Written by Chris Benjamin, director of food and beverage at the Essex Resort and Spa.

Ah, sugaring season — perhaps one of my favorite times of year. Not only is it a reconnection to nature after a season indoors, but it also signals the end of cold and snow. (I’m not a big fan of winter, if you couldn’t tell).

Sugar season also holds some very fond memories for me. While currently in between operations, I have been an avid sugarer since I was a kid working with my dad. We started out with a little 2-by-2, propane-feuled Leader evaporator. We’d start out with some taps in trees, cutting triangles out of milk jugs to use as buckets. I’m not sure what was more frustrating: cutting all the jugs or chasing them around the 20-plus acres of land after a decent wind blew.

After upgrading to buckets, we built a sugarhouse and invested in a 2-by-6 evaporator. Our sugarhouse is on the grounds where four generations of Benjamins have worked. (I count my daughter in this, though, she barely remembers it.) In this sugarhouse, alongside my dad and later my best friend, we had some of the best times of my childhood.

We had a TV (because you have to watch March Madness), cooked hot dogs in the back pan (you’ve never tasted a dog so good, but it’s pretty impossible to do that now with all the reverse-osmosis machines and steam-aways), and we created one of the greatest flavor combinations that I’ve ever tasted: whiskey and syrup.

Nothing — and I mean nothing — is better than hot maple syrup out of the evaporator and a little Jack Daniels. The sweet of the syrup takes out the bitterness and burn of the whiskey.

Don’t believe me? Look at some of the products that are available on the market. Sortilege is a maple whiskey native to Canada. Sapling is a liqueur made from Vermont Grade A maple syrup. Vermont Gold is a vodka made from the sap itself. These products are all of the highest quality, and are great mixed in drinks or all by themselves.

Alcohol and maple are a match made in heaven, but not just for drinks. It also makes a dynamite glaze and marinade for meats. This Easter, we’re serving a Jack Daniels maple demi-glace on our Vermont fresh hams. One of my buddies also swears that the only way he ever enjoyed goose is with a good maple syrup and Jack marinade for 24 hours. Coincidence? I think not.

The recipe I’ve included is a combination of all the things you need in a sugarhouse (minus the TV and sugar dogs): Jack, syrup, and coffee for those long boils.

Enjoy!

Maple Coffee
1 ½ oz. Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur
½ oz. Navan (vanilla-flavored Cognac)
½ oz. Jack Daniels
6 oz. coffee
Whipped cream
Maple drizzle

Combine Sapling and Navan in a coffee mug. Add coffee, top with whip cream and finish by drizzling pure Vermont maple syrup over the top.

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