Several nights this spring, Ryan Smith, co-owner of Winooski’s Monkey House, fell into bed at 4 a.m. But not because of raucous shows or late-night partying: He’d been out sugaring until 2 a.m. on the other side of the state. “You have to go when it’s happening,” says Smith of his family’s sugarbush in Vershire, about an hour-and-15-minute drive from his home in Winooski.
He’s sharing the fruits of his labor closer to home: The Smiths’ syrup adorns the tables at Sneakers Bistro, the 25-year-old eatery next door to the Monkey House. “A lot of places in Vermont, if you get pancakes, you get an upcharge for the syrup. Sneakers is one of the only places that doesn’t do it,” says Smith. The place also sells syrup in jugs.
Sugaring has been a Smith family tradition since Smith’s grandfather purchased a 100-acre sugarbush with 3300 maple trees. Ryan Smith began helping his father, John B. Smith, right out of college. After a hiatus of a few years, the younger Smith, his dad, a brother and a cousin have resumed their wood-fired boils and are turning out syrup in every grade, sometimes helped by Monkey House staffers who travel east to lend a hand. “We don’t use reverse osmosis or any of that new stuff,” adds Ryan Smith.
Last year, the Smith clan made 520 gallons of syrup; this year, they’re hoping for more but won’t know how the season turns out for a little while.
“We have a cold sugarbush, so it’s kind of a later thing,” notes Smith, who has a toddler but doesn’t mind the grueling schedule. “I spend a lot of time in the woods checking the lines. It’s definitely a lot less stressful than some of the other work I do.”