I first visited MadTree Brewing last December, on a short research trip to the Cincinnati History Museum. I’d been sitting at the bar for less than ten minutes, sampling a Thundersnow from my flight, before I was hearing discussions of trade values and Dark Lord verticals. I knew then and there that MadTree was legit.
Still, that was a short visit. I didn’t really experience MadTree until last May. No Dark Lord that time, but I’m definitely hooked. Like Rhinegeist (which I’ll cover in another post), MadTree is a fairly new presence in Cincinnati’s burgeoning beer scene (both opened in 2013), and it’s already a juggernaut.
But while Rhinegeist maintains, from its name to its location and taproom space, deliberate callbacks to Cincinnati’s storied brewing past, MadTree seems to be all about the Cincinnati of the present. It partners with a number of nonprofits that promote local business, volunteer projects, and humanitarian causes. There’s even a metal grating above the bar where customers can throw wads of cash for charity.
I happened to visit while the Ohio River Valley Chef’s Collaborative was holding a happy hour, and so I got to meet tons of great people associated with Cincinnati’s restaurant and related industries, including a wonderful gentleman who helped found a business taking MadTree’s spent grains and wort and using them to make a line of specialty malt vinegars. I’d have never thought of that in a million years.
MadTree serves its community in a communal space. The taproom and brewery look very modern, with only token barriers dividing the two. I think of the space as an industrial beer hall—high ceilings, bit of a warehouse look, lots of standing room, and long wooden tables. And while I would still say Rhinegeist pulls off the “drinking right next to the fermentation tanks” look a little better, I really like the inclusive feel these types of spaces bring. A lot of brewpubs and breweries I’ve seen show off their tanks and equipment through glass or whatever. Breweries like MadTree just sit you right next to them and let them tower over you. The lack of physical barriers makes you feel like you’re part of the process, not just a beneficiary of it.
Weather permitting, MadTree also sports an outdoor space that’s fantastic, if a little small. A high fence surrounds some bag toss games, standing tables, and a cozy looking fire pit. I’ve yet to see a s’more though, so points off for that.
On the upside, outside patrons get to imbibe with this beauty towering over them.
Between the great atmosphere and the phenomenal beer that I haven’t even talked about yet, MadTree is definitely not hurting for business. Excluding the city’s Sam Adams brewing facility, MadTree is Cincinnati’s second largest craft brewer (behind Rhinegeist), producing about 25,000 barrels annually as of my visit. And because they can’t seem to sell their beer fast enough, MadTree is nearing completing of a massive new facility in the city’s Oakley neighborhood that will quadruple their production. That means a fancy new 100 barrel brewhouse, an expanded quality laboratory, and a 64-tap brewpub. Construction is scheduled to finish this winter, meaning this article might soon be wayyy out of date and I’d need a visit to the new space to get up to speed. Aw shucks.
Even when that’s finished though, I think seeing the original space will be essential to really understanding this brewery. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to grab a Sol Drifter (a blonde ale with strawberries) and take a tour of the place, led by one of MadTree’s owners no less. This place grows by leaps and bounds yet still uses its original homemade grain hopper: a wonderful homage, I think, to MadTree’s homebrewing origins. Yet they also sport a research lab, and will include a expanded lab with their new facility. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition that also happens to yield their “Treesearch” series of beers. Try those any chance you get, because I haven’t tasted a bad one yet.
Speaking of beer, there’s no way around it: MadTree makes some of the best beer in the city. And in a beer town like Cincinnati, that’s saying something.
It was great to get my hands on an envelope-pushing braggot, called Nucleus, which MadTree produced in collaboration with Crafted Artisan Meadery. Braggots are meads made with honey and barley malts, with Nucleus throwing in Apollo hops, figs, and cocoa nibs. If you’re mouth is watering right now, this is a sign that you are, in fact, sane.
Besides the exotic, MadTree covers their beer style bases well and aren’t afraid to show how traditionally “light” or “bland” styles can be interesting. I mentioned Sol Drifter already but they also make a great Lemon Basil Blonde. Their standard Kolsch, called Lift, is a well-made favorite.
Their standard IPA, called PsycHOPathy, is tasty but pretty risk-averse as IPAs go. I personally preferred IPAs from their Treesearch line (#3984 especially, though I have no idea whether that was a one-time release), an IIPA called Mosaic High, and a red IPA named Rounding Third.
My favorite MadTree beer of all, though, was an APA called Pilgrim, seasonally released in the fall and hopefully destined for the canning line this year. I’d never encountered cranberry or walnut flavors in a beer before, let alone together, but it works. If it’s canned this year, I might just load up and pull a Johnny Appleseed, spreading Pilgrim cheer to my friends and letting MadTree fans sprout all over the Midwest (fun fact: the resulting apples from Johnny Appleseed’s orchards weren’t really meant for eating so much as making hard apple cider).
In short, MadTree is a jewel in the Queen City’s crown. I look forward to watching them continue growing, engaging in their community, and brewing fantastic beer.
Seriously, though, they need to can Pilgrim.