It was a chance meeting at Wisconsin’s Central Waters Brewing Company where a unique idea came to mind on a picturesque Wisconsin road trip. The melding of the idea of putting maple syrup into charred oak bourbon barrels resulted in a uniquely flavored product. B&E’s Trees have perfected the ability to coax complex flavors with nuances of rich nutty flavors and hints of vanilla out of wood products to make their certified organic Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup.
Bree Breckel, and her partner Eric Weninger, own and operate a 144 acre syrup farm in rural Cashton. The product that rolled onto shelves in 2015, takes a year to age in oak barrels. The farm has deep valleys and steeply inclined hillsides with thousands of old maple trees. Several hundred years ago the landscape was predominately an oak forest, but in the last century it has gone through a mapliezation faze. Fortunately, the couple has capitalized on this event. As an added bonus traversing steep hillsides on their farm keeps the couple in shape.
“Our hill inclines are 33-39 percent slope and we have miles of line to walk,” Weninger said.
Quitting stable jobs is fraught with risks; however, it is just what Weninger and Breckel did as they plunged into farming. Breckel was a deli manager for a local food coop and Weninger was an engineer for Harley Davidson.
Reflecting on their long road to get funding Weninger said bankers were skeptical when we applied for farming loans.
“We had 11 banks turn us down. A lot of people stuck their necks out for us in this endeavor. We ended up getting a beginning farmer loan from the government to do this. The Farm Service Agency came through for us,” Weninger said.
Mike Breckel (Bree’s father) and a driving force in the operation instilled upon his daughter tenacity and often told Bree anything is possible, we just need to figure it out.
With funding finally in hand, Breckel and Weninger built a state of the art facility to handle the thousands of gallons of sap that flows into their evaporator from the lines that travel through every part of their farm in the spring of the year.
B and E’s Trees have a symbiotic relationship with Central Waters Brewing Company in Amherst who take the white oak barrels back once they are infused with syrup and produce B&E’s Maple Barrel Aged Stout.
“I have always had a connection to the brewing industry going back as far as elementary school. My father would call us into his brewing area and say, ‘Watch this’ as something would be fizzing or bubbling. He was like a Mad Scientist,” Breckel said referring to her father.
Gold in a Bourbon Barrel
Bree is the busy of the “B” and often finds herself visiting schools, food coops, farmer’s markets and trade shows. She recalled an elementary school class where one fourth grader told her after tasting the syrup that it tasted like the vanilla in a ginger snap cookie as opposed to the vanilla in a chocolate cookie.
“I was like WOW!! You can be my official taster!” Breckel said. Weninger’s engineering background comes in very handy since every day is problem solving.
“There’s always something breaking down, but it’s stimulating. Each day is never the same,” Weninger said.
Breckel describes B&E’s syrup as a roasted tone of full bodied smoothness, while Weninger refers to it as a roasted note of butterscotch flavors.
“You are tasting two trees, there’s nothing else in it,” Weninger said.
The farming operation is a family affair with both their families and friends helping out from tapping nearly 6,000 trees, to maintaining lines, then bottling and packaging the product.
Bree’s sister, Larkin Breckel, has helped from the beginning and discovered early on that cell phones and walkies don’t work on the farm’s steep hills and remote valley bottoms.
“When we need something, we howl. So, when we hear howling that’s our communication system,” Larkin Breckel said.
Mike Breckel added that squirrel’s chewing into the sap laden lines are also a problem for the operation requiring hundreds of repairs annually. He recalled one cold winter day Bree was tending to a broken line that was spraying gallons of sap in the air. The syrup began freezing to her clothes and hair turning her into an icy and sticky sap before she got the line plugged. Frozen, she managed to make her way to the warm sugar shack where coworkers asked her if it was snowing, to which his bemused daughter replied “Not really!”
Conscious of renewable energy sources, the operation currently uses solar panels and the plans to build a wind turbine in the near future so that all of their energy is produced on site.
The joy for B&E’s Trees family operation though is when people actually taste the finished products. That’s the moment they know all their hard work and effort is worth it.
“Good food to good people! I’m pretty lucky,” Breckel said.
B&E’s Trees located at E0904 Rognstad Ridge Road, between Cashton and Westby, is holding an open house from 1-5 p.m. on Saturday, March 17. There will be tours of the woods and syrup making demonstrations in the sugar house, along with samples of freshly made maple syrup and the ever-popular bourbon barrel aged maple syrup. The farm tours and syrup sampling are event is free and family friendly. There will also be chili and beverages available for purchase.
As a reminder dress for the occasion and the unpredictable Wisconsin weather. For more information call (608) 799 9380, or check out them out on Facebook.