MARKET MONITOR: Droscha Sugarbush Syrup

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017, 9:02 am
Ann Nichols

Maple syrup runs in Bryan Droscha’s blood. Not literally, of course, but pretty darned close.

Droscha Sugarbush, in Mason, is the family farm where Droscha, his wife Apryl, daughter Jessica, sons Casey and Bryce, and Bryce’s wife Chelsea all pitch in to produce the syrups and sauces found at the East Lansing Farmers Market every Sunday.

Although Drosha and his family have only lived in the farmhouse on Toles Road since 1995, the farm and the syrup-producing maple trees have belonged to Droschas for more than 100 years. In 1911, Droscha’s great-uncle wrote to his great-great-grandfather Rudolph Droscha to tell him that he’d found a farm for sale with good soil and “ good hard maple sugaring woods” on the northeast corner of the property.

Rudolph moved from Ohio, and bought the farm. His son, Bryan Droscha’s grandfather, bought out his siblings’ interests in the farm in 1948, and as soon as he was old enough, Bryan Droscha became an essential part of operations that included row farming, dairy farming, and syrup. Upon his grandfather’s death in 1995, he inherited the farm where he eventually ceased dairy operations but continues to raise and sell beef and hay, while his brother Matt is in charge of row crops such as corn and soy. When he’s not tending to his livestock or making and selling maple products, Bryan Droscha works in construction and catering.

A lot of work happens long before we see rows of bottles and jars in the Droschas’ booth at the Market. According to Droscha, the “season starts the winter before” with the cutting of wood on the property, and filling the woodshed so that they are able to “burn all renewable wood” during the evaporation process.

In February, Droscha preps the evaporator, and the sap running season starts around March 1. The date is really up to Mother Nature, though, so he says they prep early to be sure, because they “always want to be ready to roll by then.” This careful planning paid off in 2012 when, Droscha says, “there really was no winter” and they started tapping on February 18, weeks earlier than the usual March start date. Although other syrup operations have been caught short by early-running sap, it’s never happened to him. “I’ve done it so long I can feel it in my bones when it’s time to tap.”

Droscha explains the tapping process as “looking like a spider’s web,” with spouts and hoses in each tree, and the tubes feeding into larger and larger tubes and finally into a double diaphragm that sucks the syrup into a holding tank. The liquid ends up in evaporator in the “sugar house.” Boiled over the renewable wood fire, the sap first becomes maple syrup; if exposed to more evaporation it becomes maple cream/butter, then maple candy and, finally, maple sugar.

On a big run, the sap boils for 17 or 18 hours in the sugar house, and Droscha says they’ve had years when it took 24 hours. Syrup making attracts both neighbors and visitors from outside the community; Droscha says many of them “came as schoolkids to the sugar house, and now they’re bringing their kids and grandkids.”

Asked what he loves about his work, Bryan Droscha speaks of family. “The most enjoyable thing is how it brought my kids back to the farm. Family farms are failing, I sold the cows, and did some outside work, then [son] Casey graduated from CMU in 2009 and that fall he came back to recover from knee surgery. That next spring he did sugaring season and he’s been there ever since.”

Droscha Sugarbush products have recently been picked up by Traverse City food distributor Cherry Capital, and Whole Foods. The family’s offerings include Traditional Maple Syrup, Tahitian Vanilla Maple Syrup, Vanilla Cinnamon Infused Maple Syrup, Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup, Maple Barbecue sauce, and Maple Mustard. The barbecue sauce is based on Drosha’s father’s recipe from the 1970s, and he says he and his brothers “all have their own version.”

Asked about suggestions for using his products, Drosha steered me quickly past pancakes and waffles. “Syrup” he said “is not just for breakfast anymore.” For starters, he recommends pulled pork with the Maple Barbecue Sauce, chicken breasts or salmon baked or grilled with Maple Mustard, the Bourbon Barrel Syrup as a drink mixer, and the Vanilla Cinnamon Infused Syrup in coffee or on ice cream. Selling near a shaved ice vendor, Drosha also discovered that the Tahitian Vanilla Syrup poured over shaved ice “tastes just like vanilla ice cream without all the fat.”

To learn more about Droscha Sugarbush, visit their website or Facebook page.

The East Lansing Farmer's Market will be open on Sunday in Valley Court Park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Editor's note: this article was originally published in July, 2015 and has been updated to include information about the 2017 Market season. 



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