Birch Wines, Sherries, and/or Meads

Birch Sap Wine

April 5, 2001

When the days shorten in the fall, all deciduous trees begin storing sugar in their roots as food for the coming winter and to provide their initial growth of leaves the following spring. It is this reversal of the sap to the roots that causes the leaves to dry out, turn colors and fall. As the days begin to warm in late winter into spring, the trees send that sugar upwards in their sap. Two trees tend to produces sweeter and more plentiful sap than all others — the birch and the maple. Here is the recipe for birch sap wine.

The sweet birch (Betula lenta) grows in moist woods from Maine to Kentucky. Despite its name, the sap is not very sweet but it is abundant and contains a flavor similar to wintergreen that makes a distinctive wine. The sap runs about a month after the maples. A more northern species is the yellow birch (Betula lutea), whose bark is yellow-gray and peels. Its sap, too, has a slight flavor of wintergreen. The paper birch (Betula papyrifera) is another northern species found across Canada and down to Ohio and New Jersey. It produces a fair amount of sap, but lacks the wintergreen oils found in the sweet and yellow birches.

One taps a birch tree differently than a maple. Make sure the trees are at least 10 inches in diameter, as smaller trees will be injured by tapping. Using an auger and 3/4-inch wood drill bit, drill a hole upwards into the tree at a 30° to 45° angle. The hole need only be deep enough to hold the tap securely (just beyond the inner bark). A drilled rubber bung is fit snugly into the hole with a short glass tube inserted into the bung hole. A length of plastic tubing is fitted onto the glass tube and inserted into a gallon jug. The space around the tubing is filled with cotton to keep insects out of the jug. Only one gallon of sap per tree is taken, which should take about two days. In any case, do not tap a tree for more than three days, even if a gallon of sap is not yet collected. The hole must be securely plugged with a tightly fitting plug to prevent the tree from dying after being tapped. A tapered cork works best for plugging the hole.

  • 1 gallon birch sap
  • 1 3/4 lbs granulated sugar (older recipe shows 2-1/2 pounds1)
  • 1/2 oz. citric acid
  • 1/8 tsp tannin
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkt Reisling or Graves wine yeast

First measure the specific gravity of the sap with a hydrometer to determine exactly how much sugar to add to achieve a starting specific gravity of 1.085-1.090. The 2˝ pounds in the recipe is about average, but more may be required. In an enamel- or teflon-coated pot, stir the required amount of sugar into the birch sap and bring to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat and stir until all sugar, citric acid and yeast nuitient is dissolved. When cool, stir in the tannin and pitch the activated yeast. Cover the primary and stir daily for 8-10 days. Transfer to a secondary and fit airlock. Ferment to dryness (6-8 weeks), rack into a sanitized secondary, refit the airlock and bulk age 6 months, checking airlock from time to time to make sure it doesn’t dry out. Rack, sweeten if desired and bottle. [Adapted recipe from Leo Zanelli’s Home Winemaking from A-Z ]