The Black Rooster Maple sign in Keene tells the story of Kirk and Kristy Bassarab's first chickens that included a unique extra, a very unique rooster.
Photo by Kim Dedam
KEENE – Fragrant maple steam lifted from the evaporator pan at Black Rooster Maple roadside sugarhouse last Saturday.
The sweet, pungent amber magic was ready to bottle.
Sugarmaker Kirk Bassarab and his wife Kristy tap 1,000 trees locally.
Cold air that swept in three weeks ago has stayed in place, halting what had started to be an early sap run, Kirk said.
But there is still work to do, putting syrup in bottles and jugs to sell. The sap stoppage gives them time to catch up.
And that is what the Sun found Kirk doing on the first of two Maple Weekends at his Main Street, Rte. 73, sugarhouse.
“It warmed up really, really early, and typically it stays warm, cools down at night and the sap run doesn’t snap off,” he said, stirring the pan with a flat stainless steel paddle.
It was two degrees below zero that morning.
“The previous two Saturdays were ugly below zero,” Kirk mused of the fitful Adirondack spring.
And it didn’t warm up much for very long.
“The temperature swing is what you need to keep the sap going. The off switch is just off,” the sugarmaker said with a casual shrug.
Still, curious sweet toothed visitors stopped by to see what the season has delivered so far.
Trevor Britt, an airman with the U.S. Air Force pulled in with his dad, Brian. Traveling from Saratoga, the two were celebrating a father/son outing with hockey tickets to games in Lake Placid.
Trevor said he was deployed in Antarctica on his dad’s birthday this year, so they were catching up.
“We came north,” Trevor said, as he asked Kirk about the syrup making process.
Black Rooster Maple was open for maple syrup tours last weekend and will be open againon Saturday and Sunday for the second round. With sugarmaker Kirk Bassarab, right, are Trevor Britt, center, an airman with the U.S. Air Force who was traveled to the Adirondacks from Saratoga on Saturday with his dad, Brian Britt. Trevor was deployed in Antarctica on his dad's last birthday, so they made up some missed time with some hockey in Lake Placid on a trip that included a stop at the Black Rooster sugar house.
Photo by Kim Dedam
Sap from maple trees has a two- to four-percent sugar content and is boiled down to achieve a 66-percent sweet maple syrup concentration, Kirk said.
Black Rooster started in 2011 after the Bassarabs found success on a half-acre with a small backyard maple operation.
Kirk laughed thinking back to when they had 12 taps and produced three gallons for their home use.
They have recently purchased 70 acres with a sugar bush in the northern end of Keene, and currently have 1,000 taps on property leased from neighbors.
The sugarhouse will remain on Route 73 in the heart of Keene, Kirk said of the venture.
And even with the start-and-stop 2017 run, Black Rooster has produced 185 gallons of maple syrup so far.
“Which is a pretty good start on the season,” Kirk said.
The Britts stopped in, Trevor said, because they have a lot of respect for local producers, and he has an affinity for home brewing.
“I always like to support local business, and our family has a heritage of maple sugaring in Quebec. I’ve just always been a fan of maple syrup.”
For Kirk, Maple Weekend tours draw lots of new business and a fair number of people who just want to know more about what he does in that maple shack and at the sugar house about 50 yards behind it.
“On these weekends, we do have a lot of people visit who have never seen maple syrup being made before. And they walk away with a whole new respect. One question I’ve been asked a lot is if the syrup comes right out of the trees,” Kirk said.
Photo by Kim Dedam
At this point in the season it’s at 44 gallons of sap to one gallon of syrup. But it depends on the taps: The sugar content is higher in older trees with a larger canopy of leaves, Kirk explained.
As to the unique name and Black Rooster logo, which features two roosters, one wearing a top hat, Kirk chuckled in the telling.
“About eight years ago, my wife wanted to get some laying hens and we had them shipped through the mail. We ordered a dozen Rhode Island Reds, and they always come in a small box, usually with a few extra chicks,” he said.
“Well one of the extras in our box was an oddball, it was black and white with like a yellow cottonball tuft on its head. It grew into a black bird with this crown of white top feathers, and it was a rooster. My wife did not enjoy his antics.”
And apparently, neither did the hens, Kirk said.
“The hens would all peck the white feathers out of his head. It wasn’t a good scenario for the rooster.
“So I took the crown of feathers and sort of pulled them into a pony -tail and wrapped it with black tape. That did it. The hens left him alone.”
The rooster thereafter looked as if it was wearing a black top hat.
The rooster named simply “Black” did vanish one day as happens sometimes in a roost.
But he earned a permanent place in the Black Rooster Maple logo.
Innovation remains a good part of the Black Rooster production line. They have now bottled syrup cured for a few months in both apple brandy and bourbon barrels used by Grist Mill Distillery just up the road.
The syrup carries the essence and light flavors from the barrels, which are then returned to Grist Mill and reused to age maple hinted bourbon.
Maple Weekend tours continue both this Saturday and Sunday.
To find out more about Black Rooster, visit the website at blackroostermaple.com/
To find a local sugarmaker or sugar house to visit this weekend, check for nearby events at:www.lakeplacid.com/events/new-york-state-maple-weekend