Naturally Sweet: Savage Farms

Carrie Stambaugh, Managing Editor

    What could make Kentucky maple syrup even tastier? Bourbon, of course!
    That was the thought behind Savage Farms' new, yet already wildly popular, Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup. The sweet, richly-flavored sauce is just one of many maple products the Lawrence County farm has rolled out in recent years as part of their quest to grow Kentucky’s fledgling maple industry into a towering one.
    Keith Moore, along with his wife Jennifer and sons Wesley and Jeff, first began selling their homemade maple syrup from their small country store alongside Ky. 3 six years ago. (Savage Farms was first featured in Bridges Winter/Spring.16 #46.)  They had long been making the natural elixir for themselves and giving it away to friends and neighbors but decided they would sell it commercially as part of their effort to expand their agriculture business.  
    The syrup, which they sold from the store and at farmers markets, sold out quickly and the Moores realized the syrup was nothing short of natural, liquid gold and began ramping up their operation.  This past winter, the family tapped more than 1,200 maple trees, collecting and then cooking in excess of 13,000 gallons of maple sap.
    The result was 165 gallons of pure Kentucky maple syrup. Of that, about 100 gallons were set aside to be aged in freshly emptied Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels, which Keith procured directly from the distillery. When full with syrup, which weighs 11 pounds a gallon, the barrels weigh in at a staggering 650 pounds. It takes about four to six months for the syrup to soak up the flavors of the barrels, which include charred oak, vanilla, spices and, of course, the malt and rye that are the backbone of the bourbon flavor itself.
    Just like at a bourbon cooperage, the Moores allow the syrup-filled barrels to expand and contract with natural heat and humidity, turning them every so often to mix the contents. They are routinely tasted, and when the desired taste is reached, the bung is finally pulled and the contents poured out, filtered, heated to 190 degrees and then bottled, sealed and sold.
    The result is a rich, bourbon-flavored syrup with zero alcohol content, a truly one-of-a-kind 100-percent, Kentucky-crafted product. “There is no place in Kentucky that does this,” Keith explains. The syrup is excellent used as a topping for ice cream, drizzled on hot apple dumplings, mixed into barbeque sauce, as well as on pancakes or waffles. A bottle sells for $22 and like the regular syrup, sells so quickly the Moores often set back bottles to ensure they have product to sell throughout the year.
    Always the innovator, Keith has already turned his attentions to what else can be created from maple. For years, he’s been troubled that the vast amount of water created during the maple sugaring process is discarded. “The water we get from the sap is the purest water on the planet! It is filtered through trees,” he explained, adding, “For years, we’ve just been pouring it out on the ground.”
    After trying out a couple of other ideas – including bottling and selling it – Keith decided to try out a recipe for maple wine. “I read about it and started making it and it’s the bomb,” he said, pouring out a sample of the aromatic amber liquid he’s been experimenting with brewing on the upper floor of his home. “Everybody who has tasted it has gone nuts over it.” He cautions, however, that with a 12 percent alcohol content, “It will sneak up on you.”
    The Moores have applied and are working to become licensed as a small farm winery. In addition to maple, Keith has long experimented making mead (honey wine); the family is planting several varieties of grapes. They also already grow blueberries, elderberries, and strawberries, which are used to produce tasty fruit wines. “I want our wine to be what we created on the farm plus that water we produced from the maple sugaring process,” Moore explained. Savage Farms wines will be crafted on site from homegrown ingredients.
    The licensing process is “daunting” said Moore, but he is determined – already imagining what it could mean for the sustainability of Savage Farms in the future. He has begun transforming the country store into a winery tasting room. Soon, he will host a series of public meetings to inform his neighbors of his plans, and to reaffirm his commitment to creating “a nice place,” “something elegant where people can come and kick back and have a glass of wine – and maybe a cigar,” all the while being surrounded by the lush green Kentucky countryside.
    “We're trying to make something nice and bring something to this community,” said Moore.  He, for one, is proud of his Kentucky heritage and all the “country living stuff” he is keeping alive and sharing with the next generation, one sweet creation at a time.