Mayville syrup maker builds business from hobby

May 8, 2019

MAYVILLE — A hobby with a sweet payoff has become a family business for Kevin Schuett.

Over the past decade, Schuett’s Maple Syrup has been building a positive reputation and the dark amber liquid, sold at his home at 414 Horicon St. and at the Watertown Farmer’s Market, has grown in popularity.

The business’s beginnings go back more than 80 years, when the Schwartz family installed large cookers in a woods south of Lomira. Metal taps, buckets and English tin boiling pans rounded out the equipment, which yielded enough syrup for family and friends.

The practice was revived by the Schuetts in 2009.

“My nephew was laid off and he asked if we could borrow some taps from Jerome Schwartz (Schuett’s first employer and a close family friend),” Kevin said. “Jerome said nobody had tapped the trees there for 15 years. He had all the equipment and with his permission we went ahead and got started.”

The process may be simple, but it does take a good deal of time and effort.

“It’s not like rocket science or anything like that,” Schuett said. “We learned by making a few mistakes, but we quickly got it down to a system.”

The enterprise has continued not just as a money-making enterprise, but also for the sheer fun of it.

“It’s kind of a hobby,” Schuett said. “Our kids come out to help, along with our grandkids. We all have a good time doing it.”

Although they started with 70 taps and buckets, the Schuetts now have more than 800. Half of the taps are connected to bags, with the remainder connected to tubes that run into a collection tank. A vacuum pump helps maximize the yield.

The preferred source is the hard maple tree, which according to Schuett produces more and better sap than the sugar maple.

The gathering season depends entirely on the weather, which can vary dramatically from year to year.

“Usually you start tapping trees the end of February. This year, it was later,” Schuett said. “The season generally lasts four to six weeks. Once you hit 60 or 70 degrees, it’s done. All the old-timers say it ends with Easter — and that’s usually pretty close.”

Kevin and his wife Micky do the majority of the tapping and other work, although their three children and two grandchildren occasionally lend a hand — or a tongue when it comes to tasting.

It takes 40-42 gallons of sap to make a single gallon of syrup. Schuett’s Maple Syrup produced 175 gallons this year and 310 last year — due to a longer season and more trees being tapped.

Every year, whatever is produced generally sells out. Whatever is left from one year is either used or sells in the next.

“I’ve never seen it go bad,” Schuett said. “It doesn’t freeze until it gets 65 below zero, because there’s really no water in it anymore.”

The family’s favorite preferred method of eating syrup is pure and simple.

“When my grandkids lived only a block away, we had vanilla ice cream and maple syrup every day,” Schuett said. “That’s still my favorite way to eat it.”

They also use it on pancakes and waffles, and also to glaze carrots and hams.

One innovation occurred when Kevin got ahold of a bourbon barrel from a distillery in Minocqua.

“I put maple syrup in it and aged it for eight months,” Schuett said. “I returned the barrel to the distiller and he’s going to put whiskey in it. The syrup picks up some bourbon flavor that goes back to maple after you first taste it. Everybody loves it.”

Despite the toil, Schuett believes it is well worth the effort.

“There’s really nothing else to do that time of year,” he said..

Whether the enterprise continues or not depends largely on the availability of the forest land. Should the current property no longer be available, Schuett, who is also a keen hunter and outdoorsman, will probably give it up.

“It’s like everything,” he said. “Things always change.”