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A contest for real saps: Vergas' Maple Syrup Festival to include tasting competition

Syrup producers pour their product into jars for sampling. Submitted photo1 / 2
Maple syrup makers gather sap they have tapped from trees in preparation for cooking up a fresh batch. Submitted photo2 / 2

With the first day of spring now behind us, and temperatures jumping up into the 30s, 40s and even 50s, the sap has begun flowing from area maple trees — just in time for Vergas' annual Maple Syrup Festival, which is on tap for Saturday, April 8 at the Vergas Community Events Center.

This year, the festival committee has lined up something new to tempt visitors' taste buds: A Maple Syrup Tasting Contest. Or if you'd prefer, go out and tap a tree or two to make your own and enter the contest yourself.

"The contest is open to anyone and everyone," says committee member Cheryl Hanson, noting that amateurs can enter right alongside professional syrup producers. "Just bring in a minimum of a half pint of syrup to the Event Center between 9 and 11 a.m. on the morning of the festival."

A panel of judges will taste each sample, then choose a winner.

"Jerry Jacobson (of Jake's Syrups) has come up with a list of criteria," says Hanson. "We'll be judging for flavor and clarity.

The biggest requirement, however, is that the syrup has to be of the contestants' own making; no store-bought varieties allowed.

"So don't bring in a jug of Mrs. Butterworth's," Hanson laughed. "But we do encourage everyone who wants to enter to give it a try, because anyone can win it."

The winner will receive a gift certificate to Spanky's Stone Hearth and a customized trophy featuring a copper maple leaf that was designed and crafted by local artist Patrick Shannon especially for the event.

"It's really beautiful," Hanson said of the trophy, noting that it is designed to be a traveling trophy that will be passed on from one winner to another, for as long as the contest continues — which will hopefully be for many years to come.

"We'll also have a portable sap cooking unit on display outside," Hanson said, "and people will be able to try samples of real maple sap, both plain and carbonated."

Of course, the festival will also feature past favorites like the Pancake Feed from 8 a.m. to noon (featuring real maple syrup, of course), the Maple Medallion Hunt (details available at the pancake feed), the Saps Running 5K Run/Walk at 9:30 a.m. (register by 9 a.m.; cost is $30 in advance or $50 the day of the event), the Maple Leaf Hunt at 10 a.m. (for kids age 5 and under), and live bluegrass music from the band Gospel Train throughout the morning. There will also be maple shakes and maple candy for sale, and raffles for jars of real maple syrup and gift certificates to local businesses.

Speaking of local businesses, many of them will be offering special deals during the festival, and over at Maplewood State Park, the brand new Sugar Shack will offer live syrup making demonstrations and tours throughout the day as well.