Real maple syrup can vary in color from a light beautiful golden to a dark brown.
Along with the varying colors, there's a subtle taste difference. To help customers know what they are getting, syrup makers "grade" their syrup. The International Maple Syrup Institute set down new guidelines in 2016, our first year of making syrup, and we've always followed the IMSI standard.
What is Grade A?
If it is delicious and free from any "off-flavors", it is "Grade A", fit for the table. Within Grade A, if it transmits over 75% of the light that passes through it, it is called "Golden with Delicate Taste". This is a very light, pure sweetness without a lot of extra flavors. Golden-Delicate is often made early in the season, with cold weather, clean equipment, and sap high in sugar.
"Dark with Robust Taste": At the other end of the range is syrup that lets under 50% of light pass through it. The flavor is full of or is full of caramelization and more complex than other maple syrup. Dark syrup is made when days are warmer and microbes have more time to work in the sap before boiling. This results in a sap with lower sugar content and it takes longer to "come to syrup" density. Old-fashioned practices with buckets and slow evaporators almost always make dark syrup.
In the middle is "Amber with Rich Taste". Its color can be more toward the light golden or almost at the cut-off for Dark Amber-Rich lets between 50 and 75% light pass through it. The taste is still very easy on the tongue, with a bit of caramelization.
Wondering which to choose? If you grew up with dark syrup, that will probably be your favorite. If you are new to maple syrup, or planning to give it as a gift, the Amber is sure to please. In Canada and on the east coast, the Golden-Delicate is the prized grade and is the favorite of several of our customers.