Southern California has bragging rights for a lot of reasons this time of year (February beach weather, for one). But when it comes to maple syrup, the Northeast is undisputed king.

Our 300-plus days of sunshine just don't bring chilly enough temperatures to allow the starch in the tree trunks to convert to sugar in the spring, but you'd never know that by looking at an L.A. bar's drinks list. The way L.A. bartenders are using maple syrup in their drinks, you'd think they have a crop of tapped trees in their backyards.

While maple syrup and granulated sugar both have the same sugar breakdown — 50 percent glucose, 50 percent sucrose — maple syrup has a lot going for it both cocktailwise and healthwise. Unlike processed sugar, maple syrup contains some antioxidant polyphenols as well. It also has a richer, deeper flavor than white sugar, which adds its own spin to mixed drinks.

According to Rustic Canyon bar manager Aaron Ranf, “I try to use all natural sugars and syrups with minimal processing/refinement. We just started using muscovado sugar in our old-fashioned, and I have yet to experiment further with it. I think the richer molasses and maple flavors pair really well and enhance whiskey cocktails.” Below are some standouts — whiskey-centric, as Ranf prefers — around town, as well as the recipes so you can DIY at home. 

Maple Berry Smash at Rustic Canyon
Courtesy of Aaron Ranf
Makes: 1 Drink

2 oz. Old Bardstown Bourbon
3/4 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. diluted maple syrup
1/4 oz. Nux Alpina Walnut Liqueur
3 to 6 blueberries or blackberries, muddled
4 to 6 mint leaves for garnish

1. Muddle berries, mint, lemon and syrup together. Then add bourbon and liqueur.
2. Shake everything over ice and double strain over one large cube, into a rocks glass.

Butternut Old-Fashioned, Little Dom's; Credit: Little Dom's

Butternut Old-Fashioned, Little Dom's; Credit: Little Dom's

Butternut Old-Fashioned at Little Dom's
Makes: 1 Drink

2 oz butternut squash–infused Eagle Rare Bourbon (see below)
1/4 oz real maple syrup
Splash Urban Moonshine Maple Bitters
Splash Fee Brothers Barrel Aged Bitters
Orange peel for garnish

* To create the butternut squash–infused Eagle rare, cut squash into tiny pieces and lightly dust them with sugar and cinnamon. These are roasted for about 20 minutes until they are a bit dry and golden. They are then cooled to room temperature and added to the Eagle Rare bottles. We fill the bottles about 1/3 of the way and let that sit for at least 6 days. 

1. Stir with cracked ice.
2. Garnish with an orange peel.

Old Whistler, TART; Credit: TART

Old Whistler, TART; Credit: TART

Old Whistler and Applejack Old-Fashioned at TART

Old Whistler
Makes: 1 Drink

2 oz. Whistle Pig Rye
2 dashes orange bitters
1 tsp Vermont maple syrup

1. Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir.
2. Strain into a martini glass.
3. Garnish with a cherry.

Applejack Old-Fashioned 
Makes: 1 Drink

2 oz. Yukon Jack Jacapple Whiskey
½ oz. Vermont maple syrup
A few dashes of Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Aromatic Bitters

1. Combine all ingredients in mixing glass with ice and stir.
2. Strain into snifter.

Lesley blogs at 12 Bottle Bar, tweets at @12BottleBar and is the author of the book Gin: A Global History. Her book The 12 Bottle Bar, co-written with David Solmonson, was released July 29. Email her at Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

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