Former chemist Nate Bissell has yet to think of an experiment with maple syrup he won’t try. Concoctions from Bissell — the sixth-generation owner of Bissell Maple Farm in Jefferson, OH — include traditional maple syrup, maple candy and barbecue sauce, maple mustard, maple cream… and then there’s his maple syrup aged in bourbon and rum barrels.
The Bissell family has been producing authentic maple syrup at its maple farm in northeast Ohio for more than 100 years. And now Nate, 40, has leveraged his unique maple syrup aging process to make his company the top producer in Ohio.
“To say the least, there aren’t too many maple syrup chemists around,” Bissell laughs. “I love what I do. I am a maple syrup farmer. We sell maple syrup so that we can make more maple syrup.”
To compare Bissell’s true maple syrup to mass-produced pancake syrup would be like comparing vodka to kerosene: There is no comparison.
Most mass-market pancake syrups — think Log Cabin and Mrs. Butterworth’s — have no real maple in them. They are basically made from high-fructose corn syrup, caramel coloring and preservatives.
Bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup is Bissell’s fixation. It’s also the company’s unique way of differentiating from other, larger maple syrup producers, and it’s a favorite of Mapleheads — fans of all things Bissell.
Bissell’s chemistry skills, applied over many trials in 2013 while working with craft beer brewers, resulted in a proprietary triple barrel-aging process for his maple syrup. And now, having honed his craft, the company consistently achieves taste profiles that showcase the characteristic flavors of maple syrup and bourbon together, making for a truly unique American-made product.
It all starts with sourcing used bourbon barrels. Freshly emptied barrels are shipped to Bissell, where they are filled with maple syrup and then stored and aged for up to nine months in a chilled storehouse.
After their tour of duty containing maple syrup, the barrels then head to local Ohio brewers such as Great Lakes and Southern Tier. Turns out craft beers with a hint of maple are growing in popularity.
Bissell, with a BA in Chemistry from Thiel College and an MBA from Youngstown State University, has integrated his education with a career working at several chemical firms as a means to grow his business.
“As a small maple syrup company,” Bissell says, “we had to do something different. This is much like small distillers or craft brewers who make specialty drinks to separate themselves from larger, established national or global companies.”
Bissell claims that a ghost-pepper maple syrup made a test-batch appearance earlier this year, although its reappearance is uncertain. The experimentation continues.