At the last week’s Vermont Farm Show, Howard Beaupre, Sr.’s maple syrup was perched on a top shelf, backlit to display its color and clarity, but completely cloaked in blue and pink ribbons.
His Grade A Amber maple syrup took first place in its class, as well as best in show for the entire category, adding to a collection of awards in his sugaring house that he leases off Everest Road.
Standing in front of his stainless steel evaporator, he wore a camouflage fedora and button up shirt to match. It was 9 degrees, and with no jacket or gloves, he seemed pleasantly unaffected.
“My niece, she’s a good taster,” Beaupre said of his success, dodging any credit. “And my youngest son is. And I got a middle son there; he is, too. They can tell what it is and what it ain’t.”
Beaupre started boiling syrup in 1996 and has entered competitions at the Vermont Maple Festival, Champlain Valley Fair and the Vermont Farm Show ever since.
A plywood wall in his sugarhouse was covered with dozens of ribbons of various sizes and colors, placed beside pictures of friends and family. A number of local and even national media outlets have covered his latest victory.
“Nobody made a fuss over that,” he said pointing to two big, pink first-place ribbons from the Champlain Valley Fair. “I don’t know what the deal is. Maybe it’s because it’s the Vermont Farm Show.”
When he was a kid, Beaupre remembers watching his grandfather boil sap by placing a three-foot-by-three-foot pan on a 55-gallon drum.
He also remembers coming home from school and having to collect sap from the seven or eight trees they tapped on his family’s property, trudging through three feet of snow. He said it would give them enough syrup to last the year.
Now Beaupre has 1,150 taps on a farm three miles away from his sugarhouse. He boils up to 2,300 gallons a day when the sap is running and produces more than 400 gallons a year, of every grade.
Beaupre said he’s a member of a sugarmakers’ association and that 99 percent of his product is turned into “bulk syrup” and ends up at the Butternut Mountain Farm in Johnson.
Beaupre has taken classes on tasting and evaluating syrup. He said when you taste bad syrup, you’ll definitely know, as it sometimes tastes scorched or “buddy” if produced too late into the production season.
“And you can smell it, too,” he said. “Bad syrup, I mean, ugh, it’s awful. You can stand in a sugarhouse and burn your eyes.”
Beaupre said if there is a secret to boiling sap then everybody already knows it, and that’s to apply constant heat to your syrup.
He said years ago, farmers used to burn old tree stumps and run pipes with oil through the syrup just to keep it hot.
“If you open the door on the evaporator, you’ll see the boil go right down,” he said. “You don’t want the door open long. We have to fire ours every five to six minutes.”
He said simply not paying attention to the syrup while it is boiling is the biggest hazard and can quickly result in burned syrup, damaged equipment and money down the drain.
Beaupre said he consumes about a quart of syrup a year and prefers the darker, more robust grade, especially poured over maple or vanilla ice cream.
Beaupre hasn’t tapped his trees yet this year but plans to in the next week or two. He’s turning 73 this July and said he’s not in the business to make money, just have a little fun.