It’s a tale of two people profoundly tied to the land. Bree Breckel and Eric Weninger of B&E’s Trees, located south of Cashton, both came from family farming backgrounds and spent a lot of time at their grandparents’ farms while growing up. Both knew that one day they wanted to be working hands-on with the land.
Moving forward, the couple eventually began exploring different opportunities in farming … and preserving a piece of this area. Then, something special fell in their laps.
“We’re both really tied to the Driftless,” admits Breckel. “We were camping at a friend-of-a-friend’s land where they had been doing maple syrup. They told us that the land next door was for sale and they were hoping that someone interested in mapling might purchase it. Eric had done mapling with his dad and grandpa on a much smaller scale, but we thought that would be something that was cool. So, we put together a business plan. We were turned down by all the banks; they don’t start small farms. But, we were able to go through the Farm Service Agency and secure funding for the purchase of the land. They vetted our plan, were convinced we had good heads on our shoulders … that we could make it work.”
Little by Little
In the first five years of operation, the two shared a sugar house with their neighbors, where four families routed sap and cooked down syrup in shifts. Later, they built their own sugar house. Syrup season, and tap output, varies greatly. The maple season window can be as little as nine days in some years, and as much as eight weeks in others, depending on temperatures. In a poor year, a tap may only produce a quarter-gallon of syrup, whereas in a good year, each tap might yield over half a gallon.
Initially, they started with 40 acres, later added another 24, and, as the business grew, their land holdings expanded to 144 acres, 120 of it mature maple stand. The operation currently utilizes between 5000 and 6000 individual taps, and thousands of feet of plastic tubing to pipeline sap to the sugar house.
In 2013, the two attended the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair. While enjoying a beer and chatting with friends there, a bartender overheard them talking about mapling and told them that Central Waters Brewing Company in Amherst, Wisconsin, was interested in brewing a beer aged in maple-soaked bourbon barrels. However, the brewery didn’t know of anyone doing larger-scale maple operations.
“We’d been doing maple a couple of years and selling bulk, but we were looking to build our own brand, something unique. So, our friend calls us and says, ‘Get the heck over here!’ Turns out the bartender was Paul Graham, one of the owners and brewmasters of Central Waters Brewing Company. They’re renowned for their barrel-aged beers,” says Breckel.
And so, a beautiful and almost symbiotic relationship was born. “We ran a pilot batch of stout and it was really, really good. It worked,” she says. “We didn’t have enough in the batch for distribution, but we knew we were on to something. We rewrote our whole business plan around bourbon barrel aged maple syrup, and started aging from there.”
Here’s how the symbiosis works: Central Waters provides new, charred white oak bourbon barrels. B&E’s ages its organic syrup in the barrels for about a year. The syrup is bottled for distribution and the syrup-soaked barrels are swapped out for new ones. Maple Barrel Stout is aged in the maple-soaked barrels and then bottled for distribution. The beer takes on the tones of the syrup and the syrup takes on the tones of the charred barrels. Both final products are unique.
“A lot of the flavor that people are looking for in a good bourbon is actually from the barrel wood,” Breckel explains. “Oak has some of the same flavor compounds as the vanilla bean. You get some of that, sort of caramelized sweetness. And then, there’s a little bit of smoky from the char. Those same flavors are there when you’re aging the maple syrup. The sweetness mellows right out and it pulls in these rich, full-bodied flavors.”
More Than Pancakes
It’s fair to say that when we think of maple syrup, we think of pancakes and waffles. However, Breckel is quick to remind us that syrup deserves a much higher station in the culinary world. “The flavors that we’re getting with the bourbon barrel aging, they’re so unique, and we’ve been playing with a lot of ways to highlight that. For instance, we have a maple-glazed salmon recipe that’s super easy and so delicious.”
In fact, on their website, they offer a plethora of recipes for dishes, dressings, glazes and cocktails. These include Bleu Pear Maple Bites, Maple Ginger Cookies, Maple Apple Vinaigrette, Cranberry Bourbon Maple Sour and Hot Buttered Maple Rum … to name only a handful.
B&E’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup is distributed and sold in a variety of retail outlets, restaurants and cafés. You can also opt to have some of this liquid gold shipped to you directly from the company, and because the product is limited by nature, customers are encouraged to reserve a bottle or two to be picked up or shipped after bottling.
For more information, visit B&E’s Trees online at www.bandestrees.com. You can also call (608) 799-9380 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Twist on a Wisconsin Classic
Maple Old Fashioned
- 1 part maple mixer (see below)
- 1 orange slice
- 2 cherries
- Dash of bitters
- 2 parts brandy or bourbon
Muddle fruit, bitters and maple mixer.
Add brandy or bourbon. Serve over ice.
Maple mixer: 1 part B&E’s Trees Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup, 1 part water. Shake until combined.
B&E’s Trees invites you to these upcoming events at its tree farm located at 30904 Rognstad Ridge Road near Cashton:
Open House March 17, 2018, 1-5 p.m. Tours and tastings!
Rampfest April 27-29, 2018 – Come, camp, hunt for ramps and enjoy great company!
Contact B&E’s Trees for directions.