in partnership withLocal 12 News
The nature forward Oakley brewery and taproom is setting the bar from sustainability to ethics in Cincinnati and beyond | Photo: Cincy by the Pint

MadTree Brewing: Sustainability Behind the Beer

“MadTree's purpose, has fueled our vision and impact work. Our 2030 vision is to build a sustainable purpose-driven company our kids will be proud of. Those lessons you want to impart upon your kids and future generations also serve as the lessons for how we conduct business—a business that values growth, connection, and giving a fuck.” -Owners on MadTree’s future

What started out as a Plastic-Free July feature turned into a much deeper dive into what makes MadTree Brewing in (Oakley) Cincinnati, Ohio truly special. This isn’t the first time we’ve explored the sustainability topic in brewing, a topic that is near and dear to our own personal hearts and beliefs.

This time around we wanted to shine the spotlight deeper into what it means to be “sustainable.” A buzzword that’s thrown around more than ever before, yet still misunderstood. Zerowaste? Eco-friendly? Sustainable? “Green”? You could read every book on the topic (and trust us there are a lot, we’ve tried) and still come up short with more questions than answers. MadTree Brewing is a true example of not just a brewery, but a small business that doesn’t just talk the talk with exciting buzzwords. They’re walking the walk too.

Three words: Giving a Fuck. Words they’ve proudly published in their 2020 ‘Impact Report’- quite a few times in fact. I don’t know about you, but personally to be confident enough in your cause to publish such bold words in what equates to the equivalent of a public company’s shareholder report? To me, I think that’s swag level 11, because they truly do. I’ll show you why as I sat down with Rhiannon Hoeweler, Director of Strategic Impact, to truly understand what makes MadTree special. Let’s dive in.

After pulling into the massive Oakley taproom parking lot, there are a few things that may catch an unsuspecting eye. From the electric car charging stations giving EV owners front row privileges, to the GO ZERO compost bins that line the side of the building. You may begin to feel like you’re actually somewhere in Northern California, much less the Midwest. While the community of Oakley continues to blossom into a progressive oasis in the midst of the Queen City, MadTree still seems to feel special. Maybe it’s because I spent a large part of my youth in Berkeley, or perhaps my background is in sustainable practices and I’m just in tune with these small nuances more than the average Joe, but the true magic is out of plain sight at MadTree. It’s seamless from start to finish. If you don’t notice the small things? At least you and your friends can pose in front of the massive living plant wall by Urban Blooms in the taproom. And if you think that’s impressive- just wait until the MadTree Alcove OTR location opens.

Sure they’re 1% for the planet members, sure they recycled over 200k Pak-Teks in 2020, sure they compost 100% of waste from the taproom. The spent grain from the brewing process? Sent off to a local farmer to be repurposed into farm feed. Wait a minute, did it seem like we carelessly rattled off those monumental accomplishments? Kind of. While it’s true each and every one of those check boxes make MadTree’s practices miles ahead of almost every local brewery, even including many regional giants too. Oh yeah, did we mention that as of July 2021 the entire Oakley facility is 100% wind-powered? How could we simply gloss over these efforts?

Because what we found more exciting is the work culture they’ve built from the ground up.

“We built this company to create and cultivate connection. We built this company to leave this world better than we found it – which means taking care of each other and taking care of our natural environment. To that end, our purpose crystalized. We exist to connect people to nature and each other. Nothing in this world brings more joy and purpose to our lives than connecting with loved ones and connecting with the natural environments that we cherish.” Brady & Kenny - MadTree Owners

Enter Rhiannon Hoeweler, Director of Strategic Impact. Not only baring one of the coolest titles in the business, but you could also make a slight case she knows a thing or two about sustainability herself. Armed with an educational background in Environmental Sciences, Hoeweler explained that although new to the beer world, she was drawn to MadTree. “Has your beer appreciation grown at all at least?” I asked. “Oh, you have no idea. I’m coming around.” Hoeweler quipped.

Rhiannon may not be a die-hard craft nerd like me but she knew her stuff. Explaining how she jumped at the opportunity when the position was created in 2020. You see, MadTree is the opposite of most of those stereotypical evil companies portrayed in movies. You know, the ones with the executives who sit around their massive Egyptian hand-sewn oak board table on the 80th floor while curling their mustaches, finding ways to screw the little guys? Sure, some of MadTree’s goals include cutting operational costs like any business, but the difference is they’re only satisfied if it’s through innovative practices. That’s essentially the MadTree difference in a nutshell. Continuing to improve through innovation, yet not forgetting their roots (ha, get it?).

Hoeweler was brought on board to help navigate the brewery’s course towards some lofty goals. With an executive background with the Cincinnati Zoo, Hoeweler explained her biggest passion is to be hands on. To get her hands dirty and truly connect with both fellow employees and the community is what makes her go. The position was a perfect fit; and the rest is history. There was something I found very Impressive about Rhiannon, although she had been there for just slightly over a year at that point, she answered all my questions with ease. It was like she’d worked there the entire time, or the MadTree employee handbook is the size of the Bible. Okay, maybe not the size of the Bible, but it exists. Seriously.

MadTree’s 2021 Goals:

  • Recycle 300,000 PakTechs, or 33% of the PakTechs MadTree put out into the market in 2021.
  • Remain committed to composting 100% of the waste generated in the Taproom.
  • Maintain commitment to repurposing 100% of spent grain.
  • Encourage the MadTree team to collectively volunteer 1,200 hours.
  • Build out Advisory Group and determine how to grow Impact program inside and outside of MadTree’s four walls.
  • Drink trees. Plant trees. Repeat. This year MadTree wants to plant 4,000 trees through partnerships.
  • Increase investment of time and money to $139,544 through 1% FOR THE PLANET commitment.
  • $10,000 in utility reduction savings across the operation.

MadTree’s Secret MO: Ethics

I often think I know it all in the Cincinnati beer scene, but I often am reminded I don’t and never will. Don’t get me wrong, I know a lot about MadTree’s focus on community and nature, more than most I’d say. Yet I was floored to find out MadTree’s leadership team is made up of 30% women which goes on to include a staggering 41% makeup of females across the entire company. As the gender equality battle somehow still rages on into 2021, you may remember the wave of controversy that shook the brewing industry this past May. Many females of the brewing community came forward to share their experiences of sexual harassment and toxicity in all facets of the brewing world, it just took one small voice as many movements do. It was a cleansing and reset process for an ancient industry where little has changed over time but was welcomed and applauded by many.

Amidst the chaos, MadTree continued to put their own dollars to work through a partnership with Cincinnati State’s brewing science certification program. Offering a scholarship focused on women and people of color, fronting 50% of the student’s school expenses annually. Part of the scholarship also focuses on sustainability in brewing, setting an unprecedented standard in the curriculum. In the Midwest at least. The true beauty of this? Students will eventually get to visit MadTree and learn about brewing great beer sustainably. I bet you can’t guess where many graduates are going to want to work afterwards.

Rhiannon went on to explain more of what I can only describe as 'small print’ company culture. Things you won’t find in any Indeed listing, it won’t be on any application on any corporate website, but it’s part of MadTree’s employee culture. The unadvertised things, things that retain employees and make them excited to come to work each day. The best feeling in the world at any employer? A company that has your back. Am I wrong?

Childcare, unforeseen circumstances, transportation issues during the uncertain time? At MadTree it’s a dialog instead of a pink slip. Corporate culture isn’t a part of everyday life in Oakley, and I think that defines “Giving a Fuck” to a T. It’s not all take and no give however, that would be silly. C’mon, you don’t build an empire by being walked all over. MadTree requires each of its employees to donate 16 hours of volunteer work each calendar year.

MadTree’s 2020 By the Numbers:

  • 2,193 combined total trees planted in 2020 by MadTree.
  • 626 volunteer hours. That's just over fifteen 40-hour work weeks.
  • MadTree put 830,496 PakTechs into the market. Of those, about 29% (236,400) were recycled.
  • 73,901 lbs (36.95 tons) compostable material diverted from landfill.
  • 1,775,600 lbs (877 tons) of spent grain sent to feed farm animals.
  • Invested $107,683 of time and money into the Cincinnati Community through 1% For the Planet commitment.

Pretty impressive for a year crippled by restrictions and business closings. Yet MadTree put their masks on and marched on with as many community efforts as possible.

When MadTree started eight years ago, it was more than about great craft great beer. In fact, the saddest part of this article is that we didn’t talk about how good MadTree’s beer really is. Because it is. I’d easily place them in my Cincinnati top 5 (which we may just be doing a half-way through the year brewery ranking article soon). However more importantly, they’ve built a sense of community and have taken responsibility of the power that would eventually become their dominance in the Cincinnati brewing landscape.

I want to thank MadTree Brewing in general who have always found time to entertain my crazy thoughts and antics, as well as you guessed it: “Giving a Fuck.” Special thanks to Rhiannon Hoeweler for making time to chat with me and talk all things beer to coffee shops in the area. You can read the entire 2020 MadTree Impact Report here, and of course find more information by visiting their website or simply stopping in and having a conversation. They’ll always pull up a chair and listen to what you have to say. That’s why they’re MadTree and we love them.