Drinking maple syrup may seem like a practice best left to heedless children — preferably those whose parents are utterly unwitting. Yet that’s what Nod Hill Brewery and The Hickories Farm are hoping patrons will do — sort of.The two Ridgefield firms have collaborated on First Run, a small-batch seasonal seltzer made from fresh maple, hickory and oak sap. The sap is collected at The Hickories, then trucked to Nod Hill, which pasteurizes, carbonates and cans it.
The end result, said Nod Hill co-owner and operations manager Dave Kaye, has not only some of the expected woody notes, but also hints of vanilla and a “unique, sort of sweet flavor. It’s really delicious.”
Kaye, who co-owns the brewery with his father Rob, said the sap yielded 1,000 16-ounce cans, which were split evenly with The Hickories to sell for $4 each. Sales have been strong, he said.
“We did a small run partly because this was the first time we’d done it,” he explained at Nod Hill’s 137 Ethan Allen Highway location. “Frankly we didn’t know how it would turn out. But it tastes really good and we’ve gotten good feedback on it. We’re a family-friendly establishment, so it’s a nice thing to offer in addition to our beer. We’re definitely interested in doing it again next year.”
The idea originated with Hickories founder Dina Brewster, whose family has owned the farm at 136 Lounsbury Road since the 1750s.
“Anybody who makes maple syrup has dipped their finger into the sap bucket for a taste,” she said. “The current craze for coconut and other flavored waters made the idea for producing First Run a natural.”
Brewster said she fully expected further collaborations with the brewery, “since there are several bushels of the Hickories’ peaches in Nod Hill’s freezer.”
“There’s quite a few there,” Kaye laughed when asked for a count. “We’ll be producing a peach-flavored beer later in the year.”
Kaye said he and Nod Hill’s head brewer Kyle Acenowr had discussed the idea of producing a nonalcoholic drink in the past, but had made little headway before Brewster approached them.
Seltzer derived from maple syrup may be unusual, but it’s not unheard of. A Burlington, Vermont company called Sap!, which makes sparkling beverages from maple and birch tree sap, created a splash on the “Shark Tank” reality show earlier this year. The Vermont Sweetwater Bottling Co. in Poultney, Vermont, has been making maple syrup-flavored seltzer and soda for several years. But Kaye said he believed First Run is the first such product made locally in Fairfield County.
Another company, Danbury’s Asarasi, has since 2016 been producing bottled water from the waste water usually discarded after maple sap is processed into syrup. Founder and CEO Adam Lazar said Asarasi – whose product was the first water to be USDA organic-certified – is continuing to expand its distribution throughout the Northeast at stores like Albertsons and Wegmans, and is looking to expand into its first international market, Australia.
This month it introduced lime, lemon and cherry-lime flavors to its lineup, Lazar said. Declining to provide figures, Lazar described Asarasi’s sales to date as “really strong.”