Have you ever felt like energy gels are over-engineered and wanted a better option? Then check out Embark Maple; they're in Viroqua, Wisconsin and have a simple passion for good food and outdoor adventure.
Eric and Bree from Embark Maple (Instagram) started an off-grid maple syrup farm in 2011. As lifelong endurance athletes, they turned their maple syrup venture into a wholesome, simple, and delicious energy gel. In this interview, we chat about their maple syrup energy and what in the heck inspired them to become maple farmers.
Interview with Eric from Embark Maple:
What is Embark Maple and what makes it better for endurance activities?
Embark takes two of our biggest passions and morphs them together; good food & outdoor adventure.
The concept of Embark came from bikepacking & multisport adventures in the late naughties (2008ish) where I wanted everything brought with to have multiple uses, and this is what makes Embark unique from other gels or maple syrups. One 3oz Embark Maple Energy pack is similar in size to three tear-off single-use off gels; however, Embark has a resealable cap so you can use exactly how much you need and save the rest later.
In addition, once enjoyed you can put the cap back on and eliminate the sticky mess associated with tear-offs.
Tell me about Embark's varieties, ingredients, & product development.
Each of our Embark Maple Energy varieties was developed with a team of ultra-athletes & adventurous chefs, bringing a culinary focus to sports nutrition. We start with our sustainably harvested Wisconsin Certified Organic maple syrup and add a pinch of sea salt. This results in a bright maple flavor that has a complete electrolyte profile from just two simple ingredients.
Organic maple syrup also has a glycemic index that is half of maltodextrin, a common ingredient in commercial energy gels. The rate at which your body metabolizes Embark is less “peaky” than many gels and without the same spike & crash associated with more simple sugars.
Coffee Maple: 30 trials to get the flavor just right
The versatility of Embark was important in our flavor development, and we like to highlight those uses as Energize, Hydrate, & Rejuvenate. Embark Coffee Maple is my go-to for a quick, long-lasting energy shot. We cold brew Certified Organic coffee from Wonderstate Roasters (also in Viroqua, Wisconsin), and went through almost 30 trials to get the perfect flavor profile without oxidation (the truck-stop flavor) or being too bitter. Smooth roasty notes of graham and fudge shine through, which is a delightful experience when combined with the 72mg of caffeine. We standardize our caffeine level with green tea caffeine since it also has a relatively slower release rate.
Elderberry: The great mixer
Embark Elderberry Maple has many benefits beyond its deliciously dark & deep blue fruit flavor, and is fabulous when mixed with water in a water bottle for an Embark Hydration. We typically recommend starting with a mix ratio of 1 part Embark to 32 parts water; or about ½ oz Embark in a 16oz water bottle. I get 5-6 water bottles from one pack. Everyone's nutritional demands and taste preferences are different, so it’s something to have fun experimenting with.
Salted Maple: Cooking & culinary exploration
Embark Salted Maple is our standard go-to for camp cooking & mock/cocktail culinary explorations, as well as non-caffeinated energy. Check out our social media for some of our favorite trail snack recipes!
What in the heck inspired you and Bree to become maple farmers?
Bree and I met in 2010 and we both had a shared yearning to responsibly work with the land.
Around this time I was also seeking more purpose in my life, learning that I’m a better version of myself when I’m working outside.
I was experiencing intensifying seasonal depression that was carrying through all the seasons, and I needed more positive mental & physical outlets. We started dreaming up plans to start farming, but there was always the looming reality that it had to support itself financially.
That winter we tapped a maple tree in Bree’s backyard and made a big mess trying to boil sap into maple syrup! The following spring we found a small parcel of woods was for sale that was dense with sugar maples, so we applied for a Beginning Farmer Loan, hoping someday it could become our full-time jobs and lead to a more fulfilling & meaningful life.
We set up the woods to collect sap in 2011, and successfully boiled our first batch of maple syrup in 2012!
With your energy products, why do you focus so much on endurance cycling
For as long as I can remember I’ve been happiest when I’m on a bike.
I was “introduced” to endurance mountain biking & bikepacking during a tough transition in my life when I first became aware of needing positive mental & physical outlets.
It’s my goal to give back some of the good energy I received from the cycling community when I really needed it, which is partly why we’ve been so active at aid stations, checkpoints, trail days, advocacy events, and general volunteering behind the scenes to help make cycling and the outdoors more accessible for everyone.
I was fortunate to find endurance cycling when I did, however not everyone sees cycling as a sport for them and we want to a positive part of changing that. I feel that particularly in past couple of years more people are seeking out challenging cycling events because it helps them process the world.
By choosing to take on the challenge of a difficult race or ride you are really training yourself to find the strength to work through other life challenges that maybe you didn’t choose. But really, we just love riding bicycles and want more friends to ride with!!
What are your favorite places and events to bike?
My favorite place to ride is right in our backyard, the greater Driftless region.
We have a 6 month old, so big trips are fewer and farther between, but that doesn’t mean adventure isn’t still readily available. I’m setting up an old bike to be our trailer-toting kid-packing rig. I can’t wait for spring so these adventures can begin!
I love S24Os (Sub 24 hour Overnights) and exploring what is “nearby” but often overlooked. My favorite is to load up camping gear & a packraft on my bike and explore our Driftless trout streams, particularly our home watershed (Timber Coulee) that we spend a lot of time and effort caring for. There are endless meandering creeks to paddle down and then steep coulees to ride back up. We have a good mix of paved & gravel backroads, as well as some wonderful MTB trail networks fairly close to our farm.
As far as *favorite* events, anytime there are good people having fun riding bikes together, I’m in a happy place. I enjoy events that put more emphasis on building a supportive community than on the podium.