Sugar Shanty   Couple keeps maple syrup tradition alive

(L to R) Brad Zoller, Kyzer Zoller, Tyler Zoller and Lori Moldan watch the maple sap boil down to sweet maple syrup.

NEW ULM — If you’re traveling down the KC Road in early spring and the temperatures just right, your olfactory senses might be treated to one of the best scents ever: maple syrup.

Tyler Zollner and Lori Moldan have been producing their own brand of syrup known as “Sugar Shanty” syrup from this location for the last few years, but the site just off the KC Road has a decades long history of maple syrup production.

The Sugar Shanty they work out of is close to 70 years old. A maple syrup operation has been run out of the camp almost continuously since the 1940s.

Zollner and Moldan’s syrup business is run out of the old Reim’s Camp. Moldan said the camp was once a vacation spot and a few old cabins are still on the property today.

The building where the maple sap is processed into syrup is called the Sugar Shanty. It was originally built by the Reim family, but they did not live on the property full time. A hired caretaker named Fred Schaefer managed the property and he was familiar with maple syrup production. He continued the production until the 1980s, when Dave and Sharon Besemer acquired the property.

Tyler Zoller adds wood to the fire to keep the boiler going. The process takes time but the smell the is wonderful and it’s always warm.

The Besemers learned the trade from Schaefer and continued the tradition until Dave’s death in 2000. The Sugar Shanty would sit dormant until 2017 when Zollner and Moldan were given the opportunity to revive it. Andy and Laura Reinarts and Lara’s sisters are allowing Zollner and Moldan to use the land and equipment.

Zollner said he was inspired to take over the maple syrup operation from his friend Matt Dummer. Dummer is a second generation maple syrup producer. He has collected maple syrup on the opposite side of the Minnesota and taught Zollner the tricks of the trade.

Sap collection is dependent on the freezing and thawing cycle. It needs to be cold enough to freeze at night, but warm enough to thaw during the day. The sap is captured as the sap cycles through the tree.

In Minnesota, this freeze and thaw cycle could be as early as February or as late as April. Maple syrup production began in full swing at the old Reim’s Camp around March 10. Zollner said this is when they began tapping trees.

“They were tapping in snow shoes,” Lori Moldan said.

The orginal Sugar Shanty was built over 70 years ago and is still used to produce pure maple syrup.

It was not until the snow began to melt that they could move through the woods on an ATV. The warm up did arrive fast. By March 23 temperatures were well above freezing and the syrup was running fast.

The camp is surrounded by hundreds of maple trees, making it the perfect place to run a maple syrup business. This year they tapped around 635 maple trees. Zollner said they have been adding additional taps each year.

Even after seven decades, the production of maple syrup has not changed. Old fashion buckets still hang from trees and simple tree taps drip the sap into the bucket for manual collection. The size of the tree determines the number of buckets. The larger maples can support up to four sap collection buckets.

Depending on the weather, the team is collecting sap twice a day. Typically, they always collect sap at three in the afternoon. The sap is running fast at this time of day.

The sap falls into the bucket one drop at a time. Two drops a second is good speed. It is possible to collect 700 gallons in a day In total, Zollner and his family typically collect 4,000 gallons of sap to produce 100 gallons of maple syrup.

The size of the maple tree determines how many taps and buckets it will support. A decent size tree will hold two sap collectors, but the larger trees can hold four.

They began cooking down the raw sap mid-March. Zollner said the majority of maple sap is water, which is boiled off to make syrup. It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce a single gallon of syrup.

The sap is collected and boiled in large tanks at the Sugar Shanty. The base cooking tank is basically the same one used on the property for decades. This is a situation where the older methods still work best. Some new stainless steel parts have been added, but most of it is original. Zollner said the old equipment still works and it would cost $25,000 for a new boiler.

The maple syrup production has reached its end for the season. In the next month Zollner and Moldan will begin bottling the product and marketing Sugar Shanty pure maple syrup.

The syrup is sold under the brand name Sugar Shanty to local customers. The Retz speakeasy and the new Sippet coffee shop use Sugar Shanty syrup. It is also available at the Community Co-op in New Ulm, Lasting Impressions and at local craft shows.

Sugar Shanty syrup is sold in four sizes; the half pint, three-quarters pint, pint and quart. Only 100 gallons of the syrup is produced each year, making it a rare commodity.

Selling the maple syrup to customer, is just one of the goals. Making the syrup is becoming a family tradition.

“After a long winter it is nice to get out of the house,” Zollner said. “It is something to look forward to.”

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