Little Creek Maple Farm

Our adventures around the homestead.

Sugaring 2014 – Re-Filtering Last Year’s Syrup

Little Creek Maple Farm Syrup

Prior to running this years syrup (2014) I figured I would run what I had left over of last years (2013) syrup though Daryl Sheets Filter Press.  I probably had a little more than a gallon of syrup that I had real issues filtering last year.  Some of the frustration I now know was finishing the syrup to heavy, which made it harder to run through the gravity filters and I am sure I may have pushed some of the sugar sand through.  This made for an unsightly layer of sugar sand in the bottom of my 8 oz. and 12 oz. glass bottles.  So these bottles sat for a year and we would use them as we needed more syrup.  This unsightly product prompted me to get a filter press.  Probably overkill for our small scale operation but if I am going to do something I want to do it right.

The first steps involved in setting up the press can be found in my previous post about The Dry Run with Daryl’s Press.  So, after opening all the old small bottles of syrup and dumping them with all the settled sugar sand into a double boiler, I began re-heating the syrup up to 185F so I could run the syrup though the maple syrup filter press made by Daryl Sheets.  I used three cake plates as you can see below and cycled the heated syrup with diatomaceous earth (DE) through the press and filled up some glass quarts.

Below I removed the end waffle plate from the filter bank.  The filter papers stayed on after removing the waffle on the end and I was surprised to see what looked like some brown syrup or sediment trapped in the bottom left corner of the cake plate.  To describe the process of what happens simply.  Hot syrup with DE is allowed to flow freely into the cake plate via the hole on the bottom right.  The DE collects on the surface of the filter paper inside the cake plate and the syrup pushes through the DE and filter paper to the waffle plate where filtered syrup leaves the waffle plate via the holes that you can see in the bottom left of the waffle plate in the left image.  The filtered syrup than travels out of the bank via the hole on the bottom left of the filter bank.

Back plate removedMaple Syrup Filter Press

Removal of the last cake plate from the press, it came off easily with filter papers on both side of the cake plate stuck on as you see below.

Daryl Sheet's Filter Press in OperationDaryl Sheet's Filter Press in Operation

After setting the cake plate on a real dinner plate, it was time to reveal what was behind the filter paper.  There was a layer about 1/8” thick of DE on the inside of the cake plate, with the brown sediment concentrated down at the outlet of where the syrup would pass from the cake plate to the waffle plate to leave the press.

Daryl Sheet's Filter Press in OperationDaryl Sheet's Filter Press in Operation

More of the same as I removed each plate.  Each side of the filter paper had a nice cake of DE that was about 1/8” in thickness.

Daryl Sheet's Filter Press in Operation

The final result was 5+ quarts of crystal clear syrup.  I had to keep checking this batch up to the light for at least a week because I could hardly believe the clarity.  I know a lot of people have success with gravity filtering, and the press is not cheap, but in my mind Daryl’s filter press is worth every penny, based on the results that I observed.

Homemade Maple Syrup

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May 4, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sugaring 2014 – Filter Press, Dry Run

So we hooked up the new filter press form Daryl Sheets two weekends ago.  Prior to running syrup though I did this one set up where we ran hot water with filters & diatomaceous earth (DE) though the press to make sure everything was clean and rinsed out real well.  This was the trial run for us to see how everything would work with water.  As you can see below in the series of photos the press consists of a bunch of machined waffle plates, cake plates, and the filter paper.  Because we were only doing a gallon and a half of syrup I arbitrarily decided on using 3 cake plates. Below is the first waffle plate, which is fixed in position at the beginning of the filter press.

Daryl Sheets Filter Press

After the first plate I place on of the filter papers in front of the waffle being sure to line up the inlet & outlet holes of the filter paper with those on the waffle plate.

Daryl Sheets Filter Press

Next, I place one of the cake plates on the other side of the filter paper.  The cake plates are going catch all of the DE and the impurities in the syrup when you are using the press.

Daryl Sheets Filter Press

Once I had a cake plates and waffle plates that I was going to use in place along with the end plate, I found that it would have been impossible to wind the wing nuts onto the threaded rod on the side closest to the hand pump, so I took the remaining unused plates and stacked them up behind the end plate.  These plates filled the gap and allowed me to tighten the wing nuts as if I had been using all of the plates on the press.

Daryl Sheets Filter Press

I used some 1/2” plastic 90-degree fittings (these will be upgraded next year to quick-connects) and some RV-style water hose that I picked up at the local big box store.  The hose did get soft running boiling liquid through it but did not collapse too bad so we were able to use it for filtering syrup.  Because we are trying to figure this process out I went with two 8’ lengths of hose, which was a paint for the long length but a blessing because we could spread out.  We put a little more than a gallon of water on the stove and brought it to a boil. Then we circulated the boiling hot water with nothing in it through the press, just to see how this thing would work.  The spring clamps from Harbor Freight are a must have for any sugaring operation…

Hooking up the Hoses

After circulating the hot water through, the boss added the DE to the hot water.  We had to keep stirring the DE in hot water to keep it suspended in solution.

Adding DE to the Water

If you look closely in the photo below you can see the bottom hose is milky-white as it sucks up the DE and water solution, and if you look at the top hose you can see that it is clear with crystal clear liquid coming out of the hose.  So, basically the filter papers in the press are catching all of the DE.

Pre-heating the Filter Press

After locking up the hand pump (we used to much DE) and not being able to pump any more water through we decided to stop and see what the press looks like on the inside.  Below you can see how we removed the last end cap waffle plate and you can see the white DE behind the filter paper.  There was also a little bit of drippage in the drain pan.

Removing the end plate

I remove each cake plate and both filter paper were sticking well to each side.

Filter Press Cake Plate with DE

Peeling back the filter paper revealed the cake plate filled with DE.

Filter Press Cake Plate with DE

After this dry run with hot water, we rinsed and cleaned everything, so now it was time to see how well this process would work with some of last years syrup that we had a heck of a time filtering with gravity methods.  Stay tuned for the results.

April 13, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sugaring 2014 – Impromptu Blower

Partially Fronzen Sap into Filter

Even with yesterday’s 50F degree day we still had some buckets with a little bit of ice skin on the top of the sap.  I am too stingy to discard this ice for fear that I am throwing out even the tiniest bit of maple sap, despite what I have read about this ice containing virtually no sugar at all.  After filtering out the maple sap I got my oldest to stack some of the fire wood I split into our garden dump wagon.  The wagon helped to keep it off the ground.  I have confirmed that wrist sized pieces really do work best, and I use a mix of hardwood and softwood off cuts from the wood shop.

Firewood for the Evaporator

After reading a lot of posts about adding blowers to evaporators to increase your boil, last year and this year on the Mapletrader Forum, I figured I would see if a little Air Under Fire, AUF would actually work.  I read about people adding fans in front of their ash door and last summer I picked up this Lasko fan for the house.  The height seemed right and it was adjustable, so I could set it on the ground and aim the air straight into the ash pan of my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator.  Now Bill Mason does have an add-on option for a blower that you can to most of his evaporators and hindsight being 20/20, I should have ordered one set up for my particular evaporator, but I was unaware of the benefit until I saw it first hand yesterday.

Portable Blower for Mason Evaporator

So below is my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator, boiling outside with the temperature around 40F and a slight wind from the West.  This was my normal set-up the pan boiled and I had steam and I want so say I was probably in the 5-6 gallon range on evaporation rates but I did not see the billowy steam that you would see at larger sugarhouses.  I had written my lack of steam off to just boiling outside.

WF Mason 2x3 Hobby Evaporator No blower

Below is a photo of my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator with the Lasko fan set at it’s lowest speed and aimed into the ash pan of my evaporator.  I propped the ash pan door open with a small board.  As you can see the amount of thick steam coming off the pan was noticeably different than the photo above.  I was shocked!  Now because I was melting a lot of ice during this boil I did not have a good way to measure the evaporation rate, but the thicker plume of steam coming off my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator made me feel awesome.

WF Mason 2x3 Hobby Evaporator With Blower Fan

When the wind blew strong enough to disperse the quick column of steam you can get a feel for the rapid boil that was in my stainless steel syrup pan.

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Even as I was melting frozen sap, the column of steam I was seeing was intense.  At the end of the day I boiled of many buckets worth of liquid sap and frozen sap that I swear would have taken me two 4-hour boils and I was wrapping up shutting things down in under 4-hours because I ran out of sap.  Hopefully during the next run, I will be able to time and watch the evaporation rate using the blower with a little more accuracy than I have so far, but this will definitely improve things for me as long as I have the sap to run my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator with the blower fan.  Two words of caution to anyone planning on doing this.  First shut off or point the fan away from the ash door when you are ready to reload more wood.  If you keep the fan on you will below coals out the wood door when you load.  Second you have to be mindful of a few hot coals blowing out the ash door as you turn the blower on/off or point it in the ash door.  This was not a big concern for me as I boil outside on pavement that is typically wet with snow melt.

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March 16, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sugaring 2014 – First Boil

2x3 WF Mason Evaporator

Luckily for me, I had last Friday off to prep the evaporator for our first maple sap boil last weekend.  There were 2 major project on deck that needed to be completed.  First was to modify my poly 35 gallon leg tank to make it a little more user friendly.  For anyone familiar with these tanks they give you a small 4-5””” diameter hole at the top of the tank (sorry no before photo) which makes it nearly impossible for you to clean the inside of the tank and makes it a major chore to install the bulkhead style fitting on the outlet of the leg tank.  I read on the internet last year about how people were modifying these tanks to accept a 5-gallon bucket, and basically cutting a big hole on top.  Unfortunately I did not have the gumption to cut this tank last year.  After the pain that was to clean I figured I would go for it this year.  The first thing I did was to cut the bottom 3” off of one of my food grade buckets with a saber saw equipped with a fine cutting wood blade.  The saw made quick work of the bucket, and because the 5-gallons buckets are tapered I knew I could trace the outline of the bucket on top of the tank to give me the hole size for the top of the 35-gallon tank.

This was not as easy as I thought, because I did a flat cut on the bucket when I should have used more of a radius to follow the curve of the tank.  This is hard to explain in words and I have a lack of photos but anyone that does this modification will understand.  After I roughly traced the outline on the tank, I drilled a starter hole the size of the saber saw blade and made my initial cut.  I found myself having to go back and widen by initial cut at the two sides in order to fit the bucket into the tank.  I made a couple small cuts and would check the fit until it was snug.  Once you can fit the bucket in the tank you just push the bucket further down into the tank to tighten the fit.

Modified 35 gallon leg tank for maple syrupIMG_8975

As you can see form the photos below you end up with a pretty tight fit.

Modified 35 gallon leg tank for maple syrup with bucketModified 35 gallon leg tank for maple syrup with bucket

With my sap storage tank ready to go.  It was time to focus on the stack for my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator.  I unwrapped the tarp off the steel section of my evaporator and installed a new 6” diameter, 24” long base section on top last years elbow.  For anyone who has not used lock seem stove pipe it is a paint in the butt.  First make sure you wear gloves when working with stove pipe. Its easy to get cut if your are not careful.  I did read a trick last year that I figured I would pass along.  If you push the two seams together while pushing them down you change the circular shape of the pipe into more of a heart shape that makes it easier to start the lock seam of the stove pipe.

WF Mason 2x3 evaporator stack

Next I cheated and slapped last years section of stove pipe on the newer section.  As you can see there is a noticeable difference in just one year of the stove pipe being exposed to the weather.  I have a total of 6’ of stove pipe on this outdoor rig.  The rule of thumb I read was 2’ of pipe in height for every 1’ of pan length so in my case my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator has a 3’ long pan so 6’ seems to work fine creating plenty of draft.  In the background you can see my Garden Bean Trellis serving double duty as support for the smoke stack.  I basically have two 6’ section of lightweight conduit attached to the trellis at what end and attached to the smoke stack with some wire.  Pretty basic, but serves the purpose until we get a sugar shack.

IMG_8981

All that remains is to set the pans and fill with sap.  Saturday we boiled during the day for 4-hours or so.  We had about 40 or so gallons of maple sap previously frozen solid by the polar vortex that we were able to slightly thaw overnight in the house by Saturday morning.

WF Mason Rapid Boil

We stoked the fire got a rapid boil going and then slowly added large block of maple ice.

WF Mason Evaporator boiling ice

Thawing that much ice forced me to keep a good eye on our stack temp and the sap in the pans so I could maintain a rapid boil.

Inferno magentic stack gage

Sunday I started late thanks to daylight savings time and got in my first night boil.

Night boiling on a 2x3 evaporator

There is something special about boiling at night.  Its hard to describe but there seems to be more steam rising in the moonlight and the wood in the firebox seems to glow just a little bit brighter and feel a little bit warmer.

WF Mason 2x3 Evaporator Fire Box

I was not quite sure how well we did where everything was frozen, and we had some additional sap run last weekend but I be we went through between 50 or so gallons of sap over 4 hours each day so we probably had an evaporation rate of 6 gallons per hour despite melting ice.  It was a good weekend that left us with about 4 gallons of sweet.

March 13, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugaring 2014 – First Taps of the Season

Maple Bucket Brigade

Well we got started on our maple sugaring season yesterday, with 40+ degree weather yesterday, it was time to get the taps in.  Thankfully I had lots of  energetic help.  The boys rounded up the buckets and helped blaze trails through the snowpack!

Maple Sugaring Tools

On our way to tap the first tree with the kids, notice that I no longer need to carry any tools, just an iced coffee for me this year.

Shoveling out snow to get to the maple tap

Our first tree required a little shoveling of the driveway snow banks before we could reach it, but the warm weather made for easy shoveling.

Kids Maple Tree Tap

As you can see the snow got a little deep once you stepped off the well packed down trail to the tree.  Lucky for me, I was just the supervisor and all my assistants had the tools we needed to tap this maple tree.

Maple Tap

My oldest got to drill his first tap into this maple tree.  It’s a little challenging when you have two people driving, but we managed to get it done.

Hammering in a Seasonal Maple Tap

Not to be outdone, it was no time for the younger son, to hammer in the plastic tap.  Watch the fingers!

Maple Tap on Tubing

After attaching the tubing to the tap, this red maple is now on the lateral line and dripping sap.  Only 40 plus taps left to go…

Sugaring season wouldn’t be complete with out my oldest looking to taste the sap as it flows out of the trees.  He is always amazed by how it runs out of the trees and how it tastes.  This boy loves the sweet taste of the maple sap, but not pure maple syrup, go figure.

Tasting Maple Sap

This year we had so much snow it was fun watching the kids try and navigate the deep snowpack.  I found myself just watching them trying to walk around and it was hard not to giggle a bit when they got stuck.  It was a good day yesterday, and hopefully today we can dig out the evaporator and finish up the last couple taps that will be on buckets this year.

Maple Bucket Lids

This year with the deep snow, I found it helpful to have one of these bins to haul around in the woods that contained everything we needed to tap our trees.

Maple Tool Tote

February 23, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sugaring 2014 – Our New Filter Press

Daryl Sheets Filter Press

The couple of warm days here this week have really started to get the family anxious.  With the warmer weather and some of the snow staring to melt, we know it won’t be long before its time to start tapping.  We are entering our third season of sugaring, and are looking to further streamline the process.

The first year we started sugaring (2012) our biggest hurdle was boiling all of the sap we collected.  That was slow going on the BBQ grill!  So last year (2013) we decided to invest in a wood fired evaporator, knowing that we were going to get up to 40 or so trees.  Everything thing worked great and we were able to boil off all the sap collected at a much better evaporation rate, but we had one catch.  We had our toughest time filtering our syrup.  We ended up with some great clear batches and other batches that ended up with so much sugar sand in them that we kept those for ourselves or maple nuts.  Not wanting to end up with that much syrup on hand again, we decided that we needed to go hardcore on the filtering.  I saved up all year and decided to invest in this shiny contraption.

The above photo is of a 5” maple syrup filter press made by Daryl Sheets in Pennsylvania.  This contraption should hopefully take our filtering to the next level and give us crystal clear syrup for our 2014 Maple Sugaring Season.  Now all I need to do is get some food grade hoses for the inlet and outlet, a stainless steel nipple for the outlet as well, and a new stainless steel pot and we should be in business.  Like everything else maple, I am sure there will be a learning curve on the whole filtering process.  There is a lot of information out there for the small sugaring operations, but I have found that until you actually try something in the field and make a mess, you never know what is going to work.

After consulting my records for the last two years, it likes like the sap really did not start to run until Valentines Day, so another two weeks before we get tapped in New Hampshire.  This may change depending on weather…

February 2, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , | 12 Comments

Sugaring 2013 – Finishing Up

Last weekend I finally got around to taking our last batch of maple sap concentrate and reducing it to syrup.  An hour or so of boiling and we were ready to filter.

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This go around I wanted to use a jelly bag filter that I had read about online and ordered from Amazon.  It was kind of a let down when I opened the package and discovered how cheap it was.  I am hoping the bulk of the cost is in the cloth filter and not the frame… Anyhow I clipped the frame to one of our stainless steel bowls wrapped the cloth filter around the frame and lined it with some of my pre-filter material.  It seemed to work well.

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Later that night I put the filtered syrup onto a pot with about 3” of water in it.  Essentially creating a double boiler.  At the same time I am re-heating the syrup to 185F for bottling I also put about 3” of water into my West Bend 32 cup coffee urn to pre-heat.

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When the syrup hits 185F and the Coffee Urn runs through its brew cycle we are ready to bottle.  With the help of the wife she dumps the water in the urn into the sink and quickly sets the urn back down so I can dump the hot syrup from the bowl into the urn.  All this is done in a matter of seconds while the urn remains plugged in.  This being our 3rd time performing this juggling act we have it pretty well dialed in.  Next Wen begins to bottle while I cap the full bottles and set them on their sides.  The whole process takes a couple minutes per gallon of syrup.  Two important points when doing this.  Make sure you have all of your caps and bottles ready to go before heating anything up and make sure you keep an eye on the level of syrup in the urn, because when the level of syrup in the urn gets low you need to unplug the urn so you don’t overheat the syrup or burnout the element in the urn.

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We found out the hard way that a cloth or glove is needed for the 12oz jars.  For some reason the additional fill time of the 12 oz. jars causes the jars to heat up a lot more in your hand than the smaller 8 oz. jars we had been using previously.  We also ran out of the cool black plastic safety cap and had to got with the ghetto red metal caps on a couple of bottles.  Another 108 ounces of syrup to this year’s tally.

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April 17, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugaring 2013 – Our Last Outside Boil

Roasting Marshmallows

I finally got some time to boil.  It’s a good thing too!  We had maybe close to 40 gallons of sap that needed boiling right away.  I had done my best to keep the 5-gallon pails buried in the snow bank, but after a string of warm spring days with temperatures well into the 50’s, my stockpile of snow was shrinking.  Heck, I was starting to see some shoots pop on one of my raised beds!

I had a few errands to run in the morning, so I got started boiling late morning around 11:00AM and loaded the last pieces of wood closer to 6:00PM.  This latest stretch of warm weather had left the buckets dry all week, and all the snow in the woods had disappeared.  The majority of this sap was collected towards the beginning of the week and because it’s so late in the season I am hoping for some Grade B syrup.  The really dark maple-ly stuff that can be used for cooking or beer.

Last Boil 2013-03-30 007

It was a little windy Saturday so this was my best steam cloud picture.  I had to time it just right when the wind had stalled.

Towards the end of the boil the wife and kids decided they wanted to have some roasted marshmallows!  I figured what the heck, and told them we could roast them if they could find the camping forks.  The kids had roasted marshmallows and hot dogs for dinner.  At the end of the night I ended up with a little more than 4 gallons of concentrated sap, which provided I have time on Easter, I will boil down to almost syrup, and eventually bottle sometime during the week.  I am only expecting 1/2 gallon of syrup, so we will have to wait and see how it turns out…

March 31, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugaring 2013 – Maple Saturday Afternoon!

Late Saturday afternoon, much to my surprise, the sap was running.  It was warm out, maybe upper 30’s, but it was cool with a stiff breeze, and I wasn’t expecting much.  However, when we went to hit the dump, we were shocked to see the buckets overflowing!

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We had to rush to the dump before they closed and hurry home to empty the buckets before we lost anymore sap on the ground.  We were truly shocked!

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Things were thawing and the “Little Creek” was running.  The boys had a blast splashing in the water, thank goodness for boots and snow pants!

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It took us a good while to empty all of the buckets and bucket brigade them to the driveway where we took a quick break and paused for another photo shoot after all this was probably going to be our best run of the season.

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After getting the buckets up to the top of the driveway reality set in and I was reminded about the other 16 gallons of sap we collected the previous night!  Not to mention we still had 4 more trees to collect sap from behind the house…

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As the sun was setting reality was about to set in – 50 gallons of sap!  Looks like we are boiling all day Sunday.

March 25, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , | Leave a comment

Sugaring 2013 – Maple Saturday

We were surprised this Saturday by my folks.  Lucky for them we chose today to make maple peanuts, and finish out a batch of syrup.

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The recipe for maple nuts is simple, and I have posted the recipe previously here.  Basically, you heat 6 ounces of syrup to 240F and add it to some preheated nuts, stir until the syrup sugars, and the pour the sugared peanuts onto a cookie sheet to rest.  Then wait 30 minutes until cool to eat, if you can wait that long!

With the maple nuts ready, I turned my attention to finishing our syrup.  We had about two gallons of “almost syrup” that I had brought to about 50 on the Brix Scale and had placed in the fridge.  To finish the “almost syrup”, I did two batches on our stove, boiling each batch until they reached at least 59 on the Brix scale when hot.

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As you can see, the first batch of syrup was a little heavy at 62 Brix so I brought the second batch to exactly 59 Brix, so they would be a little heavier than they needed to be when blended together.  I filtered all the syrup through several synthetic filters and one Orlon filter, and into a stainless steel bowl.  I then put this bowl on top of my stainless steel pot that had 2” of water in it that I had brought to a boil while filtering the syrup.  The idea here is to create a double boiler and bring the filtered syrup up to 185-190F so I can hot pack my syrup in glass bottles.

I decided to give the West Bend 30 cup coffee urn another shot at bottling the syrup this year.  I already had an epic failure on the last batch I made, and I was determined to make this thing work, because bottling has been a pain.

While I was finishing the syrup, I put a couple inches of water in the coffee urn and turned it on.  It took a while to go through the “brew cycle” and when it was done and in “warming mode” signaled by the little orange light glowing, I left it as is with the hot water in it.  After I brought the filtered syrup up to 190F in the double boiler, I quickly had the wife empty the hot water in the coffee urn into the sink and I poured the syrup into the coffee urn.  This was quite the scene and I am sure my parents enjoyed watching the show!  Now with hot syrup in the urn, we could bottle fast and easy from the urn’s spigot.  I did have to teach Wen how to pour the syrup.  Apparently, someone had never poured a beer from a tap before, so her first bottle of syrup was a little bubbly to say the least!

The coffee urn is definitely a huge time saver when bottling!  We went through 22 glass bottles and 2 mini plastic bottles super fast.  For anyone trying to bottle with a coffee urn – when you get within a couple inches of the bottom you need to unplug the coffee urn so you don’t burn out the element before you bottle your last couple of bottles.

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I love seeing the finished product jarred like this.  Kudos to Wen for getting this awesome shot.  After everything cooled down, the syrup graded out as Medium Amber!  Fun times!

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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