Keg + Maple Syrup = Explosive Fun

by Tig Tillinghast

It all started out, as so many things do, with a clever plan. I did not then anticipate that I would later be rushing up I-93 to get to a formal event while covered in 18-month old beer. Such is maple syrup entrepreneurialism.

The problem that needed to get solved was transportation and dispensing of maple syrup to increasingly large bulk maple syrup customers. Once every couple months, I make the rounds in New England, delivering barrels of maple syrup to some very interesting – sometimes innovative – whole sale customers using maple syrup for everything from granola manufacturing to restaurant use to wedding favors, corporate gifts, all the way to theatrical blood simulation. A lot of these businesses have similar issues about storing wholesale maple syrup and using it in their various batch sizes, all the while trying to prevent it from spoiling, crystalizing, etc. Besides, open topped barrels are just plan sticky.

As with our bottles, boxes and other elements, I’ve discovered that borrowing items from other related industries creates a much better economy of scale than purchasing items designed specifically for maple syrup. For instance, our liter bottles of maple syrup fit into wine shippers that cost about one third as much as the equivalent box for the more obscure maple syrup container shapes.

kegs-of-maple-syrupThus, I came up with the keg scheme for bulk maple syrup. They’re interchangeable, common, and have their own flourishing aftermarket of related products for moving, cleaning and doing pretty much anything to kegs.

The first thing I discovered when I hopped online to learn where to get one for experimentation, was that breweries own their own kegs, and it’s actually quite difficult to come by them. Only when I discovered a brewery going out of business did I get a chance to snag some.

On my way back up from one of these treks across New England, carrying my wholesale maple syrup rounds, I stopped last at the brewery in southern New Hampshire and picked them up. There, a nice young fellow showed me how to open them up and remove the mechanism in the middle that allows for dispensing and pressurization. What he didn’t realize was that the keg he was using as an example happened to have been sitting in the summer sun for a few months with the dregs of a soured stout. When he pushed in the spring-loaded ball, out shot a vile stream of beer-turned-vinegar, splashing all over us. I had 90 minutes to be back up in Vermont for an event, and I didn’t have a change of clothes.

Since then, though, the bulk maple syrup keg idea has taken on some steam. After acquiring some compressed gas tanks and various fittings, we have maple syrup dispensing out of some test kegs, and even have our first household client, who wishes to stick a keg under the sink and have a maple syrup tap on the kitchen counter. Because we’re using nitrogen to replace the air inside as it dispenses, aerobic bacteria cannot grow. Pretty clever, those beer-drinking people.

After a couple more weeks of testing, we’ll be confident that the mechanism won’t get gummed up with our maple syrup, which is just a bit thicker than most. After we do some refrigeration tests and carbonation tests, we’ll green-light the bulk maple syrup kegs to send on to a couple of our business clients.