Check the shelves in a grocery store on either side of the country, and you’ll find plenty of foods that taste exactly the same as they do here in Ontario. So many experiences these days are standardized for consistency, it’s a real thrill to find something uniquely tied to a place and a community. That’s one reason Millbrook’s Red Mill maple syrup is such a pleasure—each batch has its own subtle character.
“I guess that’s the terroir thing about syrup—it changes every single year, and every day,” says Jeremy Poulin, who helps run the business alongside his father Sébastien. Even within the usual range from golden to dark—determined, Jeremy explains, mainly by when in the season sap is harvested—there’s a noticeable variance in each batch. “Mixing it with other flavours it’ll be very hard to see the difference, but if you put both of them side by side, you’ll be able to taste the difference and you’ll be able to choose which one’s your favourite.”
Jeremy’s the latest in a long line of producers that dates back to Sébastien’s grandfather. “Where I’m from, that’s probably one of the biggest areas in Quebec where you have maple producers,” Sébastien says, referring to a family tradition that began in the Beauce region. “I have multiple uncles doing it, and if I go from my granddad, there’s brothers and sisters and—anyway, it’s huge.”
Sébastien eventually relocated to Ontario, settling in Peterborough and producing syrup at his cottage in Maynooth using the traditional bucket method. The property at 1232 Deyell Line outside Millbrook proved irresistible once he discovered its ten acres’ worth of maple trees waiting to be tapped, so the family moved again in 2011. Production began in 2014 under the name Sugar Rush Maple Bush. He ramped up his efforts 2017, re-branding the business Red Mill Maple Syrup in honour of Millbrook’s Needler’s Mill. In 2022 he rented an additional five acres from a neighbour, using a sophisticated pumping station to collect sap and a reverse osmosis concentration process to conserve fuel. However, Jeremy’s interest in sales and marketing was key in making the transition from wholesale to retail.
“We’re at Kawartha Country Wines in Buckhorn, Mariposa Farm Market in Oakwood, we’re at Kit Coffee in Peterborough,” says Jeremy, rhyming off a list of Red Mill stockists throughout the region (see this post for several more). Local delivery is available via the Red Mill website, and shipping is also available across Ontario. However, Jeremy’s also keen to highlight the creative variations on traditional syrup he and Sébastien have developed over the past several years.
“We do a bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup, so we put the maple syrup in a bourbon cask and we age it for six months. We do cinnamon-infused maple syrup—we’re just trying to make ourselves different from other producers and just be new and exciting and always have something on the go.”
“Maybe for next year, we’d like to try to make beer with the sap instead of water,” Sébastien adds. “Right now we’re working on a recipe with a local brewery… We’ll see how that develops. It’s in an early stage right now.” If it’s anything as delicious as their current lineup of products, Kawarthas Northumberland is going to have another unique flavour to brag about.