MadTree: Six Months, Sixty Barrels, and a Centrifuge
Mike Stuart | August 29, 2013
MadTree Brewing is yet another example of a remarkable start-up Cincinnati craft beer brewery. Barely open for six months, they have racked up a number of accolades including, selling cans of PsycHOPathy at Great American Ball Park all season long (pushing about 5 cases/week on average), the first craft brewer in Ohio to can beer, Best Ballpark Beer, and a craft can design that belongs in an art gallery for PsycHOPathy. All this from three friends that decided ditch comfortable corporate jobs to follow a dream.
Business is Booming
The MadTree bearded trio (er, duo) have destroyed their original sales estimates already outpacing their second half of year three goal. It is entirely likely that they will finish 2013 siting at the original year four sales figures if they continue at their current pace. A byproduct of all this success, is the need to purchase three new 60 barrel stainless steel vessels for fermenting and conditioning their beers. So this means their 90 barrels of fermentation space skyrockets to 210 barrels. The brite tank space for conditioning and carbonating beer goes from 30 barrels to 90. Overall, this boosts capacity 133% to crank out more than 99,000 cans of the good stuff – I think they’re going to need more cans. Beyond capacity for regular beers is the freedom to produce more one-offs and limited release beers. These are often the most fun and elusive beers! I’ve heard this may be considered a brewers’ 15 barrel playground.
This huge production boost caps off an already impressive two quarters in which they cranked out 750 barrels – 550 of those coming the last quarter alone! Without growth, they are projected to produce more than 2,200 barrels by next February. It’s probably safe to say they will destroy those records if past performance is any sort of indicator of where they are headed.
Most unexpected for the crew was the amount of labor needed to pull off the operation. They’ve already had to hire two full-time employees and have eyes on a few more part-timers in the near future to make sure everything runs as smooth as possible. While Jeff, Brady, and Kenny have only recently began collecting small checks they can see their meteoric growth leading to real paychecks soon. A welcome relief, I’m sure.
Spin Me Right Round
In addition to capacity, they will be the first local craft brewer to employ a centrifuge. This is a device that employs high school physics’ centrifugal force to separate out the good beer from the unnecessary proteins, hop particles, and yeast sediment. All that being said, the intent of the device is increase efficiency and yield with some added clarifying properties. This then eliminates or reduces the need for filtration to get a clear beer to your mouth (filters were the cause of the brief PsycHOPathy shortage of ’13). The increased efficiency can be as much as 10% which may not sound like much, but over time that means a lot more bright green cans floating around the city (and maybe NKY!).
It’s also important to note that this may not cause an immediate boost as these devices are known to be a bit finicky to get them dialed-in. Brew Dogs out of Scotland ran into a number of issues as they worked through their equipment, even having to dump a few batches. However, given their decision to dump a batch of PsycHOPathy that didn’t meet exacting standards I’m confident they will closely monitor production to ensure we end up with the best tasting beer possible.
During their short stint, they have produced some very well-regarded beers. Outside of their flagship line-up of PsycHOPathy (IPA), Happy Amber, Gnarly Brown, Identity Crisis (black IPA-ish), and Axis Mundi (stout) – they also released some limited beers. These varieties Sprye (rye), Pleasant Wheat, Daywalker (blonde), Flight of Simcoe (IPA), Wheat Eater (kolsch), and Bourbon Barrel Aged Axis Mundi (a personal favorite). While no match for the number of recipes cranked out by the mad scientists at Fifty West, this is nothing to sneeze at considering their different business models.
Coming Saturday, August 31st will be the release of their first Double IPA – Galaxy High. According to the co-owner Kenny McNutt, “Galaxy High smells ridiculous.” I take that as an extremely positive remark. Next on the horizon is Pump*** and Thundersnow. The former being a fall pumpkin beer (the final name is being held close to the vest) and the latter a winter ale. But probably most exciting is the potential release of a fourth can – Sprye! Sprye was their first seasonal beer known as a spring rye (get it, Sprye). This was an extremely delicious and drinkable beer that made me cry when it went dry. While no official word has been released, if I were a betting man I would expect to see this in cans early spring 2014.
The unplanned taproom has been a huge success. Taprooms were not permitted in Ohio when first writing their business plan and securing real estate. That changed in December 2011 and required them to quickly rework their best laid plans. They took some extra brewery space and retrofitted it into one of the area’s most popular taprooms that has hosted charity events, bands, baby showers, kids birthday parties, bachelorette parties, and more. You can find regular food trucks along with a Randall some nights putting a boost on their regular offerings.
The overall best seller at the taproom has been PsycHOPathy with the seasonal/limited release beers outselling it for short periods of time. A close second to the beer sales is all the merch that has been flying out the doors. Over 1,000 t-shirts sold (and three new designs added recently), a metric shit-ton of growlers and glasses (bought, broken, and stolen), plus koozies, magnets, and bumper stickers. People are digging the MadTree logo – even making it permanent on their body!
Expect The Unexpected
There have been a number for surprises at MadTree throughout their brief existence. The most disappointing event was the dumping of the PsycHOPathy batch mentioned a couple of times earlier. Obviously, there is a sense of failure compounded by financial loss when this occurs. However, they were surprised by support of the community in situations like this and in others. Says MadTree, “We hear on a regular basis how thankful people are for us brewing beer. [We] want to thank the community for supporting us, but they like to thank us for doing what we do (and we’re just brewing beer!). It makes [us] smile every time [we] hear it. When we dumped the batch of PsycHOPathy, we had overwhelming support from the masses. Facebook blew up with encouraging comments and total support.”
Even more rewarding than the thirsty masses has been the ability to give back to the community. If you recall, they made their first donation to Toys for Tots before they were even open for business! They have held fundraisers for children, animals, and even collaborated with Fifty West to support the Starfire Foundation.
It seems MadTree is well positioned for the next six months and well beyond as they continue to push the local craft beer movement forward along with their brethren brewers. In the end, the real winners are the people of Cincinnati – beer drinkers or not. Craft beer is supporting the economy and raising awareness for a multitude of philanthropic endeavors. Let’s hope that all of our local breweries continue their streak of success. Now, make like a tree and drink!