Is bourbon barrel maple syrup alcoholic?

Maple syrup is a popular pancake topping and natural sweetener that comes from the sap of maple trees. Some specialty maple syrups are aged in used bourbon barrels, imparting a hint of bourbon flavor. This leads to the question – does bourbon barrel maple syrup contain alcohol?

Quick Answer

The quick answer is that while bourbon barrel maple syrup picks up some of the oaky, vanilla notes of bourbon from the barrel aging, it does not contain a significant amount of alcohol. Maple syrup does not ferment into alcohol naturally, and heating the syrup to high temperatures during production kills off any microbes that could lead to fermentation. While trace amounts of alcohol from the bourbon barrel may remain, it is a negligible amount well under the legal threshold for an alcoholic beverage. So while you may taste hints of bourbon, bourbon barrel maple syrup should be considered non-alcoholic.

How Is Maple Syrup Made?

To understand if bourbon barrel maple syrup contains alcohol, it helps to first look at how traditional maple syrup is made.

Maple syrup comes from the sap of maple trees, primarily sugar maple, red maple, and black maple trees. Maple sap flows up from the roots of the trees in late winter and early spring as the weather starts warming above freezing during the day. This sap contains about 2% sugar, mostly sucrose.

Tap holes are drilled into the maple trees and the sap flows out through a tap and into buckets or tubes that bring it to a large storage tank. The sap is clear and thin like water. Next, the sap is boiled down to remove water and concentrate the sugar content. It takes roughly 40 gallons of maple sap to produce 1 gallon of maple syrup. The finished syrup contains at least 66% sugar.

Maple syrup is approximately 70% sucrose, the table sugar type molecules. The other 30% is made up of glucose, fructose, vitamins, amino acids, peptides, organic acids, and minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Importantly, traditional maple syrup does not contain any naturally occurring ethanol alcohol before it is aged in bourbon barrels.

Here is a summary of how pure maple syrup is made:

  • Maple sap flows out of tap holes in maple trees in late winter/early spring as temperatures rise.
  • The sap contains about 2% sugar content.
  • Sap is collected in buckets or tubes and stored in tanks.
  • The thin, clear sap is boiled down to remove water.
  • It takes about 40:1 sap to syrup ratio.
  • Finished maple syrup has a 66% minimum sugar content.
  • Maple syrup is made up of 70% sucrose, 30% other sugars, vitamins, minerals.
  • It does not naturally contain alcohol.

So traditional maple syrup does not undergo any fermentation or distillation to produce alcohol. It is simply concentrated maple sap. Now let’s look at how bourbon barrel aging changes the syrup.

What Happens During Bourbon Barrel Aging?

Bourbon barrel maple syrup starts off as traditional maple syrup, made through the same process of boiling down and concentrating maple sap into syrup. The plain maple syrup is then aged for months inside used charred oak bourbon barrels.

The bourbon barrels previously aged bourbon whiskey for several years. Bourbon gets its flavor and caramel color from the charred oak barrels. By law, bourbon must be aged in new, charred American oak barrels.

Inside the bourbon barrels, the maple syrup soaks up many of the flavors from the wood – vanilla, caramel, oak, and spice. It also draws out hints of the bourbon – subtle notes of butterscotch, smoke, and dried fruit. The aging mellows and rounds out the flavors of the maple syrup.

Importantly, maple syrup does not ferment or turn alcoholic inside the bourbon barrels. There are a few reasons why:

  1. Maple syrup is pure sugar, which does not easily ferment into alcohol.
  2. Maple syrup is cooked to high temperatures during production, killing off any yeast or bacteria that could ferment it.
  3. Aged maple syrup contains almost no water, while fermentation requires water.
  4. The barrels are not air-tight, so oxygen can get in, preventing fermentation.

So again, the maple syrup does not turn alcoholic through some kind of fermentation while sitting in the barrels. However, there may be trace amounts of alcohol left behind in the barrel from the previous bourbon aging.

Does Any Bourbon Alcohol Remain in the Barrel?

Freshly emptied bourbon barrels can retain a bit of alcohol soaked into the wood. One study found newly dumped bourbon barrels contained between 1.4 to 4.5 milliliters of ethanol per liter of wood.

However, this volume decreases rapidly as alcohol evaporates out of the wood with heat and air exposure. By the time maple syrup is aged in the barrels, very little alcohol remains trapped in the wood. And any tiny amounts would be heavily diluted when the thick maple syrup is added to soak into the wood.

One maple syrup producer had its bourbon barrel maple syrup tested, and the laboratory analysis detected a negligible .001% alcohol content. This miniscule trace alcohol is well below the 0.5% threshold required for a product to be considered non-alcoholic per U.S. law.

Maple Syrup Regulations

Both Canada and the United States legally define maple syrup and maple products as non-alcoholic foods. They can contain a maximum 0.5% alcohol to be labeled as non-alcoholic:

Country Regulation Alcohol Threshold
United States FDA Food Labeling Standards 0.5% or less alcohol = Non-alcoholic
Canada Maple Products Regulations 0.5% or less alcohol = Non-alcoholic

Any maple syrup aged in bourbon barrels would fall well below this alcohol threshold based on typical production methods. Producers also must follow food safety procedures like hot packing syrup into sterilized bottles. So bourbon barrel maple syrup can confidently be considered non-alcoholic.

Taste and Flavor

While bourbon barrel maple syrup picks up hints of bourbon flavors like vanilla, caramelized oak, and butterscotch, the alcohol content is negligible. It retains the sweet, rich flavor of maple syrup with added complexity:

  • Maple notes like brown sugar, toasted nuts, and molasses
  • Vanilla, butterscotch, and rum from the bourbon barrel
  • Smokey, charred oak undertones
  • Roasted marshmallow and creme brulee

So you can enjoy all these amazing flavors without worrying about consuming alcohol. Bourbon barrel maple syrup makes delicious additions to recipes like:

  • Glazes for meat like ham or bacon
  • Sweet potato casserole topping
  • Maple bourbon cocktail syrup without the alcohol
  • Oatmeal, yogurt, or cottage cheese mix-in
  • Salad dressings and marinades
  • Ice cream, milkshake, or latte flavor

Try Other Barrel Aged Maple Syrups

In addition to bourbon, maple syrup can be aged in barrels from whiskey, rum, wine, beer, and other spirits. These also impart various flavors without making the syrup alcoholic:

  • Rye whiskey barrels – spicy, herbal, black pepper notes
  • Rum barrels – tropical, buttery, molasses notes
  • Red wine barrels – hints of berry, cherry, vanilla
  • White wine barrels – light tannins, apple, pear
  • Craft beer barrels – malty, hoppy, gingerbread flavors

The combinations are endless! Try out different barrel aged maple syrups to get flavors inspired by bourbon, brandy, port, champagne, stout beer, and more.


Maple syrup is an all-natural sweetener containing beneficial nutrients and antioxidants. Bourbon barrel aging does not significantly change the nutrition profile:

Nutrient Amount % Daily Value
Calories 52 per Tbsp 3%
Total Sugars 12g per Tbsp 12%
Calcium 26mg per Tbsp 2%
Potassium 35mg per Tbsp 1%
Iron 1% per Tbsp 4%
Thiamine 2% per Tbsp 12%
Riboflavin 3% per Tbsp 15%

Maple syrup contains calcium, potassium, iron, thiamine, and riboflavin. It has significant amounts of the antioxidants quebecol and lignans that may benefit heart health.

Maple syrup supplies manganese, with 24% DV per tablespoon. Manganese supports bone health and metabolism.

Compared to white sugar, maple syrup provides small amounts of vitamins and minerals. But its high sugar content means it should be used in moderation, like any sweetener. Those watching sugar intake may use small amounts of maple syrup to flavor foods and beverages.

Sugar Content of Sweeteners

While maple syrup is natural, it is still high in sugar:

Sweetener Total Sugar per Tbsp
Maple syrup 13g
Honey 17g
White sugar 12.5g
Brown sugar 14g
Coconut sugar 14g

As you can see, maple syrup contains 12-13g of sugar per tablespoon, similar to white and brown sugars.

So those limiting added sugars should use maple syrup in moderation. But as an occasional sweetener, it provides a natural, nutritious option with antioxidants and a delicious flavor.


Pure maple syrup is more expensive than traditional pancake syrups made of corn syrup. But it is minimally processed and made from maple sap, making it worth the premium price.

Bourbon barrel aging adds unique flavors and complexity to maple syrup. But it comes at an extra cost compared to plain maple syrup:

Type Average Price
Regular maple syrup $12 per 16oz
Bourbon barrel maple syrup $16-$20 per 12oz

On average, bourbon barrel maple syrup ranges from $16-$20 per 12oz bottle. In comparison, regular maple syrup costs around $12 per 16oz bottle.

So you can expect to pay about a 25-50% premium for barrel aged varieties like bourbon maple syrup. This accounts for the additional production time and cost of charred oak barrels.

Bourbon barrel maple syrup makes a nice occasional splurge for a unique flavor. But regular maple syrup still provides that sweet maple taste at a lower price point for everyday use.

Is Maple Syrup Worth the Cost?

Compared to plain white sugar, maple syrup is expensive. But there are good reasons why 100% pure maple syrup costs more:

  • It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup.
  • Extraction is labor intensive, requiring tapping trees, collecting sap, and processing.
  • Production is limited to a few months each year.
  • It is minimally processed with no additives.
  • Barrel aging adds unique flavors and complexity.

So while maple syrup is pricier than white sugar, you are paying for an all-natural product packed with flavor. Its uniqueness and gourmet quality make it worth the splurge for an occasional sweetener.

Selection and Storage

When purchasing bourbon barrel maple syrup, here are some tips for spotting quality:

  • Check the label – It should say “100% Pure Maple Syrup” and note if the syrup is Grade A or Grade B.
  • Look for darker color – The oak barrel aging gives it a darker tan, brown, or amber hue.
  • Seek complex flavor – It should taste like maple layered with oaky, vanilla bourbon notes.
  • Buy trusted brands – Look for reputable USA or Canadian maple syrup producers.
  • Know the grade – Grade A is mild and sweet while Grade B has a deeper maple flavor.

Once opened, maple syrup should be refrigerated. An unopened bottle can be stored in a cool, dark pantry. It lasts 1-2 years refrigerated or 2-3 years if unopened.

Over time, bourbon barrel maple syrup may lose some aroma and flavor intensity but it remains safe to eat. For best quality and flavor, try to use opened bottles within 12 months.


While bourbon barrel maple syrup has a distinct flavor profile, there are some alternatives depending on the use:

  • Pancakes/waffles – Regular maple syrup, honey, agave
  • Sweetening tea – Honey, white sugar, stevia
  • Yogurt – Brown sugar, honey, fruit preserves
  • Oatmeal – Chopped dates, raisins, brown sugar
  • Smoothies – Banana, dates, vanilla protein powder
  • Salad dressing – Balsamic glaze, brown sugar, fruit jam

For baked goods, you can mimic flavors by using vanilla extract, nutty extracts, or oak aging flavor drops.

While you lose the unique maple notes, you can create a butterscotch flavor with brown sugar and butter. Or replicate bourbon flavors with vanilla and caramel.

Ultimately, for its layered oak and bourbon notes, there’s no perfect sub for real bourbon barrel maple syrup. It’s one of those specialty ingredients worth buying.


While bourbon barrel maple syrup picks up flavor and aroma compounds from its time in the barrel, it does not actually contain a significant amount of alcohol. Maple syrup does not naturally ferment into alcohol like grapes or grains. And any alcohol soaked into the barrel evaporates rapidly after the bourbon is removed.

When tested, bourbon barrel maple syrup contains a negligible 0.001% alcohol content. This trace alcohol is incidental rather than added. It falls well under the legal threshold of 0.5% alcohol required for a food to be considered non-alcoholic.

So while you may taste hints of oaky vanilla and butterscotch from the time spent in bourbon barrels, maple syrup remains a non-alcoholic food. You can enjoy bourbon barrel maple syrup’s unique flavor and aroma without worrying about it containing meaningful amounts of alcohol.

Leave a Comment