While the rest of the country is lounging by the fire with hot chocolate, we're still downing frozen margaritas (granted, they are flaming). In the weeks leading up to that pretend-it's-fall-moment (otherwise known as Thanksgiving in California), there's always that bottle of Sapling Liqueur from a one-man operation in Vermont that is now, somewhat oddly, sippable locally.
That the small-batch maple syrup liqueur is available in dozens of small Vermont liquor shops and one or two in Maine is no surprise. That Los Angeles is its only other outpost (with more California locations to come) is an oddity that you might call just short of crazy if you happen to follow the spirits distribution world, where the mega-million corporate distilleries seem to have no problem popping up on every nationwide shelf, while the little guy is often read his immigration rights for simply crossing state lines.
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Christian Stromberg, a 30-something former engineer, makes the maple liqueur in very limited quantities in his storybook cranberry-red barn (which he built from locally harvested lumber) in Saxtons River, a Bed-and-Breakfast sort of town where the population hovers around 500. He uses Grade A maple syrup from local farms and grain alcohol to distill the spirit, then ages it in American oak.
Oh, and between barrel aging and bottling, he harvests soapstone from his backyard and uses it to carve little coasters for his digestif or cocktail glasses. Of course he does. Stromberg offers a few recipes for the latter here, but we suggest it neat -- pure maple syrup on the first sip, those last syrup-soaked pancake crumbs (you know, the really good caramelized brown bits) towards the end.
And yes, we had to ask. How exactly did Sapling Liqueur wind up in Los Angeles? When we reached him via email, Stromberg had a very logical answer. "We happen to have a local trucking company who has a terminal in L.A. My luck." Our luck.
Sapling Liqueur, about $32, is available at Hi-Time Wine and will hit many Southern California BevMo stores in the coming weeks.