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The first Alaskan attempts to produce birch syrup commercially were made half a century ago during periods of sugar shortages, using modified steam boilers left over from early mining operations. The more successful of these backyard operations used steam at a controlled temperature to vigorously boil the sap without scorching, but the high cost of production did in those early efforts. Making birch syrup is still a challenge, even with more efficient equipment and perhaps a better understanding of birch chemistry. The difficulties posed by birch keep the handful of Alaskan birch syrup operations small and discourage all but the most obstinate and romantic Alaskans. Alaskan birch sugarmakers today have neat stainless steel evaporators but are still modifying their rigs frequently and trying out techniques from other kinds of sugarmaking. These innovators, all members of the Alaska Birch Sugarmakers Association, produce affordable gourmet quality syrup in quantities sufficient for Alaskans ▄ and a few fortunate others.
On average, 100 gallons of birch sap are needed to make each gallon of pure Alaskan birch syrup. This sap is reduced to syrup by removing nearly all the water, leaving only the sugars and other nutrients naturally found in the birch sap. (Maple sugarmakers need only 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.) The month-long sugar season remains labor intensive, performed by Alaskan homesteaders who believe in developing local resources and family-scale businesses. Three varieties of birch are used for sugarmaking in Alaska: The Alaska paper birch (Betula papyrifera var. humilis and neoalaskana) grows in interior Alaska and the Anchorage area, but not in Southeast. It is by far the most abundant birch tree in Alaska, occupying about 5 million acres. The bark is usually smooth and very white. Sap from this tree has a relatively high sugar content and yields amber colored syrup. About 80 gallons sap make one gallon syrup.
The Kenai birch (Betula papyrifera var. kenaica) is the smaller of the three varieties of Alaskan tree birches and grows on the Kenai peninsula and hybridizes with humilis along the southern interior rivers. The bark of the Kenai birch is reddish brown and usually very dark. It is tapped along with humilis where the ranges overlap and yields a flavorful, darker syrup. The Western paper birch (Betula papyrifera var. commutata) grows in Southeast Alaska where it is separated from the other tree birches. It is a pioneering tree on glacial alluvium, burn sites and rockslides, primarily near Lynn Canal from Juneau to Haines and Skagway. The bark is copper colored, becoming pinkish brown to white on mature trees of 60 to 90 years. Trunks of second and third generation trees are often clustered, having sprouted from the base of a parent tree, now gone. Syrup from this tree is dark and intensely flavorful, making it the ideal choice for flavoring other products. About 130 gallons sap make one gallon syrup.
Sugar produced by the tree during the summer is stored in the roots throughout winter. In early spring the sap rises with the first thawing, carrying the stored sugar with it. The slightly sweet birch sap contains from .7% to 2% sugar by weight, depending on birch variety, location, and weather. Besides the sugars fructose, glucose, and sucrose, the sap contains electrolytes and nutrients needed for new growth. Considered a spring tonic by natives of Alaska, Russia, China, and Scandinavia, birch sap is a refreshing beverage just as it comes from the tree. This sap is collected before the new leaf buds begin to swell, when nights are still below freezing, but days are warm enough to encourage the first mosquitoes to fly. Sapping days are also heralded by the arrival and tapping of the Sapsucker, anytime from mid-March to late April, lasting two to three weeks.
Besides needing more cooking time than maple, birch sugars are easily scorched; so the bulk of water must be removed by low temperature evaporation or reverse osmosis. And since the other minerals and nutrients are also compounded along with the sugar, the flavor and color is intensified in pure birch syrup. Some producers also make a family style breakfast syrup by adding fructose, the main sugar found naturally in birch, to finish off the batch at just the right stage of cooking. Either way, the result is Alaskan Birch Syrup, an amazing and truly rare Alaskan food product. (To order manual, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Price for the manuscript is $35.00.)
When the first mosquito of Spring appears in Haines, Susan and Daniel Humphrey know birch sap is flowing and it's syrup season.
"It's very accurate, almost to the hour," Daniel said of the mosquito/sap phenomenon. "Which makes me think the mosquitoes might be emerging from the warming soil right around the trees."
While skeeters get busy tapping animals, the Humphreys, owners of Birch Boy Products, are busy tapping trees--more than a thousand of them on their 21 acres of open birch/cottonwood/spruce woods in upper Chilkat Valley.
Because the drier microclimate of the Chilkat Valley is hospitable to birch trees and provides the freezing nights and sunny spring days necessary for sap flow, Haines is home to the only birch sugarmaking and gourmet syrup operation in Southeast Alaska, producing about a quarter of the world's supply of birch syrup.
The difficulties of making birch syrup discourage all but the most determined and romantic Alaskans, according to the Humphreys.
"The handful of Alaskan birch sugarmakers are motivated by a love of the land, good forestry, good cooking, and good eating," Daniel said. "Alaska's got the world's largest stand of birch in the world, but birch syrup production will probably never be measured in tens of thousands of gallons made or millions of dollars earned. It will always be small because it's so labor intensive. The only rewards are the elegance and usefulness of the syrup itself, and the fun of working in your own woods."
For about 20 days until the end of April, the Humphreys and their cadre of "sapsuckers" tend the sap buckets on each tree and send a total of 15,000 gallons of sap through a pipeline, down the slope to the sugar shack, where it is cooked and converted to syrup by the "sugarshackers". The sugarmaking rig is a series of stainless steel evaporating pans heated by oil and wood, an ever-evolving contraption designed to quickly remove the water without scorching.
By the first of May, all the buckets are down, the syrup is in bottles, and the stainless steel equipment is cleaned. "Time to sit back and enjoy some of that birch beer we made," Daniel says.
"Hey, wait a minute, "says Susan, whose labeling, distributing, and marketing work is just beginning.
"Danny's the chemistry and equipment person, and I'm marketing and delivery," she said. "I'm also the person who answers the phone."
That makes her the boss.
The family owned company started in 1992, the year following Daniel and Susan's first successful
attempt at making syrup from the birch trees surrounding their small cabin.
"We have always been fascinated and inspired by folklore of pioneers making their own necessities from the land they lived on," Daniel said. "At the sawmill, during down time, in the dark, in winter, I used to huddle in the tally shack and talk with the old timers about things they used to do and what worked and what didn't. They said the birch would give sap that could be boiled to syrup, and so would the alder and the scrub maple. One night, I came home and drilled a hole in a birch, but it must have been too early and nothing came out."
Daniel said he dismissed the idea until the following Spring, when out hunting ptarmigan with a friend, a lifelong outdoorsman. They were getting thirsty, when the friend pulled out his jack knife and slit the bark of a birch and took a drink.
"Water just poured out at first, like cracking open a faucet," Daniel said.
He went home and drilled half-inch holes in a few trees around the cabin, stuck in some PVC pipe, and in a few days collected a barrel of sap, which still had to be boiled down. The entire cabin and the clothes in the closet took on a delicious French toast aroma, they said. After about a week of sauna-like conditions in their cabin and depleting what was left of the woodpile, they had less than a pint of dark birch syrup.
"It was about as easy as making syrup from well water," Daniel said. "We said, 'Boy, we'll never do that again.' "
But throughout that year, they carried the little jar of syrup wherever they went and gave tastes to interested friends. Susan recalled, "Everyone was impressed. Nobody had tasted anything like it and couldn't quite say what it reminded them of, except the old timers, who said, 'Yep, that's birch syrup all right.'"
"Although many newcomers had never heard of birch syrup, it turns out quite a few Alaskans have tried making it," Susan said. "It seems that making birch syrup soon after settling in is one of those rites of Alaskan homesteading."
When Susan ordered a few taps from a Vermont maple equipment company (just in case they might want to gather sap for drinking) she found out about others "birch sapping" in Alaska. And while Daniel was away working construction, Susan signed up as a charter member of the newly formed Alaska Birch Sugarmakers' Association, ordered a maple syrup evaporator, and informed Daniel over the phone that they were now commercial birch sugarmakers.
That first year Susan and her dad (David Eash, a retired nuclear metallurgist from Los Alamos, New Mexico) discovered just how tricky it is to make birch syrup and determined that un-modified maple sugarmaking equipment does not work for birch. While 40 gallons of maple sap are needed to make one gallon of maple syrup, more than 100 gallons of birch sap are needed for each gallon of pure birch syrup. That means the birch sap must be exposed to heat three times longer than maple sap. And worse yet, the birch sugars, mostly fructose and dextrose, are more easily scorched than maple sugars, mostly sucrose.
For the entire first season, Susan and her father made six gallons of pure syrup on the small maple syrup rig which consumed more than five cords of firewood.
"We had a hard time accepting the facts, " Daniel recalled. "It would have been easy to get discouraged."
There was no way to even pay for the equipment with that kind of production. And the syrup that was made that first year was too potent for table use (a neighbor graciously likened that first syrup to espresso coffee), calling to mind the fact that although birch syrup has been made for centuries in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and China, it was used mainly to cure ailments. According to folklore, it is good for intestinal ailments and reportedly has cancer-fighting properties.
"After getting over the shock of that first taste," Daniel said, "I started thinking of all the ways we could use this concentrated birch syrup as a flavoring. That started our search for ways to make it better next time."
Daniel remembered a flavored flapjack syrup recipe from his mother, who had grown up cooking for logging camps in New Mexico. He ordered some granular fructose and converted most of that first production into "Birch Boy Family Table Syrup", an immediate local success and the prototype for the fructose based birch and berry syrups now produced by other Alaskan birch sugarmakers as secondary products.
But they were still determined to make good pure syrup as well. Through research, they discovered the first Alaskan attempts to produce birch syrup commercially were made half a century ago during periods of sugar shortages, using modified steam boilers left behind from early mining operations. The more successful of these backyard operations used steam at a controlled temperature to vigorously boil the sap without scorching. The result was a lighter syrup suitable for table use, but the high cost of production did in those early efforts.
After some experiments with low-temperature evaporation, Daniel and other Alaskan birch sugarmakers commissioned a stainless steel equipment manufacturer to build a double-boiler, low temperature evaporator specially for birch. This unit is the heart of their current birch syrup rig, producing golden pure birch syrup that Susan sells for premium prices.
This Southeast Alaskan birch syrup is made from a different kind of birch tree than the Interior Alaskan variety, making it more flavorful and useful for secondary products. The interior birch has more sugar in its sap, thereby reducing the cooking time and the amount of minerals and other flavors. Northern birch syrup is not quite as tricky, according to Daniel.
"Syrup from each producer has distinctive qualities," Daniel said. "Flavor and color varies, depending on the type of trees, the minerals in the soil, and the different equipment and methods used. The qualities even vary from season to season and day to day."
In addition to birch syrup, the couple produces private reserve syrups including highbush cranberry, Alaskan blueberry, strawberry, rhubarb, Haines cherry, Sitka spruce tip, crabapple, raspberry, and thimbleberry, all hand picked in Haines by Susan and her friends.
The company also produces a thicker honey-like birch syrup, known as "Bear Bait", and blends of the various syrups, including a mixture of birch and local Douglas maple or Canadian maple.
Birch Boy products are sold throughout Southeast, the Pacific Northwest, and Canada, and in a few health food stores around the country. But most of the syrup is sold to tourists in Southeast gift shops and locals in the grocery stores.
"One of our goals was to make enough of it at a price Alaskans could afford," Susan said. "Until we did that, not even Alaskans could get it for cooking and developing local recipes. Alaskans are finally rediscovering it making it part of their lives."
Susan said that although she sends birch syrup all over the world, she is intent on expanding local markets.
"People want to buy it close to where it's made," she said. "I'd much rather sell it in Southeast Alaska, where our syrups are known and trusted. Each syrup has a story behind it that is as interesting as the flavor. This syrup cannot be produced by a global corporation, or really anyplace else in the world. And we make only enough for a lucky few."
by Daniel Humphrey, Birch Boy Products
ALASKAN BIRCH SAP PRODUCTION
Assessing the Birch Stand
Because birch is the dominant tree in many parts of Alaska, this state has become the leading birch syrup producer. Large numbers of birch trees are needed for a commercial operation, but other factors are also important.
Number and density of the trees can be determined by marking out approximately an acre (660 feet square) and counting the trees that measure over eight inches in diameter--the minimum tapping size. One hundred trees per acre is an attractive density. Normally, a total of 1000 accessible trees would constitute a potentially profitable sugarbush. Another valuable survey is to lay out a path or line through the birch stand about a thousand feet in length and count the number of tappable trees within ten paces of the path or line. One tree for every three feet of line is a good number. If the path is also easy to walk, this is a very good prospect.
Vigor of the stand can be assessed by looking at the crowns of the trees. The tops should be high, well branched and rounded, filling out the interspaces between individual trees. Trunks should be straight and unbroken, with smooth bark and patches of papery shreds indicating good growth. A few trees 12 to 14 inches in diameter are a good sign that this site is not particularly stressful, as are large clumps of second-growth trees. Good southern exposure and snow cover are both extremely important conditions. A great number of bent and broken trees may signify that the stand is in decline, as they are fairly short lived (80 years) and susceptible to drought and other stresses. Although birch is a pioneering tree that seeds itself in freshly bared ground, mature trees seem to benefit from the shelter of a stand, even with some mixed evergreens.
If the stand is surveyed during the spring sap run, a sap sample should be taken from representative trees and the sugar content measured. To be able to yield pure syrup economically, the sugar content should be 1 percent or higher. Sugar content much lower than 1 percent makes pure syrup production impractical but may not rule out secondary products. Sap quantity is assessed by tapping and collecting sap from a few representative trees once the season is well under way. If the sap is collected for a run of 20 days, an average of one gallon per tap per day is standard. This means that most trees should be producing well above that during the peak.
Proximity to the sugar shack or the road system is crucial. If the processing facility is nearby, it should be downhill or at the same level as your trees. For a sugarbush this size, the sap will be brought to the collection area by either tubing or tanks, and the gravity will help some.
Terrain of the surrounding ground is another important factor to consider when planning the layout of a production facility. Gullies and steep hillsides may be too steep to tend efficiently, but varied terrain and elevation may allow some trees to begin running earlier or later, thereby extending the season. Swales and ditches can also form natural pathways and protect a sap line from the sun.
Public forests are sometimes available for sap collection. Any operations on public land should be approved through the proper channels.
Tapping Birch Trees
Sap will flow from the sapwood of healthy birch tree as long as the pressures inside the tree are greater than the atmospheric pressure. Briefly, this interior sap pressure is a complex mechanism induced by the melting of the ice within the tree and an increasing moistness of the earth around the roots.
Every time the water in tree is frozen and the gasses contract, the tree sucks in more water from the roots and absorbs more gas. When the branches thaw, the water is released and the gas and sap pressure grows. Sap pressure fluctuates during each freeze-thaw period, increases during warmer days, and finally equalizes a few weeks after the last freeze.
When this sap is running, it can be released from the sapwood of healthy trees by drilling into the outer layers and captured by inserting a tight-fitting tap that directs droplets of sap into a container or tubing. So far, birch sappers are using maple tapping equipment and slightly modified methods with good results.
Correct tapping minimizes damage to the tree and minimizes microbial contamination of taphole and sap. This includes tapping the right trees at the proper time in the right spot, correctly using the right equipment, and keeping the drill bits, tapholes and spouts sterile. Monitoring the taphole for contamination helps keep the sap running clear, and plugging the tapholes with corks helps keep disease, insects, and fungi out of the tree.
Maple tapping has been practiced so long by so many that maple producers have proclaimed quite a few axioms concerning why trees give sap, the time to tap, the best side of the tree, the sweetest trees, and so forth. These are perhaps more useful in creating lively conversations among syrupmakers than they are for passing on wisdom. Only a few of these are universally accepted and many have not held up to scientific investigations; besides, correlation between maple and birch is uncertain.
Determining the time to tap. Sap begins to run in birch trees when parts of the tree start to thaw in spring. Trees should not be tapped while they are frozen, and tapping should wait until the run is fully underway. Producers are tempted to tap early because they have observed that generally, early sap has a higher sugar content than peak-run sap. And sap from the later part of the season has more protein and nitrogenous contents that show up mostly as coagulated scum in the flue pan. But tapping quite early will not yield sufficient sap to collect and run the evaporator efficiently and will expose the tap and collection system to contaminants several days earlier than necessary. These contaminants are the main cause of sap degradation and are certainly a factor in the measurable decrease of sap sugar content as the season progresses.
Experienced syrupmakers tap several trees early and wait to tap others when the representative trees are giving about a gallon a day each. The stumps of severed twigs and small branches will drip freely once the sap run is begun in earnest.
The sap may begin running sooner on the south side of the tree where the daytime temperatures are greater, but this is not necessarily a good place to tap because the spout and bucket will be as much as 30 degrees warmer there, creating a more favorable environment for bacteria and yeast growth. Neither will tapping on the south increase total sap yield; it is best to wait until sap flows on the north side as well.
Tapping Equipment. The basic equipment for tapping birch trees is a 7/16 inch drill bit, a hand drill or cordless drill, spouts, a mallet, a clean pail, and a bottle of alcohol solution.
To drill a clean hole with no tearing of the bark and no burning of the wood, the drill bit must be sharp, shiny clean, and matched to the drill. A screw-lead auger bit with sharp spurs is fine for a hand brace or low speed power drills, but a commercial maple tapping bit is the best for high speed power drills. The bit and drilling method should first be tried on a practice piece before using it on sap trees. Drill bits should be cleaned, polished, and soaked in alcohol before tapping.
A hand brace and bit are fine for tapping a few trees but cannot match the efficiency of a cordless or gas powered drill. A 12-volt cordless drill can tap about 20 trees on one battery charge; many batteries and two chargers are usually needed for each drill. These drills can even be wired to automotive batteries that will power them all day long. Gas-powered drills are preferred by some for tapping with no interruptions. With all power drills, a speed and bit must be selected that drills a clean, round hole without burning.
Spouts developed for maple trees come in many shapes and materials such as plastic, aluminum, tinned steel, galvanized steel, malleable iron and pot metal. Some spouts are designed to be used with buckets, while others are made to be attached to tubing. Spouts are tapered to fit snugly into a 7/16 inch taphole, but a smaller type is available to reduce injury to the tree. Besides transferring sap from the taphole, the spout must also support the bucket or tubing and protect the taphole and sap from airborne contamination. White plastic spouts seem to perform the best for plastic pails. Spouts must be sterilized by boiling before and after use, dried, and stored in sealed containers. Any cracked or rusty spouts should be discarded.
A light mallet should be selected that drives the spout into the tree snugly without splitting the bark.
Spouts and other sterile equipment should be carried in clean, covered buckets. A 24 ounce plastic syrup bottle with cap is just right for carrying an alcohol solution for swishing the drill bit in between trees. A propane torch can also be used for sterilizing drill bits cleaned with alcohol. A spray bottle with alcohol solution can be used to help clean the bark before it is drilled. A high-power squirt gun with sterile water can be used for washing out tapholes. Chemicals should never be introduced into the tapholes.
Tapping methods for sustained harvest. Wounding a tree by tapping has a far greater potential of damaging the tree than removing the sap. Damage may be done by introducing spores into the tree, drilling through healthy wood into diseased wood, drilling too deeply, using rusty spouts, plugging contaminated tapholes, or leaving tapholes open to infestation. Since birch have a naturally shorter life than maple, thinner bark, and a shallower root system, it is reasonable to assume they are also more susceptible to damage from tapping. For this reason, only one tap is placed in a birch tree and only healthy trees eight inches in diameter and larger are tapped.
Taphole location is based on the following considerations, but all parts of the tree containing active sapwood will yield sap:
The taphole must be in healthy wood at least six inches to the side of old tapholes and other wounds.
The bark around the taphole should be smooth.
The spout should be positioned to hold the bucket upright or connect to tubing conveniently at the right height.
The bucket should be in the shade as much as possible.
Studies have shown sugar content to be highest midway on the trunk between the ground and the first branches.
Tap site preparation is crucial to prevent contamination of the taphole and sap. Tap locations, especially on the north side, must be cleaned of moss and lichen that hold dirt, bacteria, and spores. This is done by rubbing debris from the bark and sponging off a clean spot with alcohol solution. Enough dirt and loose material should be removed so that it cannot fall into the bucket.
Drill cleansing is done before each taphole is drilled.
Taphole depth depends somewhat on the kind of spout used. The hole should be deep enough that the end of the spout will not touch the back of the hole. This means the hole should be from 1 1/2 inches to 2 inches deep. A hole this deep will usually cut through the sapwood while avoiding the heartwood, which contains little or no sap. If dark wood is encountered, the taphole cannot be used.
Taphole angle should be about 10 degrees slightly upward so that the sap drains easily and a minimum amount of sap is left in the hole. Too steep, and the bucket may not hang correctly and can even pull out the spout. Every effort should be made to avoid oval tapholes by setting the drill angle before boring and holding the drill steady.
Taphole inspection and clearing is done prior to setting the spout. As soon as the bit is removed, pulling with it all wood chips, sap should be running freely from the taphole. This first burst of sap helps clear the hole of sawdust, and the hole should be checked to see that it is deep enough, in white wood only, and free of any particles that might plug the spout. Nothing but sterile tools or a squirt of sterile water from the squirt gun should be used to clean the hole.
Inserting and seating the spout should be done as soon as the hole is clean. The sterile spout is inserted and tapped several light strokes with a mallet to seat it firmly so that it will not pull out by the weight of a full bucket. Driven in too hard, the spout will split the bark and cause leakage and a pathway for contamination. Sheet metal spouts are driven in just so the seam on top of the spout closes and the fit is snug. The tap is now ready for hanging the bucket or attaching the tubing.
Maintaining and removing spouts is done throughout the sap collection period until the run is over. Any taps that are not producing should be pulled and plugged with 7/16 corks. Often it is discovered that a dead or dying tree has been tapped, but sometimes the spout is blocked by wood chips or is touching the end of the taphole. In this case, the hole is touched up with a clean drill and a new sterile spout is inserted. Retapping on another part of the tree may yield sap, particularly if the tree might have been tapped too soon originally. Tapholes that continue to yield yellow sap should also be plugged, as this may indicate disease or that the taphole is too deep. If during the main run of the season, a tap should become blocked with microorganisms, the taphole may be irrigated with sterile water and given a clean spout. When the sap run is over, it is time to pull the spouts, irrigate all contaminated tapholes with the squirt gun, and plug them with corks. The corks will be pushed out by the healing tree in three or four years.
Sap Collection Systems
In addition to catching the sap from the trees and keeping it safe and cold, a collection system must transport the sap to the processing facility as quickly as possible. To prevent spoilage, the sap should be kept cold and processed within 24 hours of it coming from the tree, spending as little time as possible in bulk storage. All parts of the collection system must be kept clean. This means that all containers must be wiped and rinsed thoroughly after each collection. Tubing should be emptied and back flushed with clean water whenever possible throughout the season. The simpler the system, the easier it is to set up and maintain.
Tap and pail system. Commercial operations of 500 taps and more are not likely to have a simple tap and pail system because of the amount of pail carrying required. The buckets which hang on the taps work very well as long as they are kept clean and emptied twice a day. Usually, the collector simply dumps the sap into larger collection pail which is in turn dumped into a holding tank, either on a sled or truck or at the sugar shack. Sometimes bags are used instead of buckets and have the great advantage of keeping bacteria and dirt out of the sap. But they are also small and hard to empty, making them impractical for large operations.
If a sled or truck can be used to haul a large tank, some labor can be saved by using suction equipment to empty buckets on trees and transfer sap from collection pails.
The collection pails and sap buckets must be food grade plastic, stainless steel, or hot galvanized steel. As the other equipment, they must be rust free and absolutely clean when put into service. Covers are needed to keep out airborne contamination and rainwater; both can change the flavor of sap and syrup. Plastic buckets are often preferred because they cost less, come in many sizes, are lighter to carry into the woods, and are easy to clean. Metal buckets have the advantage of
keeping the sap colder by preventing sunlight from reaching the sap. Wind, rain, and warmth cause the buckets to dirty much more quickly. Several times throughout the season the buckets must be swapped out for clean ones. Buckets removed from the trees should be scrubbed and washed and rinsed in very hot water, then allowed to dry. Collection pails should be washed thoroughly and dried after each collection. Clean buckets should be stored in a dry shed, secure from squirrels and other animals.
Buckets must be large enough to hold a full 24 hours of sap flow if they are emptied only once a day. This means that some buckets must hold 6 gallons, while others need hold only a gallon. For most trees, the 3 gallon size is about right.
Tubing systems. To reduce the labor involved in sap collection, polyethylene tubing is used to bring the sap to a single collection point, preferably the sugar shack. Maple syrup producers have refined and improved tubing collection systems until they have almost replaced pails in maple sap collection. Birch syrup producers have also found it useful but not without its own problems. In order for tubing to work, a few basic considerations must be observed:
The tubing and fittings must be food grade, clean, and leak free, capable of holding a 10 lb vacuum or pressure.
Systems should be designed so that sap can always flow downhill, emptying the tubing completely.
Tubing must be sized according to the number of taps and the degree of slope.
Large main trunk lines are stretched uphill from the collection tanks toward the centers of the birch stands. Throughout the stands, smaller lateral branch lines are distributed to pick up even smaller tubes from individual trees. These small tubes are attached to plastic tree spouts designed especially for tubing systems. All tubing is stretched straight to eliminate sags that could trap air and sap.
A properly designed tubing system may empty itself by gravity, but a vacuum system can be used to speed up the flow through the pipeline so that the sap spends less time on its way. Maple producers have found that adding a vacuum to the tubing system can increase sap flow at marginal times.
Vacuum hybrid systems. With buckets on the trees and main vacuum line in place as in the tubing system described above, the tender empties the buckets into funnel-like dump stations positioned along the main and branch lines. The vacuum then pulls the sap down to the collection area. The tender doesn't have as much line to set up, repair, and clean as with the tubing system, but still must go from tree to tree.
With this hybrid system it is possible to empty the line completely and back flush with water before and after collection each day. At the end of the season all tubing systems should be thoroughly cleaned with a bleach solution, rinsed, evacuated, and plugged for storage.
Maintaining Sap Quality in Transport and Storage
Four principles guide the handling and processing of sap:
sap must be processed as quickly as possible;
incoming sap shall not be mixed with sap that is further along in the process;
sap must be kept at the coolest possible temperature;
sap must be kept clean and the impurities removed as soon as they appear.
Once sap leaves the tree it begins to degrade in the presence of microorganisms that feed off the sugars and minerals. Any microbe activity will result in a darker and often an off-flavored syrup. The best practice is to cook the sap immediately as it is brought in and not store it up, but this cannot always be done. Once the sap is in a bulk tank, the microbes can spread throughout and multiply
very quickly. Every effort must be made to keep the sap cold, eliminate all sources of contamination, destroy and filter out organisms, and routinely wash away the film of microorganisms that forms quickly on all surfaces exposed to sap.
Chilling the sap. Snow and freezing nights help keep the sap cold in the woods and in tanks outside the processing facility. Pails and mainline tubing should be light colored and kept out of the sun as much as possible. Refrigerated and insulated tanks that keep the sap near freezing are ideal.
Cleaning containers. The key to keeping sap containers clean is to empty them daily and wipe and rinse them out, with very hot water if possible. Rinsing alone is not enough to remove the thin film adhering to surfaces. Soaps, detergents and other cleaning agents should not be used during the sap run if can be avoided. If during the season a disinfectant is used (such as chlorine bleach, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, or sodium metabisulfate) it must be rinsed away completely and the container or pipe should be aired out until dry. Any chemical or off flavor that gets into the sap will be greatly concentrated in the syrup and ruin it. Some cleaners should not be used on food surfaces at all because they are poisonous even in small quantities, or will damage the container, or cannot be washed away easily. Hot water and scrubbing is best.
Filtering and sterilizing sap. The sap itself should never be treated chemically to kill organisms; however it can be filtered, passed through ultraviolet light, or pasteurized.
Filtering on the way to a storage tank will reduce the number of microorganisms in the sap. Some microbes are on the sticks and insoluble dirt particles that wind up in the sap. Forest debris can be strained out at 300 microns. Remaining visible particles are easily filtered at 40 microns. A 25 micron filter passes an optically clear liquid. The larger microorganisms can be filtered out with 15 or 10 micron filters, but the smaller microbes require a small pore filter of about 0.5 microns. A series of filters, from 10 microns to 5 microns to 0.5 microns can perform the filtering process in steps. These filters must be changed daily and the housings cleaned. Dissolved substances, such a soluble soils or minerals, cannot be removed by conventional filters or strainers.
Exposing sap to ultraviolet light can kill most of the microorganisms in filtered sap. In-line ultraviolet lights are commercially available, as are the more dangerous lights that are suspended above sap tanks. Ultraviolet light causes permanent damage to eyes and must be used with caution.
Pasteurizing can be done by heating the sap above 180 degrees and holding it there for about 30 minutes. The heated sap is then filtered again and rapidly chilled by a refrigeration unit, returning most of the heat back to the heating unit. Pasteurizing equipment designed for the dairy industry is commercially available.
Storing sap. To keep fresh, the sap must remain cold and clean. Beginning with the sap in buckets on the trees, continuing through the collection tanks, tubing system, and storage tanks, every effort must be made to ensure these conditions. All containers and equipment must be selected using these criteria:
Containers, tubing, pumps, filters, and fittings must be approved for contact with birch sap and syrup. In general, only food grade plastics and stainless steel are suitable.
Containers must not be used that had held substances other than food or that retain an odor of any kind.
Containers, pumps, and filter housings must be easy to clean.
Tanks should be horizontal, with good access and tight fitting covers.
Light colored surfaces are best for vessels exposed to the sun.
Even the most carefully handled sap needs to be processed as quickly as possible. And sap that has already been partially consumed by microorganisms will contain metabolic byproducts that cannot be filtered out with the microorganisms and will cause an off-flavor in the syrup.
If the sap is cloudy at all, it means that microorganisms are present in large quantities and have been consuming the sugars. Usually, infected sap also has a fermented smell and taste, however slight. Also, infected sap when passed through a small pore filter will give a very low sap sugar reading with a hydrometer. A refractometer will measure this decrease even in unfiltered sap that has been infected. This sap is unacceptable for making pure syrup, even after filtering or sterilization.
Sap should be processed in the order in which it is brought in. If all sap is placed in the same bulk tank, this cannot be accomplished. The use of two or more separate storage tanks prevents the mixing of old sap with new and allows one tank to be cleaned while another is in use. Insulated stainless steel tanks used for dairy products make good sap tanks because they are easy to clean and often have refrigerating systems installed. Some producers must hold sap for several days in order to have enough to run the evaporator. Sap or concentrated sap stored this way should be pasteurized and kept near freezing. (To order producers' manual, email email@example.com. Price for the manuscript is $35.00.)
Of the more than 100 plants native to Southeast Alaska that are used for food by Alaskan Natives and other residents, only about two dozen species are suitable for commercially produced syrups and preserves. Birch Boy Products selects species that grow in abundance, can be sustainably harvested, appeal to the general population, and have a long history of common use.
Most of these appropriate wild plants are fruits or berries that are happily domesticated or which have domesticated relatives consumers are already familiar with. These wild plants can sometimes compete in the marketplace with commercially grown cultivars of the same species because the wild ones usually have more flavor, are grown without chemicals, and have an interesting history.
Starchy wild plants and really sweet berries are very rare in Alaska; so sugar or saccharine carbohydrates from cultivated plants must be added to all except maple and perhaps birch to make sweet preserves like syrup. We thicken Birch Boy gourmet syrups with crystalline fructose instead of table sugar or corn syrup. Fructose syrup is more stable and does not need any additives to prolong its shelf life.
The following is list of wild and locally cultivated plants we presently use for our gourmet syrups.
The Rose Family (Rosaceae)
Strawberry (Fragaria). Perhaps the sweetest of all the wild berries, the wild beach strawberry (F. chiloensis) is found throughout Southeast Alaska, sometimes in large patches. Domestic cultivars grow especially large and flavorful in upper Lynn Canal. The original market crop of Haines, strawberries were sold to early visitors following the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush.
Brambles (Rubus). These members of the raspberry genus are known for their tart, delightful flavor and high pectin content that make them great for jelly and thicker syrup. The species suitable for syrupmaking are the red raspberry (Rubus idaeus), the thimbleberry (R. parviflora), and the salmonberry (R. spectabilis). Other members of this family, such as the cloudberry, nagoonberry, and trailing raspberry are too rare to use commercially and patches are highly valued by local berry pickers.
Apples (Malus). An important food and trade good of coastal aboriginal groups, the native yellow crabapple (Malus fuscia or diversifolia) and related domestic crabapples thrive where sweeter apples cannot. Even sweet apple cultivars that do well in Southeast Alaska often have some crabapple parentage or rootstock. Alaskans prize crabapples for their flavor and high pectin content, which makes a good jelly and a delicately flavored syrup that is hard to resist eating with a spoon.
Roses (Rosa). Southeast Alaska has two roses whose rose hips, or pomes, are used for syrup and jelly: the prickly rose (Rosa acicularis) and the Nootka (Sitka) rose (R. nutkana). The pomes are harvested after the first frost, when they sweeten and mature.
Serviceberry (Amelanchier). The blue-black saskatoon (A. florida) has sweet and mild pomes that make a delicate purple syrup. Plants in the open grow to tree size and are heavily visited by birds when the pomes are ripe.
Rowan (Sorbus). Sitka mountain ash (S. sitchensis) is probably the most colorful native tree in Southeast communities, where it is encouraged as an ornamental for its showy blossoms, golden autumn leaves, and persistent crimson fruits, or pomes. The closely related European mountain ash (S. aucuparia), which sometimes reaches forty feet in height, has bright red pomes and has successfully become estabished in the wild from seeds birds have brought from town. Natives and Europeans have long eaten the pomes and made jelly from the pectin-rich juice when sugar became available.
Cherry (Prunus). Originally from Siberia, our pie cherry (P.cerasus) was cultivated by Russian settlers of Sitka, capital of Russian America. In the 1920's the Sitka experiment station distributed this sour cherry through-out Southeast Alaska to encourage agricultural self sufficiency within the territory. It has adapted so well to Southeast Alaska, escaping to roadside ditches and clearings, it could be mistaken for a native plant. Cherries are steamed to release their juice and retain full flavor and vitamins. Cherry syrup and jelly is used Russian style to sweeten hot tea.
The Heather Family (Ericaceae)
Blueberries and Huckleberries (Vaccinum). Southeast Alaska has at least five species of native blueberries and huckleberries, in addition to the cultivars that grow well in gardens. By far the best tasting blueberry of them all is the fruit of the Alaska early blueberry (Vaccinium ovalifolium) that hang in bunches from plants growing in sunny open areas once cleared by snow avalanche or logging. These tasty wild berries make a syrup that just might be the best blueberry syrup available. Another tasty species abundant enough to be used commercially for preserves and syrup is the red huckleberry (Vaccinum parvifolium).
Lowbush and "True" Cranberries (Vaccinum). Lingonberries (Vaccinum vitis-idaea), known to Alaskans as lowbush cranberries, have a long history of use by Alaskan Natives and Europeans. This wild plant grows throughout Alaska in open woodlands and old burn sites. It is easily cultivated and is preserved whole as well as juiced. The native bog cranberry (Vaccinum oxycoccus var. microcarpus) is a variety of the same species grown commercially in other parts of the world, but they are seldom found in the wild in quantity.
The Honeysuckle Family (Caprifoliaceae)
Alaskan Highbush Cranberries (Viburnum edule). The tart taste of Alaskan highbush cranberries is well known to Alaskan woodsmen who snack on this berry during fall hunting and fishing trips. Wintertime adventurers in highbush country seek out frozen berries to quench their thirsts. Alaskan pantries are not complete without jars of highbush cranberry preserves.
Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa). The original inhabitants of Southeast Alaska steamed red elderberries for their distinctive juice. Alaskan wine makers use the juice of red elderberry for a delicious, usually dry wine. This plant is a close relative of the purple-berried plant so famous for the homemade wine also made from it.
The Gooseberry Family (Grossulariaceae)
Red Currant (Ribes triste). Of the six or seven species of currants found in Alaska, the red currant has the broadest appeal and is the only one abundant enough for syrupmaking. Alaskans value the red currant for its excellent flavor and high pectin content. Native to temperate interior Alaska, this wild plant is happily domesticated, producing lavishly in a sunny corner of the yard.
The Birch Family (Betulacaea)
Western Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera, var. commutata). Of the three varieties of paper birch used for syrupmaking in Alaska, the Western paper birch is the only one that grows in Southeast Alaska. It is a pioneering tree on glacial alluvium, burn sites and rockslides, primarily near Lynn Canal from Juneau to Haines and Skagway. The bark is copper colored, becoming pinkish brown to white on mature trees of 60 to 90 years. Trunks of second and third generation trees are often clustered, having sprouted from the base of a parent tree, now gone. Wherever birch grow in the world, its sap has been collected for drinking, as with many northern hardwoods. With specialized evaporating equipment, the sap can be reduced to syrup. Syrup made from evaporating the sap from this tree is dark and intensely flavorful, making it the ideal choice for flavoring other products. About 130 - 150 gallons sap make one gallon syrup.
Other members of the birch family, the alders Alnus rubra and Alnus sinuata also yield a sweet sap but are not presently used in commercial syrupmaking.
The Maple Family (Aceraceae)
Douglas Maple (Acer glabrum var. douglasii). Because of maple's high sugar content, generous sap flow, mellow flavor, and compliant nature, maple became the premier sugar tree in North America--except for Alaska, where birch trees are plentiful and maples are small and scarce. There is no documented record of Alaskan Natives using the maple sap to make syrup, but they could have easily so, considering how easy it is. Sap from the Douglas Maple, the only Acer growing to tree size in Southeast Alaska, is high in sugar content, three times more concentrated than birch sap. Furthermore, maple sugar is sucrose, an easy sugar to cook into syrup, while that of birch is primarily fructose, an easily burned carbohydrate. About 40 gallons of sap are needed to make one gallon of syrup. Douglas maple syrup is considered by maple syrup experts to be second to none. Nevertheless, the maples here are very small and do not yield great amounts of sap, resulting in a prohibitively expensive and rare pure maple syrup. We add maple sap from our Douglas Maple to the evaporator as we make our birch syrup. The result is a unique and affordable birch-maple blend from the best of our Alaskan sugar producing trees.
The Pine Family (Pinacaea)
Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis). Late spring is the time to pick the lemony new growth of Alaska's Sitka Spruce. High in vitamin C, spruce tips are a favorite ingredient in Alaskan beer and tea. The bright green needles are steamed to remove their juice, to which fructose is added to make an subtle, aromatic syrup. Southeast's evergreen hemlocks Tsuga heterophylla and T. mertensiani also have good tasting spring tips.
The Knotweed Family (Polygonaceae)
Garden Rhubarb (Rhuem rhaponicum). King of nearly every northern garden is the early rising rhubarb whose size and robust flavor promise a successful season. As tall as a man, this Siberian transplant shoots up in yards and along sidewalks, sometimes planted there during the Klondike gold rush. Once established, rhubarb thrives in many areas of Southeast Alaska and has a long history of use by both Native groups and other residents. The stems are juiced by steaming, and fructose is added to make syrup. Wild members of the related Polygonum genus grow in Southeast Alaska and are used much like garden rhubarb, particularly the wild Alaskan rhubarb.
Especially during the lean winter months, when Alaskans face the difficulty in getting food and keeping comfortably sheltered, we are sometimes envious of the massive brown bear, who nourishes his great bulk with wilderness foods and has no need of our kind of shelter. We also contemplate the successful communities of the aboriginal inhabitants, some of which once had populations greater than our present day towns on the same sites, having hundreds of healthy, ingenious individuals who ate marine animals, wild game and wilderness plants and seemed to crave sour and bitter foods, much as we now crave sweets. From the wealth of Native stories and the recollections of elders, we know these early people also envied the bear his apparent easy living, especially during the meager weeks of early spring, when larders were depleted and starvation sometimes threatened.
Although no wild plant was ever a year-round staple, the people relied heavily on the nutrients plants provided. Many of the wild plant foods that balanced out the aboriginal diet seem unpalatable by modern American standards; to persons accustomed to modern grocery store food, almost all wilderness plants are sour or bitter or difficult to chew--qualities that usually indicate the presence of essential nutrients and fiber.
The real hardships and barriers to travel and exchange that early non-Native newcomers to Alaska immediately experienced compelled them to seek most of their food and shelter needs from the wilderness, but without the communal support, knowledge, or the acclimated digestive tract of the Native peoples. The white man's pallet of wild food species was therefore limited to a fraction that of their well established neighbors, and so it remains. Only a small number of wild plants species are regularly harvested by the locals now that food is regularly barged in to well stocked grocery stores.
Southeast Alaskan aboriginal people --the Tlingit and Haida--have been working to strengthen their access to traditional foods and to educate their children and the community of the importance of wild foods to their health, personal finances, and cultural identity. This effort coincides with a general renewed interest in organic food, herbs, wild plants, and local and heirloom cultivars.
At the same time, we are losing the natural resource based industries that built our modern communities--logging and milling, mining, and fishing--and Alaskans wishing to remain are looking to ways of getting the most out of the resources we have. Presently, businesses that commercially prepare wild and locally cultivated foods are being supported largely by visitors and locals, with the exception of fish products made for export to Japan. As an alternative to developing new trade items, many Alaskans are finding jobs in government service and tour related activities.
We are born into a world dependent on large industry and trade across thousands of miles, and we all must participate as well as we can. But in the private small hours of winter we, like generations of residents before us, ponder the bear and the mystery that we all draw life from the land around us.
If you are thinking of making a little birch syrup in your kitchen this spring, you will need to boil down about 150 gallons of sap to make it worthwhile. You need to tap eight to ten trees to do this, and you will need some standard maple tree taps to keep the sap good and the trees uninfected.
Tap the trees the first week of April, or whenever you begin to see the first mosquitos. By then the trees should be in full run, but the leaf buds will not be swelling or leafing out. You will be collecting an average of ten gallons a day for 16 days. We usually tap a tree early and wait to tap others when the tree is giving about a gallon a day.
Almost everything you read about cooking maple syrup in your kitchen will not apply to birch. Birch will not thicken to sugar as maple syrup does; it will scorch into bitter caramel. Maple can be heated into 300 degree ranges, but birch cannot be heated much past 200 degrees. Other than that, the basic rules of collection and processing are about the same, and a good maple syrup manual may help. But don't expect the birch syrup to behave the same as maple syrup as it nears the syrup state.
Birch syrup is very hard to make using kitchen equipment, as the sap must not be simmered for a long time, nor should you ever mix new sap with something that has already been reduced down. That day's sap must be processed to syrup completely the same day. This is very important, and should you do otherwise, you will be lucky to get anything worth eating. Also, the collection buckets must be cleaned and rinsed every day.
The best method in the kitchen is to bring in your 10 gallons each morning, filter it through some milk or coffee filters, and place it in four large stainless steel pots on high heat. Commercial evaporators are run with about 1/2 inch depth, and the sap keeps moving as in a maze, never mixing old with new; but this will not be possible in your kitchen unless you are very innovative. Make sure the pans are absolutely clean, with no scorch marks. Boil as vigorously as possible but avoid scorching anywhere in the pan, including the sides. Skim off the foam. Stir and agitate to increase evaporation, until the liquid is reduced to one sixteenth and changes to the color of amber ale. The aroma will be delicious, and the sap will be three times sweeter than root beer. Watch carefully for rapid darkening, which is an indication that the heat is too high and that further evaporation must be at low temperatures. Another sign is bumping, a sudden eruption caused by the rapid precipitation of minerals trapping steam on the pan's surface.
At this time, before the syrup begins to darken much, you must lower the heat by transferring to double boilers such as used for candy and jelly making. The depth of sap/syrup should be no more than 3/8 inch. Any method of quickly evaporating at 200 degrees or under will work, such as a hot plate that can be regulated. You will ruin the syrup if you leave it exposed to flame after the boiling point begins to rise above 211 degrees. If you are at a high altitude, you have a great advantage in that the boiling point will be less throughout the process. In the double boilers, keep the sap moving until you begin to see it thicken. Birch syrup will not apron when it is ready as maple does, and looks thin as long as it is hot. You will probably be making some mineral scale, which should be removed as it forms. Once you have only two or three ounces remaining in the pans, pour it through a cheesecloth into a gallon jar, where it can decant and the sediment can settle out.
You can add each day to the same gallon jar until it is full. If you have the syrup thick enough, it will not mold or spoil even at room temperature in an unsealed bottle. You can heat up smaller bottles of syrup to 180 degrees in the microwave and seal. Some new sediment will form every time it is reheated.
Plug the tapholes with small corks after you're done.
Let us know if you are successful.
Color and Flavor. Birch syrup ranges in color from a light amber to a dark reddish brown. The lighter syrups are generally from the early run of the season and are sometimes subtle in flavor. Producers take pride in their ability to make lighter syrups, as it sometimes is a demonstration of their skill. Darker syrups, if they are made from clean, fresh sap and are not scorched, are just as valued and usually more full bodied. Color is primarily an indication of the amount of caramelization due to time exposed to cooking heat and influenced by pH of the sap. Off flavors, which can occur in any color of syrup, are due to poor practices and are more objectionable than dark color. Most birch syrup made to standards corresponds in color to USDA maple syrup grades Dark Amber and Grade B.
Specific Gravity. Since most birch sap is around 1 percent sugar by weight, we must remove about 99 percent of its water to make syrup. We concentrate it to a saturated solution of sugar in which microbes cannot thrive. For a pure solution of invert sugars, fructose and dextrose, this saturation point at room temperature is about 63 percent sugars by weight; any thinner, and the syrup would not keep without refrigeration. Fructose will not crystallize out even at high concentrations because fructose has a strong affinity to water; but the accompanying glucose may crystallize eventually, as it does in honey.
To make sure of the proper concentration, the syrup should be measured by a Brix hydrometer after filtration and any additional purification. A specific gravity of 1.32 corresponds to the Brix scale of 66.7 degrees, a convenient ratio of 2 parts solids (mostly sugars) to 1 part water by weight. If all the solids were sugars, the sugar constituent at 66 degrees Brix would be about 7.3 lb in a gallon of syrup, and this gallon of syrup would weigh 11 lb at room temperature. But if birch syrup solids average only 90 percent sugar, the desired 66 percent sugar content would require a hydrometer reading of about 73.5 degrees Brix and syrup weighing about 11.3 lb per gallon.
Birch syrup from sap with a high sugar content may contain more than 90 percent sugars in the total dissolved solids, and the lower limit of 66 degrees Brix may actually be close to sugar percentage. But birch syrup from average sap may need to be taken to the upper practical limit of 66.7 percent sugars, or a corresponding hydrometer reading of 74 degrees Brix.
Viscosity. Another indicator of syrup density, viscosity is a quality easily noticed when the syrup is poured or tasted. Birch syrup at 66 percent sugars is about half as viscous as maple syrup at the same concentration. Birch syrup at 70 percent concentration of sugars (78 degrees Brix) is roughly equal in relative viscosity to maple syrup at 66 percent (67 degrees Brix), both measured at room temperature.
Requirements For ABSA Certification
In addition to Alaska DEC and US Food and Drug Administration regulations for syrupmaking, the Alaska Birch Syrupmakers Association has established basic requirements for Alaskan Birch Syrup and its production and packaging. These requirements cover the two categories of Alaskan Birch Syrup recognized by ABSA: Pure Alaskan Birch Syrup and Alaskan Birch Syrup thickened with fructose.
To qualify for Alaska Birch Syrupmakers Association Certification, the birch syrup producer must follow the practices set forth in ABSA bylaws, which include but are not limited to the following:
1. The production facility must produce Alaskan Birch Syrup, as ABSA has defined it: ALASKAN BIRCH SYRUP is the liquid food derived by concentration and cooking of the sap of the paper birch tree (Betula papyrifera). The sap must be gathered and processed entirely in Alaska. The syrup contains not less than 66 percent and not more than 78 percent by weight of total soluble solids, chiefly carbohydrates (sugars) found naturally in birch sap. The name ALASKAN BIRCH SYRUP may be applied only to Alaskan-made PURE BIRCH SYRUP and BIRCH SYRUP stabilized with fructose, defined as follows:
PURE BIRCH SYRUP shall contain only pure birch sap concentrated to at least 66 percent and not more than 78 percent dissolved solids, chiefly sugars, by weight. To be called PURE BIRCH SYRUP, the syrup must contain only birch sap from Betula papyrifera, processed to industry standards so that no trace metals, minerals, water, proteins, or other chemicals are added inadvertently or intentionally.
BIRCH SYRUP stabilized with fructose must contain fructose, which may be derived from other plants, but the finished syrup must consist of a majority (51 percent), by weight, of condensed birch sap from Betula papyrifera. Other than pure fructose and glucose, no other additive is allowed.
2. The production facility must be in Alaska.
3. Equipment must be designed so that all sap and syrup products come in contact only with USDA food grade surfaces. Furthermore, any cooking must be done only in stainless steel or glass-lined vessels approved for high temperature food processing.
4. Sap must be free of microbial contamination.
5. Syrup to be certified must be clear of sediment and suspended particles, free of scorching and other off flavors.
6. Syrup must be hot packed at a minimum temperature of 180 degrees F in containers approved for birch syrup. All bottling of syrup shall take place in a facility approved by the Alaska DEC, following DEC guidelines.
7. All labeling must conform to FDA standards and any additional ABSA requirements. Labels must be attractive and of a quality meeting or exceeding industry standards.