After a long and windy drive down Kispiox Valley Road, I find the driveway for Kispiox Creations, a small birch syrup producer.
I’m greeted by a big white dog with floppy ears that is more interested in chasing a butterfly than guarding her territory. There is a beautiful old log cabin sitting on a pond and small shop with a greenhouse attached beside it. I notice a graveyard of old logging equipment and memories of once was.
Jim Fowler comes out to meet me. He knows forests and has now found a new way to harvest his passion for trees. The smell of sweet sap mixed with a burning wood stove hits me as I get closer to the house. I’m instantly intrigued in what birch syrup tastes like and how’s it’s made.
We walk into the forest that surrounds his home and he first shows me how to tap a tree for sap. This is likely the last week of the spring season to collect the sap. He’s careful where to put a hole, noting where past plugs are. A birch can be used for three or four years in a row and then it needs a break for a couple of seasons. Fowler always puts a piece of wood into an old hole to help the tree heal and avoid infections. It’s obvious he cares about the trees.
The sap slowly drips down a blue house into a bucket. The white food grade bins fill up with clear liquid after some time and Fowler picks up a full one, marks down in his notebook how much the tree gave for his records and pours it into a jug through a filter. He gives me a glass, it tastes like water with a hint of sweetness.
This sap will get filtered about seven more times before it’s bottled. We transport the jug to his shop close to the cabin. It’s put through a double filter and then it’s transferred into his homemade boiler. From there it is moved to finishing pans on his wood stove in his kitchen.
After it slowly boils down and gets darker, it goes into smaller pots on his electric stove. Each stage the liquid reduces and gets darker. Fowler filters the batches with every move. It’s a long process. Fowler tells me that he’s discovered, after five seasons, the slower and less heat he uses, the better the taste of the end product. It’s an all-day event that will see about 140 litres of sap turn into one litre of syrup. There is nothing added to the pots.
He gives me a small spoonful of the dark, thick birch syrup. It’s so different than I expected, nothing like maple syrup. It tastes more like licorice and molasses. Fowler said it isn’t meant to be put on pancakes but used for baking, marinades or drizzled over ice cream. There a number of recipes on Kispiox Creations’ website, such as a white wine birch glaze and sweet birch corn bread.
Fowler tells me that he tries to recycle and re-use where he can. The homemade boiler is made from an industrial stainless steel sink and he harnesses the waste heat from the boiler to heat a greenhouse that he made out of scrap lumber. Fowler and his wife Pauline already have flowers growing that they will sell at the farmers’ markets in Hazelton and Smithers, along with small bottles of their birch syrup. The pair sells about 200 bottles a year. Fowler is hoping to expand the business and eventually get local restaurants to add it to their menus.
For now, the couple is perfecting the craft and setting up shop at local farmers’ markets.