The labor-intensive agricultural practice of maple syrup production became a target for thieves in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, with crooks making off with more than 100 gallons of the valuable sweet stuff.
"They made a mess," sighed Marvin Ryan of Craftsbury, as he looked at the sticky evidence of a brazen crime inside his sugarhouse. "Someone's getting some good syrup."
Ryan makes maple syrup, by boiling down sap collected from more than 2,000 taps in his maple trees, and sells it in 40-gallon bulk barrels to a packing company.
But earlier this week, likely on Sunday, burglars stole the contents of three of those containers, Ryan said.
Vermont State Police out of the St. Johnsbury barracks investigated, but Ryan said he knows it will likely be awfully tough for police to ever figure out who stole his syrup.
"I do this as kind of a hobby, but it ain't even a fun hobby when you lose that much syrup," Ryan told necn.
The thieves apparently dumped the maple syrup from Ryan's barrels into their own tubs or buckets, leaving behind the mostly-empty drums, with a lot of syrup spilled all over the floor of Ryan's sugarhouse and on a chair.
Two big reasons the thieves might have chosen to not steal Ryan's full drums? Each is marked with a number that would tip someone off to where they came from, and when the drums are full of syrup, they can weigh about 500 pounds.
"That was basically our cream of our crop," said Paul Ryan, Marvin's brother and partner in the syrup business.
The brothers estimated they lost well over 100 gallons of syrup, worth close to $3,000 to a bulk buyer. They speculated the thieves may try passing off the stolen syrup as their own and sell it.
The Ryans said the lost money means they will not be able to invest as much in better equipment for the sugarhouse, and new spouts and sap lines for their maple trees.
"Basically what we've got [for 2016's maple crop] now is just barely going to make the payments," Paul Ryan said. "We're not going to be able to advance into the future and buy new stuff."
Paul Ryan said he hopes other maple producers closely watch their sugarhouses and any stored maple syrup, to avoid a sour end to Vermont's sweetest season.
Anyone with information on the maple syrup theft is asked to call Sgt. Lyle Decker at the Vermont State Police barracks in St. Johnsbury, at (802) 748-3111.