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All the reading I am doing suggests that adding maple syrup at just about any point to a beer is really just a waste of maple syrup, except potentially at priming.

When brewing a 'pumpkin' beer, there are likely 1000 other better ways of getting to a pumpkin pie flavor (which is really what people are after) than adding actual pumpkin (which seems to just give you some pectins and a few gravity points). I'm thinking I might be able to do a fake out on maple syrup as well, since at most points maple syrup will likely just ferment out (I can't really prime with it, as I will be kegging this beer...though I suppose I could add at kegging, and have the beer be extra dry prior to adding it)

What I'm trying to figure out is, could I get some of that rustic/woody notes maple syrup has from maple chips, and get the sweetness from some crystal 40/60? This beer will be a stout (likely somewhere between FX stout and RIS).

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2 Answers

I agree with @hartski that it's mainly a matter of adding enough maple syrup (like a pound or more), similar to adding honey; and that maple wood flavor, although nice, is not like maple syrup flavor. If you have a membership at a warehouse store you can get a big bottle for not too much money (like Costco).

But a significantly cheaper alternative which will avoid the issue of adding sugars and get you maple flavor is to use maple flavoring. It comes as an extract in both natural and artificial varieties. Flavorings are often used by homebrewers and commercial breweries, and are common in certain recipes, e.g. hazelnut-flavored beers or watermelon wheats.

If you search for maple flavoring you will find many options.

In case you've never used flavorings, you want to add a few drops at a time when bottling or kegging. Use a sanitized medicine dropper, pipette or syringe used for liquid children's or pet medicine (I use a syringe). This is difficult, kind of an art rather than a science. Your palette can get fatigued very quickly - less is more. Some vanilla extract could also balance out the maple.

A split batch is also an option, some with flavoring some without, to compare.

I'm pretty sure Rogue's hazelnut brown ale uses this method, and I like that beer. Southern Tier seems to do this in several of their flavored beers, e.g. their Imperial Pumking and Creme Brulee imperial stout, but I'm not a huge fan of those, I think they a strong buttery flavor (maybe they use butter flavor too).

For more info, there's several other questions on the site about adding flavoring extracts.

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I don't believe in any way that maple 'wood' shares any distinct flavor qualities with maple 'syrup'. So I really don't think that by doing what you propose, you will come out with the end product you are looking for. But, to see for yourself, make a maple 'wood' tea, get that fire goin', put on your favorite Birkenstocks, and give it some sips.

On the other hand, I would strongly argue that the best way to get the taste of maple syrup in your brew... is to add maple syrup. I think of the use of syrup just as I would molasses or honey. By adding at least 1 pound or more, you will begin to really get the flavor you're looking for to come out in your end product.

The yeast may take me sugars... but the flavor I be keepin'.
— Captain Buttersworth

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The problem is, it sounds like maple syrup ferments out, even if you add it @ priming. See Denny's answer homebrew.stackexchange.com/questions/7871/… –  Pietro Oct 25 '12 at 17:02
    
for the pumpkin pie flavor I'd go with equal parts powder ginger, nutmeg & cinnamon in secondary. not too sweet, so the beer/hops character doesn't disappear behind the sweetness. –  Jason Meckley Oct 25 '12 at 17:16
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@Pietro, you are reading that answer wrong. Denny didn't say that maple syrup was flavorless, he said that using it to prime is flavorless. If you put a pound or two in, it will ferment dry, but will leave the flavor. Use lactose or light crystal to get the "sweet" back. –  Graham Oct 25 '12 at 18:32
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and try to find Grade B Syrup. It's darker and has more "maple" flavor than the Grade A Syrup. Presumably, it would be slightly less fermentable, too, much like the various grades of molasses. –  baka Oct 26 '12 at 13:25
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