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What I Learned About Maple Syrup on the West Coast

I have been lucky enough to travel out west a couple times in the last month.  We mixed visiting friends and family with maple syrup business.  I have five key points I learned from my visit out west.

1) The demand for maple syrup out west is tremendous.

I spent some time in San Diego, Portland Oregon, and a little time in Seattle.  I’m doing my thing: qualify the market and customers.  I ask lots of questions to restaurant owners, distributors, grocery managers, and customers.  The market price for maple syrup is significantly higher out west.  Especially for ORGANIC bulk maple syrup.

The lines outside the Portland Oregon breakfast spots were long.  I asked one patron, “is it always like this?”  His response was, “demand exceeds supply” – referring to the number of breakfast locations.  There was a 30-45 minute wait at every breakfast spot I visited.

Portland feels like Ohio/PA – without the winter and snow.  It felt like home.  I can see the appeal of living in Oregon.  I can see why consumers in Portland want pure maple syrup.  It fits the culture and lifestyle.

Maple Guy in Portland Oregon

Maple Guy in Portland Oregon

2) The overall quality of maple syrup I tasted was poor.

I think this is an education gap.  On two separate occasions I ordered a meal with pure maple syrup.  The maple syrup was spoiled and fermented.  I believe the restaurateurs are unknowingly buying very low grade commercial maple syrup to reduce cost.  OR the other likely cause is not properly storing an open container of pure maple syrup in the refrigerator.  the distributors need trained – and I plan on doing a lot of training.

Due to this education gap, I don’t even think a lot of consumers out west know what good maple syrup tastes like.  I went to one location that purchased bulk maple syrup and repackaged into smaller jugs – at room temperature.  The problem here is maple syrup needs to be “canned” at 180-190F before repackaging.  I understand why the company is doing this – and I applaud their attempt to reduce their cost.  However, they are doing the maple syrup industry no favors by selling poorly packaged maple syrup.  In Ohio – that would have been shut down by the Ohio Department of Agriculture – and rightfully so.   The regulators out west don’t have any experience with maple syrup!  I do want to point out there is no health danger to the consumer, just the reputation of maple syrup industry.

Think about it.  If you have never had pure maple syrup…and the first time you taste it – it is spoiled and fermented….you’ll have an opinion of maple syrup that is tainted.  Literally.

Well, at least the spoiled maple syrup is organic.  Leading to my next point.

3) The demand for ORGANIC maple syrup is higher than non-certified maple syrup out west.

I saw it with my own eyes.  The lower cost non-certified maple syrup sat on the shelf.  This is hard for some of my maple syrup friends to comprehend as I explain the state of the maple syrup industry 2500 miles away.  There are no ingredients added to the tree sap.  So I can see their point of view.  The difference between organic maple syrup and non-certified maple syrup is $2500-3000/year and a piece of paper.  Regardless, that piece of paper is important to the consumer and we are going to give the consumer what they want.

My advice to maple farmers: stop arguing the merits of organic versus non-certified maple syrup – just get certified.  I am predicting such a shortfall of organic maple syrup over the next 3-5 years that the bulk price of organic maple syrup will start to separate from non-certified.  The reasons are market driven.  The consumer wants organic maple syrup.  Stop arguing with the consumer if you are a maple syrup farmer.   You don’t buy it – you make it.  Notice I didn’t call it non-organic maple syrup – I call it non-certified.  However, I do think the certification is an investment.  About a $0.25-$0.50/lb incease in your bulk maple syrup value, about $3-$5/gal.

4) If you are selling moldy maple syrup and don’t know it – We’ll help you.

I’m not in the business of pointing out customers’ shortcomings unless they directly ask me my opinion.  However, we are in the business of selling the highest grade maple syrup available and educating.  All it takes is a taste test comparison.  We currently produce some of the the rarest maple syrup blends on the planet – at a very high level.  We taste so much maple syrup, good and bad, that we have become experts.  We are going to share our experience and knowledge with the consumers.  Hopefully, it isn’t too late.  Hopefully there aren’t a bunch of people out there that have been ruined by a bad experience of consuming mersh (hipster-maple-farmer-lingo for commercial maple syrup) on their pancakes.

5) Transparency is important to the consumer.

Over the next several months, I’m going to be sharing the maple syrup industry from the inside.  We do some things great as an industry of sugarmakers.  However, we can do even better at sharing our industry in a transparent way.  Today’s consumer wants to know where their food is coming from.  I mean all of the way to the tree’s name.  Like in the Portlandia episode where they have to know the chicken’s name before they eat it.  So they go to the farm and meet the chicken.  Let’s start naming…

 

 

Pappy Van Winkle’s Barrel Aged Maple Syrup

What is better than maple syrup?  Bourbon.  Barrel.  Aged.  Maple.  Syrup.  What is better than bourbon barrel aged maple syrup?  The answer: maple syrup aged in a 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Bissell Maple Farm is collaborating with the Van Winkle family to produce an amazing blend of two American craft traditions.

The character and color of the maple syrup is only exceeded by the flavor.

The character and color of the maple syrup is only exceeded by the flavor.

In order to frame this article, I want to help you understand how exceptional this project really is.  First, the maple syrup:  The Bissell’s produce what we call “Sugarmaker’s Reserve” at the peak of the maple syrup season.

This is a very specific window when the Red Maple and Sugar Maple trees are producing pristine sap in equal amounts.  The maple syrup produced from this sap has a unique reddish hue, uncommon in the maple syrup industry.  And the flavor is just exquisite.  There is a limited amount that is produced every maple season.  Thus, the name Sugarmaker’s Reserve.

Recently dumped Pappy Van Winkle 23-year-old  barrels imparting flavor of Bissell family maple syrup.

So I’ll ask again, what is better than bourbon barrel aged maple syrup?  The Bissell family’s Sugarmaker’s Reserve aged in a 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle barrels.  The collaboration between these two families combines the best of both worlds – exceptional products and rich history.   This maple syrup is as amazing as it sounds.  The maple syrup distinctly carries the character of the 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon.  And quite possibly, could be the rarest maple syrup on the planet.

A limited release will be available this June at:

http://www.pappyco.com/

 

A barrel of Sugarmaker's Reserve produced from the Bissell Family's trees in NE Ohio

A barrel of Sugarmaker’s Reserve produced from the Bissell Family’s trees in NE Ohio

A bottle of maple syrup aged in a 23YR Pappy barrel

A bottle of maple syrup aged in a 23YR Pappy barrel

 

Sugar Chalet – The Evolution of one family’s Sugarshack

What is a Sugar Chalet?  Well, there is a story behind that.

In the1800’s the Bissell’s made maple syrup in this sugarshack.  I found this in a box of old photo’s on a postcard post marked  “1911”.  If you look close, you can see this postcard was a photo of a photo.  You can also see buckets hanging on the trees in the background.  You have to love the “Hell on Wheels” garb.

Civil War era picture of our Sugarshack.

Civil War era picture of our Sugarshack.

Most maple farms, at the very least, have a sugarshack.  In fact, we grew up with a sugarshack in our back yard.  Sugarshacks are exactly what they sound like.  A shack keeps the rain and weather off of your back while you boil sap.  The wind still blows through the cracks in the boards.  Rustic but functional.  Exactly what you would expect from farmers.

The original Bissell "Sugarshack"

The original Bissell “Sugarshack”

 

When Dad and I started expanding the maple operation – we tapped more trees and collected more sap than ever.  With the additional sap tanks and equipment – we had to invest in a bigger building.  We knew growth and expansion would continue so we invested for the future.  We needed more space to continue growing…a common theme for Bissell Maple Farm.

 

We have been blessed with a great contractor.  He has tolerated changes half-way through projects.  He tolerated a business owner who lacked maturity and understanding of the construction process.  I have to say Dan’s patience with me, looking back, was pretty spectacular.  So as much as we have increased capacity and capabilities – our contractor Dan Moore – has been there every step of the way.

Second floor of our Sugarhouse

Second floor of our Sugarhouse

We made our first addition in 2009 to accomodate our growth

We made our first addition in 2009 to accomodate our growth

 

 

 

 

 

 

The changes weren’t easy for Dad, either.  We cut down trees, made a driveway, infringed on garden space – when people say growth is hard it isn’t always about financials.  Somtimes it is about the constant change.  We weren’t just making syrup for our family anymore having fun in the backyard.  It shifted from serious hobby to a business.  I think sometimes we all miss the sugarshack.  However, industry advancement have kept maple syrup a relevant sweetener.  Without these industry changes, maple syrup would be $250 per gallon!

Some of the industry advances are truly amazing and we have no idea how we survived without them.  Tubing, Reverse Osmosis, the filter press – some cool gadgets  have really improved our efficiency.  However, there was something special about just a shack with a couple lamps and an evaporator chugging away at night.  I miss the simlicity sometimes.  I know Dad does.

Our Sugar Chalet during the 2014 Maple Madness Tour.

Our Sugar Chalet during the 2014 Maple Madness Tour.

 

My Aunt Linda is credited with saying, “this isn’t a sugarhouse, it is a sugar chalet!”   The name stuck.  From a shack – to a house – to a chalet….   We still make sugar.  And the next step?

A sugarworks!

 

How Kentucky Enhanced Ohio’s Maple Syrup

“What’s better than maple syrup?!  Bourbon.  Barrel.  Aged.  Maple.  Syrup.”   That is the catch phrase that I use when people ask about our maple syrup.  When people try it, they buy it.  Think I’m exaggerating?  Recently, my brother-in-law and I flew to San Diego for the San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival.  Eight different couples from Canada and Vermont declared their superior palette when it comes to tasting maple syrup.  “I’m warning you.  I’m from Vermont,” they would say.  Or, “I’m Canadian!  I’ll be the judge of your maple syrup!”

All eight couples bought a bottle.

Although maple syrup is not cheap, it is readily available.  If you like pure maple syrup, you can buy it from hundreds of maple farms in the northeast and Canada.  Just google: maple syrup, you’ll have plenty of options.  But now, things have changed.  What was a readily available commodity has been enhanced to a whole new level.  How can you improve maple syrup?  Age it in a single use bourbon barrel.

 

Barrel Aged Maple Syrup

Barrel Aged Maple Syrup

The Kentucky bourbon industry is in the midst of the largest expansion since the end of prohibition.  America’s native spirit has seen a growing demand from China, India, and Europe.  Whiskey is a white hot spirit.  And anything barrel aged is enjoying what I call the trickle down of “bourbonomics”.  Artisans are aging any kind of food in bourbon barrels they can think of from vinegars, beers, and even pickles!  Once an abundant by-product of the whiskey industry – used barrels are now a hot commodity.  The popularity of whiskey has generated a demand for craft micro-distilleries – not only in Ohio – but around the country.  In fact, Ohio micro-distilleries were willing to work with us first – helping us develop our process and flavor profile.  Ohioans were cutting edge to stretch both the maple and whiskey industries – recognizing the opportunity.

If you really think about the product and what we are doing, it makes sense.  Maple syrup is made from the sugary sap of maple trees.  The sap is boiled down and the sugars are caramelized from the heat of the fire in the evaporation process giving unique flavor and color.  Bourbon is made from aging a clear distilled spirit – in charred white oak barrel.  The barrel charring process caramelizes sap and sugars of the oak giving bourbon its unique color and flavor.  We are blending the flavors from maple and oak trees.  And the result is an improved maple syrup that does not contain alcohol – but the wonderful natural flavor of two unique American traditions.

Vermont’s maple industry has held a distinct geographical advantage with the proximity to Quebec and their strategic reserve of maple syrup.  Quebec produces 70% of the world’s maple syrup and a lot of it funnels through New England ambiguously carrying the Vermont brand because of a Vermont mailing address.  Ohio on the other hand has a distinct advantage, too, bordering Kentucky.  About 95% of bourbon whiskey is produced in Kentucky making one sweet neighbor for this Ohio maple farm.

Demand has created expansion – and has led to several partnerships with distilleries in Ohio and Kentucky, alike.  There is one common thread: maple and oak is delicious.

Maple Water! AKA sap.

Tree sap in a bottle!  Why didn’t I think of that?  I don’t begrudge any entrepreneurs to try things.  I like the fact that maple syrup is part of the discussion as it only helps the industry.  I have great respect for Michael Farrell and I think he is right on the money with promotion of the maple industry as a good part of this endeavor.  But I can’t help myself…  I have to chime in.  I have been asked about 1000 times, “What do you think of maple water?”   And I usually respond

A well marketed bottle of sap.

A well marketed bottle of sap.

with, “you mean sap?”  This isn’t to be confused with Maple Tree Water produced by Greenfield Farms in NE Ohio.  THAT is bottled distillate made by collecting condensation of steam produced as a by-product from maple syrup boiling process.  Distillate is bottled at about 200 degree Fahrenheit – too hot for most plastics – so a glass bottle is used.   So now that you know what maple water isn’t – let me tell you what it is.  “Maple water” is sap from the tree bottled after the pasteurizing or retort process to make it shelf stable.

Again, not a bad marketing gig.

There are a few companies out there trying their hand at this market: Vertical Water, Happy Tree (DRINKmaple) – and I applaud their marketing expertise and entrepreneurial spirit.  For some background, here is an article from Wall Street Journal about the latest and greatest health food fad influenced by the success of coconut milk.

http://online.wsj.com/articles/sap-as-a-drink-is-next-on-tap-1412737658

As a response to the many questions I have received about “Maple Water” – I will give my opinion to the three people that read my blog (Hi Mom and Dad…..and one other guy!)  I want to mention this again with – I love entrepreneurs!  I like the fact that someone is taking a risk and pushing the maple industry’s boundaries!  I hope they market the Sapsquatch dung out of it!  More maple is good for maple!  I hope it is a success.  However, I see one flaw:

People can add maple syrup to water.

Did he just Netflix-their-dingy-video-store-rental-place?  Yes, I did.  This maple farmer is going to do some math for the thrifty maple water drinkers.

Get your drink box of tree sap at Whole Foods!

Get your drink box of tree sap at Whole Foods!

Sap that is 2% sugar is worth about $0.67 per gallon to the sugarmaker.  If you like maple water and live in the Great Lakes Region – you can buy 5 gallons worth of maple water for about $3.35.  Maybe $5 if you want to be fair to the sugarmaker’s time.  You can check my math using this handy dandy sap value calculator (http://www.ohiomaple.org/sap-app.html) You’ll also need to plug in $2.60/lb (Update, $2.25/lb is the current value of maple syrup per pound, 4-20-15.) and you’ll also have to enter 100 for the percent of bulk syrup provided to the sap seller.  Or you can just trust my math.

If you aren’t fortunate enough to live in the Maple Belt, you’ll have to use your own bottle of maple syrup.  So let’s use 2% sugar and work backwards to show you how much “maple water” you can make for that next Browns-Steelers game!  If you buy a half-pint of maple syrup (8oz) you can make 2.7 gallons of maple water for about two-and-a-half cents per ounce.  So if you fill your 32oz Nalgene bottle up with freshly made “maple water” – it will cost you $0.75 – and you save the packaging cost on 9 containers.  Just a heads up on maple water flavor:  If you don’t want to taste strong caramel flavor of maple syrup in your reverse engineered maple water – buy Light Amber (Golden Delicate).  If you do want to taste the caramelized maple flavor – use Grade B (Dark Robust).

There is one great benefit from the maple water that is WAY better than coconut milk.  Science teachers outside the maple-belt can now buy sap and make maple syrup in their classrooms.  Like in Arizona and places where you don’t have cold winters.  However, it will cost you about $217.50 to make a quart of syrup in your beaker from 44 bottles of 32oz maple water!  You might be better off buying a quart of maple syrup and adding 10.875 gallons of water for about $22.

Yes, I am a maple nerd.

 

 

Rock Creek Maple Festival and Rock Creek SugarworkS

On October 4th, Bissell Maple Farm will be celebrating the grand opening of our Rock Creek Sugarworks campus.  To celebrate our new business and maple syrup outlet – we are having a Maple Festival.  We hope to see lots of visitors stop in for some pancakes with maple syrup, live music, some pumpkins, and a gander at our furniture made from used oak barrels.  We will even have some cool refinished antique factory railroad carts for sale.  Oh, and we hope to have some of the legendary maple ice cream available in the afternoon.  We’ll be serving pancakes around 9AM – come join us!

Sugar Maples, sometimes called Rock Maples, in autumn colors

Sugar Maple, sometimes called Hard Maple or Rock Maple, in autumn colors.  Photo by Deb Knecht.

 

I know what you are thinking.  Why are you having a maple festival in the fall, isn’t maple syrup made in the spring?  Yes, maple syrup is made in the spring….and so is snow, ice, and mud.   We like the idea of a fall maple festival for a few reasons.  First, we really want to celebrate the grand opening of Rock Creek Sugarworks.  It has been a major undertaking and we want to celebrate the hard work put into this endeavor.  Secondly, the October weather in NE Ohio is awesome!  It is a great time of year to start a new tradition in Ashtabula County.  Third, why not?!?!  Rock Creek is loaded with beautiful maple trees all over the village.  When the leaves change colors – the foliage on a sugar maple tree is the brightest and a reminder that the sugaring season is just around the corner.

“What is a Sugarworks?”

In northeast Ohio the region was dotted with maple syrup canneries called “Sugarworks”.  We like the word sugarworks because it evokes a sense of our Ohio maple heritage.  During the Civil War, northerners protested cane sugar produced with slave labor.  Instead, northerners consumed maple sugar as our primary sweetener.  In fact, 70% of the maple syrup made in the late 1800’s was turned into granulated maple sugar.  And we still use and hear the terms of yester-year in our vernacular regarding maple syrup and the production of Ohio’s first crop.  Terms like sugarmaker, sugaring, or sugarhouse have a traditional meaning – just like Sugarworks.

Rock Creek Sugarworks features maple syrup in Rock Creek, OH
Rock Creek Sugarworks features maple syrup in Rock Creek, OH

You’ve heard the terms Ironworks, Waterworks, or Leatherworks from the same era in our country’s history.  It was simple, descriptive, and industrial in nature – just like Sugarworks.  We just wanted to bring the term back, not just as a reminder of our heritage, but as a statement.  Rock Creek is becoming a cornerstone of Ohio’s Maple Trail.

 

Pancake Police Alert – Fake Maple Syrup Causes Cancer

I told you so.  I told you so.  I told you so.  Fake maple syrup causes cancer.  More specifically, the carmel-4 coloring agent is a potential carcinogen.  However, this is something maple farmers have known for years: your “breakfast syrup” has some bad juju.

Here is the Consumer Reports article that has been referred to me by several people.

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/03/caramel-coloring-in-pancake-syrup/index.htm

When the article came out my father-in-law was the first to call me.  This is interesting because Mrs. Butterheadof this little aside.  He has made it somewhat of a sport to try to feed my sons the fake stuff.  Probably in retaliation for having my sons throw away anything that enters my house that is Black and Gold – Pittsburgh Steelers – disgusting.  (Bissell’s are Browns fans.  We fought the Red Coats.  We were abolitionists.  And we’re Browns fans.  The right side of history. ) The article made an impact on my father-in-law.  He cares for these boys more than himself – he’s not going to feed them poison.

So here is a true story.

The out-laws were feeding my boys breakfast.  The real maple syrup, now a staple, ran out.  BUT, Bennie – the youngest Browns fan – has maple sugar on his oatmeal every morning.  Bennie LOVES his maple sugar in his oatmeal.  He kicks his feet and kind of dances when he eats his oatmeal.  So, my father-in-law did something quite clever.  He took the maple sugar, added a little water, warmed up his mixture and – BAM!  Maple syrup.

So, this little story illustrates how one lost breakfast-syrup-eater can be converted.  Sadly, I’m afraid they are goners when it comes to their choice in football teams.

Ohio’s Maple Syrup Conundrum

The 2014 USDA Maple Syrup Crop Report came out in early June.  I’m late to give my $0.02 because I have been mulling it over.  I scoured that report frontwards, backwards, and upside down.  I want to know what is happening in the industry.  I like analyzing trends.  So I took a closer look at the numbers in my spreadsheet and came up with a new indicator:  Bulk-Retail Variance (BRV).

The Bulk-Retail Variance is simple.  Take the average price per gallon of bulk maple syrup of the top 10 maple syrup producing states and subtract it from the average price per gallon of retail maple syrup of the top 10 maple states.  I wanted to see what states do a good job of selling their maple syrup in bulk and which states do a good job of promoting their own maple syrup directly to the consumer.  So take a look at my handy dandy rankings and chart.

Bulk Maple Syrup PricesThere are a couple reasons Ohio’s bulk maple syrup price is averaging third in the nation.  First, Ohio’s maple syrup is sought after in the commodity maple syrup market.  The soil and climate in Ohio results in maple syrup regarded as one of the best in flavor by industry experts.  So, if you are in Wisconsin or Vermont and need good quality syrup to slap your label on – you can’t go wrong with Ohio.   Secondly, due to the location of being further South than other maple producing states, Ohio is usually one of the first seasons to start making maple syrup.  Spring starts about a week to 10 days earlier than the rest of the maple belt.  This is important because, in February the big maple syrup factories called “packers” can really deplete inventory over the 10 months leading up to the maple season.  So, supply and demand kicks in.  Less syrup supply = higher premiums.  Ohio maple syrup usually has a buyer waiting before it is even made and is often shipped still warm in the drum.

Here is where it gets interesting.  Check out Chart #2 showing retail value of maple syrup.

Gallon Jug Retail Prices by StateOh man.  What a kick in the teeth.  Ohio makes all of this great maple syrup that is  sought after in Vermont, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, etc – but look at the numbers – dead last in retail value.  If you are a consumer buying maple syrup directly from a reputable local sugarhouse in Ohio you are getting a bargain.  Good for you.  Enjoy it while it lasts.  The national statistitics show a gallon of retail maple syrup made in Ohio is a bargain.

Now take a look at the Bulk-Retail Variance and the BRV graph.

Bulk-Retail Variance (BRV)

So what do the BRV numbers tell us?  For one, the money made on gallon of Ohio maple syrup is not staying in Ohio.  In fact, a gallon of Ohio maple syrup is making more money for another state outside their boundary than any other state.  Not a good statistic if you are selling retail in Ohio.  Two, if a gallon is sold directly by the sugarmaker to the consumer it isn’t very profitable.  In fact, I have seen maple syrup sold for $35/gallon.  This is a very poor business decision.  Here is why.  A gallon of maple syrup is worth $30 in the drum or tanker without any additional value being generated.  Once you put it in the jug – you have labor, energy, and packaging cost.  Now you are at $35 with no additional profit and you are burning and churning equipment.  Very charitable of you.  You made $0 more dollars profit than if you would have just sold it bulk to Vermont.

Bulk-Retail Variance (BRV) Graph

I think the low BRV number for Ohio is a symptom of some bigger issues in Ohio’s maple industry.  This is the challenge of the leaders in the Ohio maple industry: Ohio maple producers do not value their maple syrup as much as the rest of the US commodity market does.  Ohio maple farmers need to raise their prices to be fair with themselves and their resources.  The rest of the US Maple Producing states already know it, too.  Packers prove this with their checkbooks by paying a premium for Ohio maple syrup and the cost of freight to transport.  In fact, with the cost of freight involved with shipping Ohio maple syrup out of state you could add at least another $1.00/gallon per gallon of buying bulk Ohio maple syrup from out of state.  That would actually put the value of Ohio’s bulk maple syrup above Vermont’s based on the numbers in chart #1.  Packers know how valuable our maple syrup is.

I hear the argument all of the time from producers, “The guy down the street is selling his maple syrup for $35 a gallon!  How can I compete with that?”  My answer is usually the same variation of, “Why would you want to?  You don’t want those customers.  If you have to raise your price a dollar because the plastic jug cost increases a dollar you will lose that customer because that customer is loyal to the price.  Someone will always be a dollar cheaper.”

The conclusion I draw is Ohio needs a stronger maple brand.  Building a brand of Ohio maple syrup is a twofold endeavor.  First, in order to build a Maple Trail in Ohio and develop a connection with the consumer, sugarmakers are going to need to embrace tourism as a way to build their brand loyalty.  Ohio sugarmakers need to give visitors a reason to visit.  This means investment into an experience and facilities.  Most sugarhouses in Ohio are set up to make maple syrup efficiently, not entertain guests.  It is time to rethink the role of our great Ohio sugar shacks.

If you are an Ohio maple producer and would like to join Ohio’s Maple Madness tour please visit www.ohiomaple.org.  We are here to help you develop your own identity and customer loyalty.  Likewise, consumers that like maple syrup but purchase it from out of state profit takers need to visit local sugarhouses.

If you are a maple head and want to help keep Ohio dollars in Ohio mark Saturday/Sunday  March 14th & 15th and 21st & 22ndth 2015 on your calendar.  Pick up a Maple Ohio magazine (First issue due out in Feb 2015) or visit www.ohiomaple.org and peruse for a sugarhouse that fits your style.  Make sure you visit as many sugarhouses as you can in March and find the sugarmaker that offers you what you value.  No two sugarhouses are the same and a true maple head can see the differences!

Source: 2014 USDA Maple Syrup Crop Report

Food Service Distributors are Supplying Maple Syrup to Chefs…..For Now.

Are you a chef?  Do you like to use fresh local ingredients?  Are you a chef in Western PA or Ohio?  Do you use pure maple syrup?  Then why are you buying maple syrup from a food distributor?  Let’s think about this a moment.Deli_USFoods_May_2014

Ohioans and Pennsylvanians make a lot of maple syrup, award winning maple syrup.  For years Bissell Maple Farm made maple syrup and sold the excess drums of our wonderful maple syrup crop out-of-state to Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Vermont, etc.  The maple syrup was repackaged with an out-of-of state label and shipped right back to Ohio and PA.  It won’t say Pennsylvania or Ohio on the label.  It might have an address label of the repackaging factory, like – NY or VT.  Doesn’t this seem like a lot of excess cost from material handling and shipping  – when you can just buy it direct from the farmer?  There is certainly a business case for a regional maple syrup supplier in the Midwest.  Today, not only do we keep all of our maple syrup local – we source from other maple farmers and keep their maple syrup local, too.

So here you are.  You are a busy chef trying to keep a busy kitchen running.  I’m sure you have maple syrup in your cooler.  I’m pretty sure one of your food distribution companies is supplying your maple syrup.  I get it.  It is easy and you are busy.  You didn’t know a maple syrup farm capable of meeting your needs existed in Ohio.  A maple farm that can supply maple syrup year round – provide kosher maple syrup from an inspected facility.

Bissell Maple Farm recognized the industry need and started investing in capacity and infrastructure to meet this need.  We are a maple syrup producer, maple syrup packager, and a maple syrup distributor – we are focusing a portion of our resources on the food service industry.  We supply high quality maple syrup, eliminate the middle-man to generate a savings.  And we make it easy on chefs.  You can text, call, email – we’ll get your maple syrup on our delivery trucks.  We currently deliver to Cincinnati, Dayton, Cleveland, Toledo, Columbus, Akron, Youngstown, Erie and Pittsburgh.

I hear, “maple syrup is so expensive” all of the time.  Well, those people would be right.  It isn’t a cheap sweetener.  Neither is the production process.  And there is a lot of excess commercial cost in maple syrup that shouldn’t be there.  For one, often maple syrup is getting shipped hundreds of miles, sometimes thousands of miles, before it is bottled in a factory.  Then, it gets shipped to a warehouse of a food service distributor before it gets to your plate.  We are offering maple syrup direct from the farm and can shave a lot of those commercial costs out of that gallon of that sweet goodness for you.

Ohio’s First Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup

Bourbon-Barrel-SyrupBourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup

There are a lot of maple farms in Ohio and many choices as a consumer of pure Ohio maple syrup.  Come visit Ashtabula, Geauga, or Trumbull County in March and you will see steam rising from sugarhouses on just about every country road.  We know that there are mega-farms out there.  HUGE maple syrup factories in Quebec and Vermont and we can’t beat them in the volume-price game.  News Flash: WE DON’T WANT TO.  Why play a game we aren’t going to win?  So, we did what innovative farms do.   We changed the rules of the game.

Bourbon barrel aged maple syrup is innovative.  My 6th generation maple farmer DNA caused me to struggle with the idea of adding an “off-flavor” to our hard work.  We spend hours and hours trying to prevent off-flavors.  By definition an “off-flavor” is a flavor in the maple syrup, that isn’t supposed to be there.  Sometime it can be buddy late in the season or fermented due to bacteria – and of course, the large maple syrup factories will penalize you for these flavors.  Off-flavors knock about 30% of the value off of the maple syrup.  So, you can see why the maple farmers have been trained to avoid off-flavors.  I’m not going to lie – I had a hard time “ruining the maple syrup”.

Who knew maple and oak would taste so good!?  It tastes delicious.  We did a lot of research to find the perfect flavor.  Trial and error – the experimenting was fun.  It does take months and months to get the oak flavor into the maple syrup.  We found that the longer it sits on the charred oak barrels, the stronger the flavor.  Too long, and it tastes like rocket fuel.   Initially, we had too much bourbon flavor not enough maple.  So much so – it just about burned your eyes.  We later learned to curtail the bourbon flavor to allow the maple to come through.  A perfect blend took some time and resources.  But the final product was worth the investment.

We weren’t the first people to try making bourbon barrel aged maple syrup.  Yeah, I was bummed out.  Like in high school when I thought I came up with the riff to AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells.  Shane had to break it to me.  It bursts your bubble…..rapid deflation.   So I did the next best thing.  I wanted to make sure we had THE BEST barrel aged maple syrup.  So, in order to make sure we had the best product we did some market research.  I ordered product from the other three  competitors and we did some analysis.  Here is what we found:

They were all different.  Some had an excellent flavor, some did not.  Some were mass produced, some in small batches.  Some had a great package – hand dipped wax and cork (we loved that).  Some had a terrible flavor – like they just dumped alcohol into the maple syrup and called it barrel aged.  (Are you hearing what I’m not saying?).  We really liked one of the products.  It had great flavor…..but it was factory made on high-speed bottling line….”just for you.”

Here is why we think ours is the best.  We choose the perfect maple syrup before we put it into the barrel to age.  We are really really good at tasting maple syrup and distinguishing the flavor profiles.  We blend the batches to make sure the flavor is consistent between batches.  Every barrel ages the maple syrup differently.  Some of the barrels impart strong flavor and some barrels do not.  That is part of the mystique of whiskey production.  We hand dip each bottle top in wax and initial every bottle.  We aren’t the only maple farm that is bottling Bourbon barrel aged maple syrup in the United States.  We just put the time and resources into making sure ours is the best.