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Warren bard

In 1992, Edmontonian Warren Bard discovered an answer to Quebec’s maple syrup, the traditional symbol of Canadian sweetness. In tapping white birch trees near the towns of Spruce Grove, Devon and Egremont, north of Edmonton, he became Canada’s first commercial producer of bottled birch syrup.

Bard first learned the tricks of his trade while reading Harrowsmith magazine in the early 1990s.

"There was a story in there about a woman who had left the Klondike Gold Rush because she’d found the going too hard, and opened up a tent and breakfast," Bard told Shawn Ohler of the National Post. "One of the problems she had was a lack of sugar. Well, she had a native woman helping her who said, ‘Why didn’t you make your own syrup from birch trees?’ I thought, ‘Birch trees, there’s lots of those things around.’ "

In his first year, using copper pipe and a camp stove, his yield was all of a half-litre. By using high-efficiency evaporators, he now produces in excess of 1,000 litres per season, after tapping 350 birch trees.

To some in the cooking trade, such as Culinary Team Canada manager Simon Smotkowicz, the syrup is better tasting than maple, and a unique ingredient to bring to competitions in Europe and Asia.

"It’s similar to maple in color and texture, but a bit lighter in flavour," Smotkowicz told Canadian Geographic writer Darlene West in 1999, after Bard’s syrup caught the attention of chefs and home cooks in Alberta. "It’s very distinctive. But if you like maple, you’ll like birch."

Bard tends to be a bit more specific about the flavour of the Albertan sweetener. "It tastes like sponge taffy candy, or seafoam candy, with a fruity aftertaste."

In 1999 Bard formed the Alberta Sugarmakers’ Association to assist farmers, woodlot owners, community groups and others with the production of birch and maple syrup throughout Alberta. He can be found most weekends at his booth in the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market in Edmonton, selling bottles of this distinctly Albertan syrup under the River Valley Syrup Co. label.

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