With the colors changing in the leaves, folks are more inclined to reach for a bottle of maple syrup as they prepare their favorite maple treats. Recently, people aren’t just looking to grab a bottle of store-brand syrup (which often has more corn syrup than maple); instead, they’re looking for the real, tapped-from-the-tree maple syrup, in a variety of flavors.

Runamok Maple and Stonewall Kitchen are two brands that sell their flavored or infused maple syrups in Connecticut, but the state is also home to Maple Craft Foods, based in Newtown, which also offers pure maple syrup and flavored variations.

Dave Ackert, the chief maple officer at Maple Craft Foods, said he started his company five years ago, when he began selling a maple-sweetened ice pop in 2015. Prior to bringing his product to the market, Ackert had been making his own maple syrup in his backyard as a Sugarmaker hobbyist for more than 15 years. The only problem is the frosty treat industry operates under a brief time constraint in New England. Ackert said he began experimenting with flavored maple syrups after a friend who works at a distillery gave him an empty bourbon barrel to experiment with.

“This was before aging things in bourbon barrels was popular. I couldn’t age our maple syrup fast enough — people went crazy over it, so I started bottling it and selling it. It was around that time that I noticed flavored cane, corn and high-fructose corn syrups on store shelves,” he said. “I figured that if people wanted flavored syrups, why not give them one that tasted better, was better for them and came from maple trees!”

Maple Craft Foods offers 12 types of maple syrup, with 11 different flavors added to their traditional maple syrup: Bourbon Barrel, Honey Bourbon Barrel, Hot Honey Bourbon, Salted Caramel, Elderberry, Blueberry, Strawberry, Apple Cinnamon, Pumpkin Spice, Gingerbread and Peppermint Bark.

Ackert said Maple Craft Foods creates new flavors based on familiar and popular flavors.

“We look at what makes sense, what’s trending and what tastes fantastic. Some maple companies infuse maple syrup with things that, unless you are a foodie or a professional chef, you may not have ever heard of, or know how to pronounce. We don’t do that. We focus on the familiar,” he said. “For example, people like blueberry pancakes, so why not make it simple for them to enjoy blueberry pancakes year-round with organic maple syrup infused with organic blueberries!”

Maple syrup contains less sucrose than sugar and contains antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that aren’t likely to be found in the corn syrup-based products often found in grocery stores. Because of the health benefits of maple syrup, cooks have been increasingly using it for a topping on their pancakes. Ackert understands this and the Maple Craft Foods website has a section dedicated to different maple syrup recipes their customers can try, including cocktails, entrees and desserts.

“The possibilities are endless. Maple syrup is a better sweetener than any other sweetener, except perhaps pure honey. It tastes better and it is better for you,” he said. “But flavored Maple Craft Syrup can take food and beverages to an entirely new level. It’s a simple way to elevate favorite recipes, to top favorite desserts, to marinate or glaze favorite proteins or veggies, to sweeten or flavor favorite cocktails, lemonade or hot beverages and to take breakfast favorites to an entirely new level.”

When asked what his favorite maple recipe is from the site, Ackert found it difficult to choose only one. If he had to choose it would be between the Maple Crafted salmon, the sweet potatoes and bacon recipes and noted that his favorite syrup, the Hot Honey Bourbon, is used for all three.

For his products, Ackert has teamed up with Litchfield Distillery to use their empty bourbon barrels to infuse the flavor into his syrup. “We fill the freshly emptied barrels with maple syrup within hours of being emptied, which ensures that [it] consistently wins in taste tests. When we empty them of the aged syrup, we return the barrels to the distillery so they can refill them with bourbon to make their amazing maple-flavored bourbon, recharging the barrels and starting the reuse/recycle process over again, so nothing goes to waste,” he said.

Ackert also said he uses honey from Farmington’s Hilltop Apiaries for the honey-infused syrups and said those have become quite popular.

“Blueberry and Salted Caramel have always been popular year-round; Elderberry has been very popular since the pandemic hit, and flavors like Apple Cinnamon, Pumpkin Spice, Peppermint Bark and Gingerbread are available year-round, but most popular when in season,” he noted.

While the pandemic has prevented Ackert from meeting with customers face-to-face at food and beverage festivals, he said his company is still able to offer their product to customers and “make life sweet. Naturally.”

For more information about Maple Craft Foods, visit maplecraftfoods.com.

tinamarie.craven@hearstmediact.com