Seldom Seen Farm makes ‘Maple Madness’ with its bourbon maple syrup

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seldom seen farm
Kevin Holy measures the density of his traditional maple syrup at Seldom Seen Farm on Feb. 7, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

MONTVILLE, Ohio — Standing in the woods, on the edge of a paved trail, lie thousands of maple trees, all connected via an intricate, spider web-like tubing system. The tubing system acts as a vehicle for sap, transporting it to a sugar house up the hill where it is boiled to make maple syrup.

But for Kevin Holy, a northeastern Ohio maple syrup producer and owner of Seldom Seen Farm, the real magic of maple syrup production begins in the wood.

“Being in the woods is probably my favorite part (of maple syrup production). It’s peaceful to know that sap can be in a tree and then 24 hours later you can eat it on your pancakes,” Holy said.

To celebrate this year’s maple syrup season, Seldom Seen Farm will be hosting its second annual pancake breakfast on March 9. The farm will also be participating in the Maple Madness Tour, held on the first two weekends of March, as a celebration and educational guide into the lives of Ohio’s maple syrup producers.

Seldom Seen Farm

Holy grew up in Geauga County, known as the maple syrup capital of Ohio, and for the majority of his life, he has been surrounded by and involved with maple syrup production.

He started making maple syrup as a hobby in 2010 by tapping 10 trees and using a turkey fryer to boil the sap. That year he made four to five quarts of maple syrup. Since then, his business has expanded significantly after he and his wife bought their property in 2008.

“We didn’t even have any intentions of making syrup when we bought the property,” Holy said. But plans changed when Holy and his wife took a walk in the woods and found themselves surrounded by maple trees.

“We just started tapping them. The first year … we sold a few pints mostly to family and they liked it. The next year, we sold more to more people and it just kept growing,” Holy said.

Holy’s current operations consist of a sugar house, a production and bottling facility and roughly 1,600 tapped maple trees. He uses an additional 4,000 trees from his neighbor’s property, which allows him to collect between 2,000 to 4,000 gallons of raw sap on an average day, depending on weather conditions.

Holy made 850 gallons of maple syrup last year. This year, he anticipates producing 1,500 gallons — almost double the size after tapping more trees over the summer.

The trees on Holy’s property mostly consist of red maple and a few sugar maple trees. They are connected via a tubing system that transports the sap to a pump house in the woods. The pump house removes air from the sap, making it flow faster up to a sap filtration system.

From the filtration system, the sap flows into the sugar house, where it goes through another filtration process before being boiled in the evaporator. The evaporator boils the sap while also increasing the sugar content to produce maple syrup.

Bourbon maple syrup

Holy sells a range of maple syrup products including traditional maple syrup, candies, cotton candy, sugar and barbeque sauce. In 2021, his traditional maple syrup took the Grand Champion title at the Geauga Maple Syrup Festival.

One of Holy’s most popular items is his bourbon maple syrup. The syrup is uniquely crafted by aging maple syrup and bourbon in distillery barrels for six to eight months.

Holy started making bourbon maple syrup about six years ago. In the years following, his bourbon maple syrup has grown more popular than his traditional maple syrup.

“That’s why people come to our farm,” said Holy. “A lot of guys are adding bourbon to it, and it’s just bourbon flavored. Ours is actually bourbon barrel aged (so) it really pulls that flavor out of the barrel.”

Holy’s bourbon maple syrup was recently named a finalist in this year’s Good Food Awards, a national competition for craft food producers. On average, he ages 40 barrels of maple syrup bourbon five to six times a year. His barrels come from Kentucky and Texas and from distilleries like Heaven Hill Distillery and New Riff Distilling.

Seldom Seen Farm bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup
Seldom Seen Farm’s bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup is labeled and ready for sale on Feb. 7, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

Holy recommends eating the bourbon maple syrup with vanilla ice cream and adding it to barbecue sauce, salmon and any smoked meat that could use a natural sweetener. But, he adds, “The possibilities are endless.”

Seldom Seen Farm’s bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup and traditional maple syrup can be purchased fresh off the evaporator at the Maple Madness Tour in March.

At the event, Holy will give a tour of his operations and property, demonstrate the evaporator process and host a pancake breakfast for people to try his products.

Maple Madness

The Maple Madness tour, hosted by the Ohio Maple Producers Association, started roughly 20 years ago in northeastern Ohio as an effort to involve the local community in food production.

“It was about getting people out to the sugar houses and getting them to meet the producers. Back then, it was a movement of knowing where your food came from,” said Jen Freeman, president of the Ohio Maple Producers Association.

The tour has since become a statewide effort with many even traveling from different states to take part. Freeman says last year they saw hundreds of people turn out, some of whom traveled from Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Maryland.

The tour will be held March 2-3 and March 9-10 and include 50 stops spread out across northeastern and central Ohio. Guests will be able to partake in pancake breakfasts, eat at food trucks, receive a tour of operations and watch live maple syrup production.

Ohio ranks fourth or fifth for maple production each year out of the 12 maple syrup-producing states in the country. On top of that, the maple syrup industry contributes $5 million to Ohio’s economy annually, according to Ohio State University Extension.

Despite the statistics, Freeman said the real value of Ohio maple syrup is its exceptional quality.

“Ohio makes great maple syrup,” said Freeman. “Once (people) get out (to Maple Madness), try it and get to know their producers, we feel they’ll have the same feeling about it as well.”

For more information on Seldom Seen Farm, visit seldomseenmaple.com, and for the Maple Madness Tour, visit ohiomaple.org/maple-madness.html.

(Reporter Liz Partsch can be reached at epartsch@farmanddairy.com or 330-337-3419.)

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