Milligan's Maple Products has fashioned a family asset into a sweet small business.
Entering his fifth production season this winter, Kevin Milligan went from being a behind-the-desk accountant to a full-time maple syrup producer (or sugar-maker in industry parlance) quicker than he ever imagined, all while creating a following among Columbus restaurants.
Recognizing that he was unhappy cranking out tax returns, Milligan’s mom, Jana, suggested he explore syrup-making on the forested Amesville, Ohio, property belonging to his father’s family. One of the largest of its kind in Ohio, the Milligan Family Sustainable Forest is full of sugar maple and red maple trees—perfect for harvesting the sweet stuff.
It’s a tough industry, thanks to a short harvest season (roughly six to eight weeks each winter) and the reality that it takes 50 to 60 gallons of maple sap to make just one gallon of syrup. “It’s a labor-intensive process, challenging and sometimes frustrating,” Milligan says, but the end result is two fine syrups, including the company’s distinct bourbon-barrel-aged offering, which he calls worth the “six to eight months of babysitting.” Milligan has worked his way up from just one 40-gallon bourbon barrel to 16, which he sources from various distilleries in Kentucky.
Why the production increase? He says one major factor is Milligan’s close partnership with Katalina’s, Kathleen Day’s quirky café in Harrison West. Not only does the popular breakfast spot account for more than 90 percent of Milligan’s bourbon-barrel maple syrup consumption (featured alongside Katalina’s signature Pancake Balls), but Day helped Milligan with branding and packaging. “When Kevin approached me about using his syrup, I gained a better understanding of authenticity when it comes to pure maple syrup and the bourbon barrel aging process,” Day says. “He is so passionate about the taste and integrity of what’s inside every bottle. That couldn’t be more aligned with Katalina’s mission.”
While the company plans to ramp up e-commerce sales in 2019, Milligan currently offers recipes on his website and uses social media to showcase dishes from customers such as South of Lane (Milligan’s first customer), Sunny Street Café in Upper Arlington and Dublin, Skillet, Worthington Inn and Crimson Cup. Katalina’s and other restaurant accounts offer bottles for purchase, or you can find Milligan’s at retailers, including Speckled Hen Market, Huffman’s Market and The Market Italian Village.