THORNTON, N.H.—It’s been a long-time coming for Mike Benton and Benton’s Sugar Shack.
After five generations of sugaring in the Lakes Region town of Thornton, N.H. the Benton family took their first Carlisle Cup last year, awarded for the best maple syrup in the state, at the New Hampshire Maple Producers association annual meeting.
Their outstanding syrup is no secret to the thousands of visitors who come to the sugarhouse’s restaurant, which is open year-round and a mainstay attraction in the popular tourist area. The restaurant typically serves 600 people in an average weekend.
It originally opened in 1986 just during sugaring season.
“But we had so many people ask us to keep it open year round, so we did,” says proprietor Michael Benton, who with his wife, Laurie, runs the operation with father Brad, Sr., brother Brad, Jr. and hired man, Charlie Kimball.
“Now you cant believe how many people come through,” Benton says.
Benton is also host to a huge three-day music festival on his property, called the Boogie N’ Blues Festival, which draws national acts and upwards of 5,000 concert-goers every August.
This year’s festival is scheduled for August 18-20. It’s known as the largest outdoor blues festival in New Hampshire. Now entering it's 21st year, the festival features award-winning blues artists, food vendors, craft vendors, a climbing wall and many fun activities for children including Saturday night fireworks.
The Bentons tap 6,000 trees in the area, with 4,400 of those taps on a long-term lease on state land in Franconia Notch, a half hour to the north of the sugarhouse.
Two other sugarbushes, one with 300 taps up the road from the sugarhouse and another 1,500 across the street, are pumped to tanks through a tight pipeline system.
Benton runs concentrate to 8 percent and fires with wood. He says the secret to his award-winning syrup is precision and cleanliness. The restaurant and sugarhouse are spotless.
“We try to keep it clean as we can,” he said.