When people try Maple Craft Foods’ bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup for the first time and taste the all-natural sweetness of the Vermont syrup layered with subtle smoke and caramel flavors imparted by aging in bourbon barrels, their reactions are often visceral, Dave Ackert says.
Watching new fans “ooh” and “ah” their way through this tasting is the best part of the job for Ackert, who owns the Newtown-based company along with his wife Eve, father Paul, and friend Bill Begany, of Begany Design.
Bourbon barrel maple is the company’s flagship product, and though it does not contain alcohol, it is the offspring of the burgeoning craft beer and distilling industries in Connecticut.
To make it, Ackert buys spent bourbon barrels from Litchfield Distillery (bourbon must be made in a new charred oak barrel). Ackert can only use each barrel once or twice before the bourbon flavors he needs fade. He sells his used barrels to local breweries, who are eager to age beer in a maple-infused environment. Veracious Brewing Co. in Monroe has made beer from Ackert’s spent maple barrels, and Thimble Island Brewing Co. in Branford used his spent barrels for its barrel-aged pumpkin porter.
Breweries and distilleries routinely trade barrels, and Ackert is happy to be part of the craft world’s barrel-aging food chain. “I’m sort of here in the middle,” he says. “It’s the ultimate recycle-repurpose-reuse tool of the trade for anybody in this craft liquid business.”
In addition to the bourbon maple, Maple Craft offers blueberry and salted caramel flavors. All are made with organic, all-natural ingredients. In 2016 bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup took first place at the 2016 Connecticut Food Association Specialty Food Competition.
The maple syrup can be used on waffles and pancakes, but Ackert encourages more usage: he tops his vanilla ice cream with the salted caramel maple syrup and sings the praises of each flavor as a coffee sweetener. “I’m not really trying to compete with maple syrup, the commodity. I’m really trying to compete with other sweeteners,” he says.
Ackert was inspired to start the company a few years ago. His wife was offering swim lessons at their house, and when the ice cream truck visited the neighborhood there would be fights between kids and their parents over whether they could get a treat.
At the same time, each winter Ackert and his family were tapping maple trees in their yard and making enough maple syrup to last them the year. Ackert thought this syrup could power an equally tasty but healthier treat than ice cream. Often heralded as a superfood, maple has 65 antioxidants in it and a lower glycemic index than sugar.
With this in mind, Ackert and his partners started Fruple, a line of organic fruit pops powered by maple syrup. But they soon learned people in New England don’t buy ice pops after October and started offering flavored maple syrup in order to have a viable winter product.
Today, Maple Craft Food products are available at many Stop & Shop and Big Y locations in Connecticut and nationally at Cabela’s. You can also find it in specialty shops, including Litchfield Distillery.
Try some free samples at the Springfield On Tap craft beer festival in West Springfield, Massachusetts, on Feb. 3 and the Stamford Museum & Nature Center Maple Festival on March 3-4.
For beer and spirits lovers, this maple syrup is an interesting cousin. “We’re all creating new opportunities for farmers,” Ackert says of the craft liquid world. “We’re creating new uses for farming products. Supporting farming traditions and farming is really important to me.”
Correction: The original version of this story misstated Maple Craft Foods’ connection to Williams Sonoma. The company’s products are not currently available from Williams Sonoma.
This article appeared in the February 2018 issue of Connecticut Magazine.
Did you like what you read here? Subscribe to Connecticut Magazine.