Maple syrup has a super long history in this region, long before the Europeans arrived, it’s a Ho-Chunk art form in this area…

Bree Breckel

Sap Wrangler Extraordinaire , B & E's Trees

Today we chatted with the folks at B&E’s Trees, known for their Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup. We chat about getting into the business, diversifying products, the pandemic, what’s coming down the road and where people can find out more.

Transcript
Amy Gabay 00:00
This podcast is brought to you by Balancing Act: Teach, Coach, Mentor, Inspire, a collection of candid observations on the challenges facing business leaders today. Balancing Act is authored by Dr. Andrew Temte and is available today on Amazon and other fine bookstores. Today we chatted with the folks at B & E Trees known for their Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup. We chat about getting into the business, diversifying products, the pandemic, what’s coming down the road and where people can find out more. You can find more conversations, food reviews, live music and events on our website, lacrosselocal.com. I’m Amy.

Brent Hanifl 00:43
And I’m Brent.

Amy Gabay 00:44
And this is La Crosse Local.

Bree Breckel 00:46
So my name is Bree Breckel. I have spent my entire life here in the Driftless Region, grew up between Westby and Coon Valley, spent a few years in La Crosse and went to school there. And now I am back here in the same watershed that I grew up in.

Eric Weninger 01:01
My name is Eric Weninger. I was born in La Crosse, grew up outside of Holmen a little bit, went to school in Madison, took a job for Harley Davidson doing CO2 emissions reduction in Milwaukee for about 10 years, but could never leave the region permanently. And so I was drawn back.

Brent Hanifl 01:21
With a maple syrup business, what’s the process getting into this industry? You know, like the early years. What was that like?

Bree Breckel 01:27
So the first maple tree that we tapped was when I was still living in La Crosse, there was a big Silver Maple in the backyard of my apartment. I’ve spent my whole life playing in the woods here, just a very strong connection to the forest. And so I was always interested in maple syrup and other forest foraging activities. And so it was combining my family’s history of farming with my love of forest. It just seemed like a really good fit for me, personally. Maple syrup has a super long history in this region long before Europeans arrived. It’s a HoChunk art form in this area. And so it was really kind of neat to be able to set up a business and set up a farm doing alternative agriculture in a way that we could sustain our forest. And just spend as much time as we could in this beautiful place that we love.

Eric Weninger 02:22
Yeah and so early on, there’s a strong community in, we’ll call it the maple industry. As Bree mentioned, you know, there’s a long history of mapling. And so when you first get into mapling, most people get into it because they hear of a friend, or a neighbor, or somebody else that’s doing it. And people are always very excited to share mapling because it is, oddly, it’s very social, but it’s also very socially distant at the same time when you’re working in the woods. But you know, everyone kind of congregates again around the fire at the end of the day. But we learned a lot from the local mapling community. And combined with a lot of help from our friends and family early on, we were able to set up our farm and set ourselves up to grow.

Brent Hanifl 03:09
You have the traditional maple syrup, and I’ve seen it at the various different farmers markets and in stores. It looks like you’re diversifying your products now. You have this new Embark Adventure Packs. How did that come about? It just seems to make sense.

Eric Weninger 03:22
Yeah, yeah, it really does. So, I’ve been in endurance, athletics and sports kind of my whole life. Always been a long distance runner, ran cross country, kept up with triathlons. And my favorite is doing, you know, multi-sport adventures. So combining like mountain biking, packrafting and backpacking. And I was using a lot of commercial energy gels, but they never tasted very good. The ingredients were often synthetic. The textures were kind of awkward, and I just never felt good about putting them into my body. So I started looking at, you know what it was that my body needed. And this was well before we started mapling, I somehow found that maple syrup had the minerals and electrolytes that endurance athletes needed. And so I started putting them into small little, they’re kind of like little Nalgene bottles, but they were kind of clumsy on the trail and clumsy while I was riding. Then over the years, we got into the maple syrup thing and then took a few years. The idea was still in the back of my mind. And it was really having some time to step back during 2020 and the pandemic, that this idea was able to come to fruition and we could put some focus on it and just make it become a reality.

Bree Breckel 04:44
So the Embark Maple Adventure Packs, we’ve got three flavors, there’s a Salted Maple, Coffee Maple and Elderberry Maple. And so they’re three ounce pouches, simple certified organic ingredients. But it’s a way to bring, you know, the good energy that we’re finding in the forest and have that connection where people can bring the good energy from our forest into the places that they love being outside. You know, no glass on the river. So we wanted to have something that people could bring with them. And it’s really delicious. There’s no downside to it there.

Brent Hanifl 05:19
So you kind of reference that the pandemic gave you time to, you know, kind of develop these packs. How else has the pandemic affected your business? Has it been positive or negative?

Eric Weninger 05:29
Yeah, good question. And so with our other product line, our previous product line was Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup. And, you know, it’s a two year aged product, we have it in very high quality glass and a really spectacular presentation with it. And we would often go out to events to meet people to tell the story, to taste the syrup, to let them know what retailers had our syrup for sale in it. And in 2020, we weren’t able to do that at all. And that was the core of the outreach for our business. And so, you know, not having access to one of our biggest markets, we had to figure out another way to, to really to survive. At the same time, we’re a small farm, we wanted to keep our employees employed, and we wanted to get through it. And so I was spending a lot of time outdoors, as were a lot of people. And it just made sense for us to finally pick up this idea that we had.

Bree Breckel 06:28
Kinda a latent idea lurking around in the background waiting.

Eric Weninger 06:32
Yeah.

Bree Breckel 06:33
It’s moment arrived.

Eric Weninger 06:34
And so we’ve been working on it for almost a year now. But everything is just kind of falling into place with the right time for the right product. And people are going outside, they’re biking more and cycling and hiking. And, you know, the forest brings us a lot of optimism and empowerment and good energy, and we just feel it’s the right time to really be sharing that with people.

Brent Hanifl 06:57
I’ve talked to a lot of artists and other businesses and you know, this time has been, you know, something for them to transition, which you kind of explained there. What are you excited, now that things seem to be opening up, what are you excited for in 2021, even 2022?

Bree Breckel 07:11
It’s a hard time to not be excited about what’s coming up. We’ve spent the last year finding new ways to connect with people and that individual connection has been core to how we’ve run our business from the start. Instead of meeting people face to face, which we were doing over 100 events a year prior to the pandemic, but finding ways to meet them where they’re at, bring some of the some of what we love into new places and kind of having being able to reach more people than we necessarily could have before.

Eric Weninger 07:44
Yeah, and one thing I’m excited for is that we’re going to be having our first Adventure Packs ready for sale. We’ll be sending them out to a few different mountain bike races and longer cycling events. There’s a local company, Mount Borah Teamwear in Coon Valley, they have a mountain bike race coming up, the Borah Epic. So we’ll be a sponsor at that race, we’ll be giving out product to people so that they can taste it. And just getting out and sharing the good energy and embark with people over the summer as they’re getting back outdoors at these events.

Brent Hanifl 08:22
So you kind of mentioned a few farmers markets, where can people pick up your products? Can they pick them up online or where should they go?

Eric Weninger 08:29
Our website. We’re first going to be launching it online, embarkmaple.com, and then we’re in about 120 retail stores with our B & E’s Trees line right now. And the Embark Adventure Packs will be following very soon. People should be looking at retailers that B & E Trees is carried in and you can look on our website for a map of those retailers as well. So people can find out what’s most convenient for them.

Bree Breckel 08:56
Yeah, right in La Crosse we’re at People’s Food Co Op, Great River Popcorn, Driftless Mercantile and Shuby’s all right downtown La Crosse. We’re going to be at the Cameron Park Friday Night Market. It might be kind of on and off through the season depending on you know, staff availability. We’ll definitely be present in the community.

Amy Gabay 09:20
La Crosse Local Podcast is a production of River Travel Media. Do you have an interview idea you’d like to share with us? Message us on Facebook at La Crosse Local. Find out more about us at lacrosselocal.com. And you can subscribe to the La Crosse Local Podcast on your favorite podcast app. If you like us, rate us five stars. We appreciate it.

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About La Crosse Local

La Crosse Local is an arts, food, and entertainment podcast and publication for La Crosse County and its surrounding communities.

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