into the tree at a very slight upward angle, quick in and out. South-facing will start running earlier, but north-facing will be better for preserving the sap. Make sure the wood you drill into is white, not brown. Use a stick to clear out any shavings.
Before installing spouts, sterilize them in rubbing alcohol. Tap the spouts gently into the tree with a hammer. The spout needs to be tight enough to hold the weight of your container or sap bag full of sap, but not so tight as to split the wood around the hole.
Expect the sap to run from 14 to 21 days. On average each tree can yield you an average of ¾ to 1 gallon of sap per day. Beware, some trees are gushers!
Drink the sap!
It’s a spring tonic – rejuvenating and hydrating! Sap is very perishable, but will keep in your refrigerator for several days, and in your freezer forever 🙂
Check out our FAQ section below for tips and tricks from the Alaska Birch Syrup experts!
Use duct tape to reinforce the hole; keep the bag zipped closed and collect once a day – twice if you have a gusher!! No need to remove the bag – just unzip one end, and swivel it on the spout into your collection pail. Zip it back up to keep out rain and debris.
HOW TO MAKE BIRCH SYRUP
(Small scale: 2-10 spouts)
- Gather and boil the sap every day!
- Strain the sap to eliminate any twigs, leaves, insects, etc. before you start boiling the sap.
- As you boil, scum will form on the surface and stick to the sides of your pans. Skim off this scum and discard it. Also scrape the crust off the sides of the pan. Check out our expert tips for choosing the right size pan for sap boiling.
- Try to keep the level of boiling sap between 1” to 3”, and where you have a sweet, light amber-colored liquid. Never let your boiling sap get below 1” deep.
EXPERT TIP: Do not try to take this sap all the way to the syrup stage each day. There will not be enough sap left in the pan.
- Strain this hot (180-190º) concentrated sap with a paper filter as you move it to a clean jar or other sterile containers.
- Place these containers in the refrigerator – or pack into the snow. (This will hold your sap until you are ready to finish the syrup.) Note – This concentrated sap is also delicious to drink hot or cold.
- Wash the pan every day after use.
END OF THE SEASON
MAKING BIRCH SYRUP
For these steps, you’ll need a candy thermometer, all your concentrated sap, and a pan or pot. Check out of the FAQ section below for guidance on picking the right size pot.
- At the end of the season, take all of your concentrated sap and put it into one pan or pot. Early season sap will have higher sugar content and produce a sweeter, lighter syrup with a little less fuel. But it’s delicious at every stage!
- Using your candy thermometer, start to boil your sap concentrate making sure to never let the liquid go below 2” deep. (Use a smaller pot if necessary).
- When the thermometer reaches 220°, remove your pan from the heat. The boiling syrup will have very fine bubbles and may look like it wants to boil over. If it does start to boil up, add a small amount of butter or cooking oil to the pan to calm the boil. At this point, the syrup should be approximately 66% sugar. If it seems thin, boil a little further, but …
- Boiling past this point should be done very carefully, as it can scorch easily. Do note, that hot syrup is very thin, so it will be hard to tell if it is the desired thickness until it cools.
- You will need to filter your hot syrup before filling your final containers for storing. There is a natural build-up of bitter, gritty minerals in boiling sap. This grit is called niter sand. Use several layers of paper filters that are cut to the size of the strainer you use. A basket strainer (sieve) or even a wide mouth funnel will work.
- When filling the containers with hot syrup make sure it’s at 180-190ºF. This will create a vacuum to seal and keep syrup for long-term storage.
PREPARING FOR THE NEXT SAP SEASON
With the sap running season over, it’s time to pull the spouts and clean the hole by spraying with water or alcohol.
In future years, choose another area of the tree to drill a new hole. Spiral successive holes up and around the tree at about 4” intervals.
Questions? Need supplies? Contact us at Kahiltna Birchworks 907-373-1309
We have curbside pick up at our facility near Palmer and Wasilla and a self-serve station at our Talkeetna “Birchworld” facility. Or email for details: email@example.com
Common Birch Sap Collecting Questions
What if I’ve tapped my tree but the sap isn’t coming out?
Don’t worry, you did not do anything wrong! Trees do run at different times, depending on their exposure. If there is still lots of snow in your area that can also delay the sap. Tapping the side of the tree in full sun exposure might get them running sooner but won’t last as long before the sap starts to turn. I like to tap the east or north side of the tree to keep the sap out of the sun and fresher.
How much sap does it take to make birch syrup?
It takes 100+ gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup at 67% sugar.
Why types of containers can you use to collect sap?
- Use clean plastic or poly containers for collecting the sap.
- Don’t use anything that has held toxics in the past.
- It should be able to keep out any rain or snow.
- Check out our heavy gauge 2-gallon plastic sap bags.
How do I know if my sap is good or bad?
- The sap should be crystal clear and taste like slightly sweet water. It is refreshing and very good for you, so drink up!
- If the sap from any tree is discolored, discard the sap and pull that spout.
- If the sap starts to get cloudy or sour tasting, discard the sap, pull those spouts.
Does the sap change properties throughout the season?
The sap has a sugar content of 0.8 – 1.3%. The sweetest sap comes in the first week of harvest, and will make the lightest, sweetest syrup. Use only early sap for drinking.
How do I know when the sap collecting season is over?
Sap typically runs for 14 to 21 days once you tap the tree. When the leaves on the trees start to appear, the sugar is gone from the sap and the season is over.
Birch Sap Boiling / Syrup Making FAQs
What’s the best type of pan to use for daily sap boiling?
- From our experience, a large shallow pan or two is better than one big deep one. Although you can use a deep pan, it will take longer to evaporate the water off, which darkens the syrup.
- Do not use aluminum or cast iron pots or pans.
- Stainless steel or enamel pans are best.
What size pot is best for making syrup?
When it comes time to take all your concentrated sap and turn it into syrup, you need to make sure you pick the right size pot. The size pot will all depend on how much-concentrated sap you have. You NEVER want the liquid to go below 2” deep. If you don’t have much-concentrated sap, you may need to use a smaller pot.
How do I get the syrup thick?
Hot syrup is very thin, so it will be hard to tell if it is the desired thickness until it cools. If you want the syrup thicker, you can heat it again to about 180° and stir constantly. Be aware that re-heating will darken your syrup. As long as steam is rising, you are eliminating more water. If available, you can use the Brix scale on a hydrometer or refractometer to check the density of the syrup.
What do I do if the sap is frozen in the pail?
If the sap has frozen in the pail, pour off what is still liquid and discard the ice. Nature has concentrated the sap for you! The sugars do not freeze and are suspended in the liquid. The ice is primarily water.
EXPERTS TIP! If you have freezer space, you can partially freeze the sap on your own. It will save you fuel costs, time, and energy!
Can I make birch syrup on a wood stove?
Delicious birch syrup can be made by setting the pan of sap on the wood stove and letting it slowly evaporate. It will certainly take longer, but you will not be consuming additional fuel, and your home will fill with the wonderfully sweet smell of birch syrup.
I don’t recommend doing this in large quantities indoors, and you might not want to do this if you have wallpaper ;).