Oh my! Those were the only words that came to mind when I recently had my first taste of Kleekhoot Gold maple syrup. The thick, buttery/caramel/maple flavour of this very unique product is a sensory delight in so many respects. Produced by the ubiquitous Bigleaf Maples found only on the west coast, it offers a completely different maple syrup experience from the product generated by the sugar maples on the east side of North America.
Although there has been some small-scale production of Bigleaf Maple syrup here on the Island for some time now, the Kleekhoot Gold is the first major commercial production. The syrup project is the undertaking of the Hupacasath First Nation in Port Alberni which, 18 months ago, had no inkling that such a business was even a possibility. But a serendipitous moment and a questioning mind brought the idea together, and this past winter the band tapped 600 Bigleaf Maples on their traditional land. The sap is flowing now through the band’s sophisticated tapping system, and state-of-the-art processing equipment in the band’s newly-built sugar shack reduces the clear liquid to a thick, creamy delight.
At the moment the source of the sap is a stand of Bigleaf Maples at the confluence of the Sproat and Stamp Rivers, part of the Hupacasath Kleekhoot territory. The wetness underfoot provides the perfect terroir for Bigleaf Maples and the sap that they produce. It takes 60 ounces of sap to produce one ounce of Kleekhoot Gold Bigleaf Maple syrup, as a opposed to a 40:1 ratio for syrup production from sugar maples. Some of the trees being tapped at the Kleekhoot site are 1 ½ meters in diameter, and the band is being very selective so as not to tap trees that might be too immature. The beauty of the Bigleaf Maple is that the drill holes for tapping heal over within a few months, making the trees a valuable, renewable resource that have the potential to enrich the Hupacasath for generations to come.
The real delight of this whole thing is that Bigleaf Maples have generally been considered little more than a weed and nuisance species on the west coast. Forest companies had no hesitation in replacing Bigleaf Maple stands with conifers, valued for their timber. However, with no need for reforestation and the natural healing abilities of the maples they may well prove, over the long haul, to be a more valuable resource than any timber company could ever have imagined.
The Hupacasath business plan for Kleekhoot Gold was originally a slow, steady escalation of the number of trees tapped, topping out at 3,000 by the year 2020. However, initial demand is so high – 42 retail outlets have already expressed interest in marketing the product, and private pre-orders are coming from all over the country – that the aim now is to tap upwards of 5,000 trees over the winter of 2017-2018, just to meet the demand. All the trees are on band property.
So, anyone looking for a delightful culinary treat might be wanting to consider trying a bottle of Kleekhoot Gold maple syrup. I am told by those in the know that it is particularly good over ice cream.
Further information on Kleekhoot Gold maple syrup (and how to pre-order) can be found on the Hupacasath web site at: