Nate Bissell likes to call maple-bourbon-aged beers “some of the rarest beers on planet Earth.” And after listening to him explain how they’re made (when they’re made the legitimate way), it’s tough to argue the point.
First, you need to secure a recently drained bourbon barrel, preferably one from a top maker like Pappy Van Winkle. Then you need to fill it with genuine top-quality maple syrup, preferably from Bissell Maple Farm
in Northeast Ohio. There the syrup slumbers “for as long as it takes” until it becomes bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup. Once the Bissells empty out the barrels they make their way to enthusiastic beer brewers, who fill those very same barrels with beer to age, flavor and improve. The result is beer that picks up the flavors of oak, maple, vanilla and other aromatics.
Bissell says that real maple-bourbon-aged beers are rare because real bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup is rare.
“Everybody’s out there trying to make their own version of bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup but there isn’t any real set standards,” he explains. “About a third of the market is folks just dumping bourbon into syrup and calling it bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup. It’s fraudulent. What we do here at my company is take something that’s expensive and make it more expensive.”
Bissell decided to create an event, the Craft Maple Festival
, that celebrates both craft maple syrup and maple-bourbon-aged beers. On October 19-20, he will partner with some of America’s top maple syrup producers and breweries to host a multifaceted two-day event that includes a craft maple syrup competition, brewer’s dinner, beer tasting, and family friendly pancake breakfast.
On Friday night there is a special gathering limited to brewers and 100 guests ($100 per person) where people will get to sample rare beers from Goose Island, Founders, Virtue Cider, Brick and Barrel, Thirsty Dog Brewing, Market Garden, Monday Night Brewing, Intuition Ale, Sierra Nevada, and Waltz Brewery. Those same beers will be available for a tasting at Saturday’s public event at the Ashtabula County Fairgrounds Expo Center (127 N. Elm St., Jefferson). Tickets are $50 and include a glass and tickets for 16 3-oz pours. Only 350 tickets will be sold.
On Saturday morning Bissell Maple Farm (82 W. Ashtabula St., Jefferson) will host a family friendly (and free) pancake breakfast and offer tours of the facility.
While most maple syrup events tend to occur in spring when the sap starts running, Bissell prefers this time of year for his new annual event.
“We decided to do it in fall because, honestly, maple is a fall flavor,” he says.