NH’s Best Maple Syrup
by Barbara Mills Lassonde

Plymouth, NH––February 16, 2024––Where can you find the best maple syrup in New Hampshire? According to the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association, it’s Will-A-Way Maples in South Newbury. James Gove and Melissa Storrs, proprietors of Will-A-Way Maples recently took first place in the Carlisle Competition at the Association’s annual meeting in Plymouth.

In order to compete for the Carlisle trophy, each maple syrup sample must place first, second or third at a county fair. Gove and Storrs won ribbons at Hopkinton, Hillsborough and Deerfield fairs in 2023. Judging is based on clarity of the syrup, density and flavor. Winning the Carlisle award is difficult, because all of the entries are outstanding.

I visited Will-A-Way Maples to see what all the fuss was about. As I drove into the yard, steam billowed from the roof of the sugar house, telling me this year’s maple season has already begun and syrup is being made. Inside the sugar house, a cloud of maple-scented steam filled the building, giving a warm, cozy feeling. In the shiny, open evaporator pans, sap boiled furiously, steam rising up through the roof. Gove’s friend, Jim Westgate, pushed 30-inch logs into the fire of the 4×12-foot evaporator.

“We make about 1500 gallons of syrup and burn 17 to18 cords of wood each season,” Gove said.

I asked what makes his syrup better than the others. “The trees and the soil we have affect the flavor of the syrup,” Gove replied. “I’m also a perfectionist. My syrup is exactly the right density before it goes into the filter press, I taste each batch to be sure the flavor is right, and I keep everything clean. The evaporator pans are cleaned at the end of the day, which, I think, makes a higher quality syrup and keeps the sugar sand from accumulating.”

Sugar sand, or niter is a naturally-occurring substance which forms as maple sap is boiled. Filtering the syrup removes the niter, leaving a clear, golden product.

Gove’s interest in making maple syrup began when he helped Arnold (Andy) Anderson of Bradford for several years at Anderson’s sugar house. Gove has been making his own syrup in Newbury for the past 20 years. As his operation expanded, he needed more help, so his brother, Tim and friend Jim Westgate joined in. Now, with over 4,000 taps to collect sap from, Gove receives help from many more friends.

What does one do with 1500 gallons of syrup? “We make some of it into candy, cream, granulated sugar, maple mustard, vinegar, maple-coated nuts, maple jelly, cinnamon syrup and bourbon barrel-aged syrup,” Gove said. “We sell our products from our sugar house, at Spring Ledge Farm in New London, in local stores, through social media, and to wholesale buyers.”

What future plans does Gove have for his maple operation? “I’d like to add another 200-300 taps this year,” he said. “This is a labor of love, and I enjoy doing it. I call it my expensive hobby that just keeps on going.”

Will-A-Way Maples is located at 585 Gillingham Drive, which is at the intersection of Sutton Road and Gillingham Drive in South Newbury, about one mile off Route 103. “If you see steam rising from the sugar house, we’re boiling, and any time we’re boiling, folks can stop in,” Gove said. “We’ll be open for maple weekend, offering free samples of our products, maple ice cream and other treats.”

Runners-up for the Carlisle award were: Second place: Babel’s Sugar Shack in Mason; Third place: Sugarmomma’s Maple in Northwood; Fourth place: Journey’s End Maple in Pittsfield; and 5th place: Black Dog Bees & Maple Trees in Lebanon.

The maple sugaring season occurs only in the Northeastern United States and Southeastern Canada for about 4-6 weeks during February and March. New Hampshire Maple Weekend is March 16 and 17, when sugar houses around the state will be open to visitors, and the NH Maple Producers Association encourages everyone to visit a sugar house to learn how this healthy sweetener is made.