ICYMI: Craft Brewing Business turned 10 this year, and we are celebrating our 10th anniversary with craft breweries that also launched in 2013. In Cheers to 10 Years, we’ll learn how these brewing businesses have made it work for a decade, and how they plan to keep it going. Cheers to 10 Years!
Cincinnati’s MadTree Brewing origin story reads like many others. In 2013, friends that were brewing together in a garage took the leap to start a business doing something they actually enjoy. It’s what you do in the years after leaving that garage that count though. Since then?
“Everything changed!” Co-founder Kenny McNutt is quick to tell us. “When we started, there were 2,400 breweries in the U.S. We were Ohio’s first canning craft brewery, and craft was growing at 20% annually. Internally, we didn’t initially plan for a taproom. Ohio laws changed a year before we opened, well after we had put our plan together, which made it much easier to open a taproom. So, we went for it! Now hospitality has become a huge focus for us.”
Go for it, they did. Back in 2015, when the business was barely two years old, they contracted for 5 acres in nearby Oakley that became its main location, eventually opening a multimillion-dollar facility on that land in January 2017.
“Looking back, I think we were crazy for taking such a big risk at such a young age,” McNutt says. “Fifty percent of small businesses fail within five years. To be at a point where we’re double that mark along with all the new innovation and different areas of business we’ve tapped into is a testament to our community’s support and our employees’ commitment to the brand. We’ve now been in our current location for 6 years.”
McNutt and co-founder Brady Duncan were driven to produce great beers, but they’ve also been driven to give back to the community and connect people to nature and each other. That shows in the early decision to package in cans and in its membership in the 1% for the Planet — a commitment to donate 1% of sales to non-profits focused on environmental sustainability.
What were some key turning points over the years?
“There have been so many over the years, and I’m sure there are many that I’m not even aware of,” Duncan says. “I think often about our drive and transition into becoming a more purpose-driven company, or better said, being very intentional about it as I think ‘purpose-driven’ was always in our ethos.”
Fast forward to 2018, MadTree is 5 years old and growing like crazy, but Duncan personally felt a bit lost with all of it.
“That’s when we really started getting clear about how we were and where we were going,” he says. “We spent lots of time surveying staff, looking at brands like Patagonia, and critically evaluating what we were doing. From that our Purpose and Vision crystalized over the next few years – To be a brand that exists to connect people to nature and each other with a vision of building a sustainable purpose-driven company our kids (the next generation) will be proud of.”
They got clear about the values and behaviors that would drive their vision: “That we must Connect, Grow, and Give a F#ck.”
And to be clear, they still gave a fuck about their beers and service too.
“Last year alone, we opened a LEED certified restaurant, Alcove kitchen + bar, in OTR, which also received Open Table’s Diners’ Choice Award, grew our employee base to 175 people, released our first non-beer, Sway by MadTree vodka sodas into the market, changed distributor networks, volunteered over 2,000 hours, planted 5,000 trees, won three medals (two golds and a silver) across Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup, and have no plans to slow down,” McNutt says.
MadTree is also bringing back its anniversary party, Bonanza, for the first time since 2020 on Feb. 25. Featuring a brunch bingo, cake baking contest with Cincinnati Magazine, rare beers from guest breweries, a DANCEFIX performance, live music, karaoke, food trucks, and more, this is going to be their best birthday bash yet.
What’s coming in the next 10 years?
If all goes well, MadTree will be a Certified B Corp later this year. Being a B Corp. means focusing on employees, and Duncan is quick to mention the role everyone plays in MadTree’s continued, steady growth as a company.
“Kenny and I must continue to grow as leaders and we must continue to get more clear with our employees about where we are going and most importantly, why we are going there. This brand is so dynamic and that is so motivating to me. The MadTree of the future will not look like the MadTree of the past. We are going to continue driving purpose, being consumer-centric, broadening our audience to be more inclusive, and innovating. We connect people. That is a large canvas to play with and the options are endless. That gets me out of bed in the morning!”
Cheers to 10 years! If your brewery is turning 10 and wants to cheers, drop me a line at [email protected]. Tell me your story …
• What’s changed over the last 10 years?
• Key turning points or decisions to note?
• Are you making any changes to prep for the next 10?
Here are some more Cheers to 10 Years features: