I Met the Maple Queen

On March 27, 2007, in Food and Drink, by peterb

For several years now I’ve had issues with the Meyersdale Maple Festival. Namely, I always intend to go but then always forget. Sometime in June I’ll ask my friends “Hey, when’s the maple festival? I want to meet the Maple Queen.” and they shout “March!” and I say “Oh, oops, maybe next year.”

This year, the 60th year of the festival, I finally remembered to go. And I met the Maple Queen.

The thing about the Maple Queen has been driving my friends insane for years now. It started out as a joke. In ages past, according to my friends from the area, participating in the Maple Festival was compulsory: one friend of mine was chosen by her school for the contest, and decided not to participate. She was informed, firmly, that if she did not she would get detention. So, at least years ago, people in these parts apparently took the festival really, really seriously. And who can blame them? It’s a big event.

Meyersdale is a sleepy town nestled deep in the Laurel Highlands, not far from the Maryland border. Large windmills sit astride the ridge overlooking the town. We hit the classic auto show first, under the theory that the classic car people would get bored and drive away fairly soon (we turned out to be right). Activities in town included the pancake breakfast (with lots of maple syrup, of course, and completely awesome homemade sausage), and people-watching. It was a beautiful day, so the bikers were out in full force.

The actual fair proper had lots of interesting displays and talks. Active maple taps to look at and touch (and taste — the sap really doesn’t taste like much before it’s processed, which makes one wonder how they discovered the process to begin with). The boiling off of the excess water in the sugar shack was interesting, but for me the highlight was watching the woodworkers make wooden buckets: woodworking is a skill I’ve never had the patience for, but there is true beauty in it. My photos from this part of the fair weren’t good enough to post, but fortunately someone else has produced a great gallery of maple production photos, so I don’t have to.

I only had one question: “Did anyone make maple-based liquor?” This is a question that has been burning in my mind for a while now. It seems to me that every place where people make things that could be fermented, they do ferment them, so perhaps there might be a local moonshine-like equivalent to rum. I think the presenters thought I was poking fun at them, but I was in earnest: this area of Pennsylvania, after all, was the epicenter of the Whiskey Rebellion, so they certainly knew a lot about distilling. No one, however, had ever heard of maple spirits. After the festival I did a little digging. No one has definitive answers, but the best hypothesis I’ve read is that the economics of maple syrup production made competing with rum impractical. It turns out that a maple vodka does exist, but it’s a fairly recent innovation.

Maple Queen

Maple Queen and her retinue. Click to enlarge.

Most importantly, though, I met the 2007 Maple Queen, Kaitlyn Berkley. Her Majesty was very gracious.


10 Responses to “I Met the Maple Queen”

  1. Stan says:

    There’s Gélinotte maple liquor and Fine Sève maple syrup eau de vie, made with yeast.

  2. zp says:

    The recipe for an Applejack Rabbit, which contains maple syrup, can be found in Mary McCarthy’s novel The Group. The maple syrup is not distilled itself . . . and the thing sounds hideous.

  3. Jason says:

    I’ve actually bought maple liquor, so I know it exists. This particular brand was purchased at Nashoba Valley Winery in Massachusetts, though I don’t recall if it was made there or simply something they carried.

  4. PCLB can do a special order of Sortilege.

  5. rlink says:

    I’ve had maple whiskey at Kaya as recently as late last year.

  6. Doug says:

    So what are these maple liquors like?

  7. rlink says:

    They taste a lot like what you would expect. The maple whiskey was kind of a whiskey-up-front with a sweet, very maple-y aftertaste. It was interesting, but not something I would likely drink again.

  8. Rob says:

    Cabin Fever from the NH. Vermont area is an 80 proof 3 year old spirit. Its scary smooth for an 80 proof spirit. If anyone wants to try it let me know. It will be ready in early June.

  9. Kaitlyn Berkley says:

    I’m glad to hear you enjoyed yourself at the festival. Actually, I learned something from your site. Maple vodka exists? Wow, hook me up. haha, just kidding of course. So, I was very gracioius? Thanks for the compliment. I do have a complaint however….that’s a horrible picture of me you have posted. ha, no big deal though.

    Sweetly yours,
    Kaitlyn Berkley
    Queen Maple LX