|Bob Hausslein, smoked maple syrup, molecular gastronomy, Sugar Bob’s Smoked Maple Syrup, Londonderry, Vermont, Vermont Maple Sriracha, sugarhouse, Rutland, Vermont Farmers Food Center, srirach, Big Lenny’ Montorri, Vermont Maple Sriracha, Vermont Department of Agriculture, Food and Markets, USDA, Food Export Northeast, Vermont Farmstead, Maple Sriracha Cheese, Tony Kurjiaka, Steve Wiskoski, Modern Maple, maple, tap, sugrmaker|
Bob Hausslein took a good idea, started running with it and hasn’t stopped yet. About 15 years ago, while roasting a pig, he stumbled across the idea of making smoked maple syrup, which as fate would have it, turned his entire life and business around.
“Chefs down in the big city were exploring new flavor combinations as part of the then current ‘molecular gastronomy.’ One of them asked me to run with this riff of smoke and sugar we had found, and the category was born,” Hausslein said. “We are originators of Smoked Maple Syrup, and have been producing and selling it since 2005 at least. We don’t have a patent on the process, which is basically to expose the syrup to real wood smoke in some form. I sure have turned a lot of folks on to the idea, though.”
His firm, Sugar Bob’s Smoked Maple Syrup, started out in Londonderry, Vt.
“We take process-controlled maple wood smoke, and bubble it through real maple syrup using special valves and food grade compressed air,” he said. “ Nothing else is ever used. Just real maple wood smoke, generated at very specific temperatures, infused into real maple syrup. That’s it.”
However, in May, Hausslein purchased a separate company, Vermont Maple Sriracha, and moved the entire operation, except his sugarhouse, to Rutland, where he leases space at the Vermont Farmers Food Center.
Srirach is a traditional hot sauce from Thailand.
“The move to Rutland has been fantastic,” Hausslein said. “We have our syrup, our smoked syrup, and the maple sriracha in three varieties -- sriracha coated cashews and peanuts, and our smoked maple barbeque sauce heated with Vermont Maple Sriracha.”
A Boston Globe food critic gave rave reviews.
“The nuts are crunchy, spicy and addictive,” the Goble said. “Like the sauces, they’re a delicious balance of heat and sweet, with a little tang and an underlying hint of maple.”
Soon, plans call for making smoked maple almonds and smoked maple sriracha, which can be used as a flavoring for chicken wings.
“We’ve grown steadily over the years and were looking for a new modern facility to work in,” Hausslein said. “We already sold our smoke maple product to Jackson Whelan and ‘Big Lenny’ Montorri, who owned Vermont Maple Sriracha, when they indicated they were ready to sell and move on to newer projects. We bought their business because we saw deep synergy in the companies as maple specialty producers and decided to jump in and try to capitalize on these common areas.”
Products are sold all over the world from Switzerland to Japan. Hausslein credits the Vermont Department of Agriculture, Food and Markets, and the USDA-sponsored Food Export Northeast for making such success possible.
“We also sell direct to consumer online and at craft shows and markets around the region,” he said. “We wholesale to retailers across the country, and have nice third party distribution regionally as well. We also sell bulk smoked syrup and sriracha to other specialty food producers, which they use for their products as well. For example, Vermont Farmstead comes to mind with their Vermont Maple Sriracha Cheese.”
Hausslein got into the maple business 26 years ago, when he and his wife, Ann, got married. “My wife’s family has been sugaring in the high mountain valley town of Landgrove on some scale for generations,” he said. “I got caught, hook line and sinker. I decided to make a go at it. I learned everything I know about sugaring from Ann’s family -- the Ogdens, of Landgrove -- and their inherited knowledge they got from Lester Cody, also of Landgrove.”
It’s an extremely small operation, with just under 2,000 taps and a mix of buckets and gravity-fed tubing. “Recently we have made a big leap forward in 3/16-inch tubing installation,” Hausslein said. “I love it for it’s high vacuum and low power draw (zero).”
Strategic partnerships with neighboring sugarmakers are critical to his overall business model.
“Tony Kurjiaka, of TK trucking out of Londonderry, and Steve Wiskoski of Modern Maple, in Ira, both supply me with quite a lot of feed stock for our smoking and hot sauce operations,” Hausslein said. “Together we are pulling sap from better than 10,000 trees using all manner of technology, old and new, to keep this innovative turn in sugarmaking viable.”
Smoked maple is his main special product.
“But like most other sugarmakers, I am very proud of our regular maple syrup, considered the finest kind for miles around by those who have sampled it,” Hausslein said. “I do not dabble in other flavors, like bourbon or vanilla, as my syrup produced in the old fashioned way has those flavors already in it, and I do not aim to be in the flavor business, like a scented candle company might choose to be.”
To keep things running smoothly, in his company’s rapid growth phase, Hausslein relies heavily on dedicated employees whose teamwork is critical.
“Andrea Ogden and her husband, John, bring farming talent and an historic Landgrove sugarbush to our business,” Hausslein said. “Andrea is the administrative brains behind our entire operation, and is not afraid to put on a hair net and make sriracha when the peppers are ripe. The operation could not and would not run without her.”
The Ogdens’ three children cross-country ski and ride mountain bikes hard and fast for team Vermont Maple Sriracha, as well as some more prominent U.S. National teams.
However, Hausslein said his wife, Ann, is the creative power and recipe developer behind the operation. “She is an expert gardener, forager, healer, and chef, and Sugar Bob would be lost in the woods without her,” he said.
The couple’s three kids are scatted between New Orleans, Nantucket, and home in Londonderry. All three know how to stoke the evaporator when the sap flows come in springtime.
Brian Sylvester is the company production and fulfillment specialist, the true keeper of the operation’s institutional knowledge. “He’s a gunslinger in the kitchen the likes of which you’ve never seen,” Hausslein said. “And we have a cast of ne’re do well friends and family without whom there would be no soul, no love in the sugarhouse. Mike and Shawna Batogowski are invaluable.”
“My primary job is to stay out of the way of all our in-house talent, and keep the floors clean,” Hausslein said smiling. “I love to boil syrup all night long in the spring, and love to tell our story at markets and shows all year long.”
The company’s goals are simple.
“We hope to bring the magic of Smoked Maple and Maple Sriracha to you, your family, all their friends, and their friends, too,” he said. “As long as we can tap trees in the springtime, smoke syrup, brew sriracha, and cook great meals for our friends during the rest of the year, we consider the whole thing a success.”