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Posts Tagged ‘maple syrup bottling’

When we made our syrup last year, we bottled it into industry-standard bottles and sold it at the Williamstown Farmers Market last summer.  We were not particularly impressed with these bottles, because they looked too much like other products.  We wanted to let people know our maple syrup is something special.  We wanted to be different and to stand out.  We wanted to impress a market that perhaps is not aware of all the wonderful culinary uses for maple syrup, other than pouring it over their breakfast foods.

After some feedback we received at our first Farmers Market, we got in touch with the local folks at Corporate Papers, who prior to designing unique corporate stationery, were ad and marketing people and designers.  We thought their unique skills and enthusiasm for what we were trying to do was a perfect fit for us in helping us design a special container for our gourmet maple syrup.

After hearing our story and touring our sugar bush, they enthusiastically put together a set of three possible directions to go with the maple syrup bottle design.  We liked the possibilities of tapping into the gourmet culinary market, so far as yet untapped – pun intended.  So our bottle design process, having chosen the direction we wanted to go, involved choosing a bottle shape.  To do this, Beth had to research glass container companies and have them send samples of different shaped bottles.  They were all very willing, which enabled the folks at Corporate Papers to design a label for each style bottle using the photograph Beth took last year of our maple trees with sap buckets hanging from them.  Corporate Papers experimented with a few different font styles, and we collectively agreed on the current bottle style and font.

The next thing to decide was what information had to be on the bottles.  Beth knew that some information was required by law and did some more research to learn what elements needed to be on the label.  We also discussed adding bar codes, which we were hesitant to do at first because of the high cost involved.  Because we were going to potentially market our maple syrup to specialty food stores, we felt the investment of acquiring bar codes would make it easier for stores to stock and sell it.

With bar codes in hand and finalizing the label design, we also needed caps.  We had to go back and forth with the bottle supply companies to make sure the caps fit properly and were the best color to make our maple syrup bottles look their best.  We decided the silver was very classy looking and brought out the silver in the buckets on the photo.  Beth also wanted to have shrink-wrap, tamper-evident seals on the bottles and was able to find a product that was both biodegradable and did not require heat to apply.

Now the bottle was complete – well, almost.  It was missing something.  We felt our story needed to go with it, and we wanted to provide a separable “business card” so folks could easily reorder our product or know where to find it when they ran out.  A hang tag was the best solution, so Corporate Papers designed a hang tag that told our story and provided the information for our customers to get a hold of us once they discarded their empty syrup bottles!

The next step was to make mock-ups of all our bottle sizes and introduce it to the public.  The first step was to get a photograph of the bottles, but we did not have any syrup to put in it.  So we filled the bottles with tea, a similar color to syrup, and got a terrific shot!  We used that on our brochures to give to folks at the Holiday Farmer’s Market in Williamstown when we introduced our gourmet maple syrup and its new packaging.  The feedback was tremendous which gave us affirmation that we were on the right track.

Sweet Brook Farm Gourmet Maple Syrup Bottles

The finished product!

Next it was time to research suppliers and to start ordering all the elements of our packaging.  With Corporate Papers’ assistance, we found the suppliers for our first big order of all the elements – the bottles, caps, label printers, someone to mechanically apply the labels, shrink-wrap bands, hang tag printer, and elastic loops.  In early February 2010, we got notice that a tractor-trailer would be delivering seven pallets of bottles, caps, and shrink bands.  Unfortunately, we don’t have a loading dock on our farm, and our driveway is too narrow for a tractor-trailer to come up it.  Thankfully, Beth came up with the idea of calling their local lumber supplier – r.k. Miles — and asked for their help.  We were willing to pay them to have the truck to deliver the pallets to their loading dock and they in turn deliver the pallets to our farm.  They have a smaller flat bed with a boom that has delivered lumber to us over the summer.   Beth was pleasantly surprised and touched that they offered to do it for no charge!  This was an incredibly neighborly gesture, and we are very grateful for their assistance.

So now our barn is full of bottles, caps, supplies, kegs, and jugs.  All of this came together over the course of the summer and fall, and impressively close to sugaring time!  But we got it done with the help of many enthusiastic neighbors, friends, and local businesses.  Now we patiently wait for that first sap run.  Right now it is snowing with about four inches on the ground.  All our taps are in the trees, which we finished doing yesterday.  Maple syrup folk lore says that if you don’t have a January thaw, don’t even bother putting out your buckets.  We had a late January thaw!  Another one is that the trees produce more sap when there’s a blanket of snow covering their feet.  We have that now!  And to top it off, the five-day weather forecast indicates temperatures in the mid 30s.  We are all very excited here at Sweet Brook Farm for the possibilities that lie ahead of us this year.  Stay tuned for our next posting which we hope to have something to say about making our gourmet maple syrup!

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OK.. so when we left off, the sap at Sweet Brook Farm which is used to make our gourmet maple syrup has just finished its long journey from the trees, under the ground, and into the sugar house.  Remember that one of the key factors of the grade of the syrup is minimizing its exposure to sunlight and the warm temperatures.  That is why our state-of the-art sap collection system ensure that our maple syrup is the best tasting around.  In the maple syrup world less sunlight  equals better taste!

Now that we’ve seen how the sap is collected, let’s take a look at where it goes and what happens to it.  In this first photo, you see the black main sap lines dumping into the 1,700-gallon, cone-bottom sap collection tank.  The white PVC pipes are for the vacuum lines and vacuum pump exhaust

1,700 gallon sap collection tank

This is the vacuum pump system used to create vacuum in the sap lines which better facilitates sap flow and helps with those low-lying areas that need to “boost” the sap up hill.  The large black tub of water is used to cool the pump.

The vacuum pump system and cooling tub

After the sap starts to collect in the main collection tank, it gets pumped to the reverse-osmosis (RO) unit.  Here, the sap gets pushed through the membrane columns, pushing through some of the water in the sap and holding back sugar-concentrated sap.  The sugar content in raw maple sap is about 2%.  The RO unit will bring the sugar content of the sap up to about 10%, removing about 80% of the water, which in turn saves about 80% of the fuel otherwise needed to evaporate sap to syrup.

Reverse osmosis system

From the RO unit, the concentrated sap, or concentrate, is pumped to the concentrate tank where it will dump into the evaporator.  We built a special platform to hold this 150-gallon tank above the evaporator, so it can feed by gravity.  Once this tank fills up, the oil-fired arch is turned on, and evaporation begins!

The concentrate tank - Let the evaporation begin!

Our evaporator is designed to boil off 160 gallons of water per hour, making approximately 20 gallons of syrup per hour if fed 10% concentrate.  The steam hood over the evaporator pans preheats the concentrate before it enters the pan, further saving fuel.  An automatic take-off valve controls the flow of syrup into a 100-gallon finishing pan where a final adjustment can be made before it is finished and packaged.  The final syrup is 66% sugar.

Sap goes into the evaporator, and maple syrup comes out

The evaporator pans collect niter, or maple sand, that must be cleaned routinely to prevent damage to the pans and off-tasting syrup.  We have installed rope pulls to lift the steam hood off the rear evaporator pan.

Heavy-duty rails and additional rope pulls are used to lift and remove the rear pan and to slide it out the door of the sugar house for periodic cleaning.

Evaporator pans are set up with rope pulls for periodic cleaning to ensure consistent taste

A gear pump forces the finished syrup through this filter press to remove foreign debris and niter.  From here, the syrup is packaged in 5-gallon containers or transferred to our bottling unit for packaging.

This is the point at which we grade the syrup using USDA standards of Grade A Light Amber, Medium Amber, Dark Amber, or Grade B Commercial.

Once the syrup travels through the filter press, it is time to give it a USDA Grade

Each day, the tanks and RO membrane are rinsed out using a garden hose and fresh water.

Daily cleaning keeps us busy and your syrup tasting great

Our new mezzanine will store the finished syrup, some in the 5-gallon blue containers shown in this photo.  This is also where we will store our bottling supplies and other seasonal farm equipment.

Our brand new mezzanine where we store the finished product until it is shipped out or bottled

Stay tuned for our next post where we talk about the pump house, which at the time of writing this post, is not quite finished.  We are hoping for some warmer temperatures so we can finish the work that needs to be done in there.

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