Local Symbiosis: MadTree Brewing and Napoleon Ridge Farm

Add this to your list of local beers: MadTree. They’ve been up and running since the end of January, filling kegs and growlers, and are about to start canning for broader distribution.

Add this to your list of local beers: MadTree. They’ve been up and running since the end of January, filling kegs and growlers, and are about to start canning for broader distribution. 

We tasted their PsycHOPathy, one of the rotating taps at Eastgate Jungle Jim’s, and my beer guy friends were impressed. 

“Look at the rings it leaves around the glass,” my chief taster explained. “That shows you that it keeps its head as you drink it, so you get the aroma all the way down.”

MadTree owner Kenny McNutt gave me the tasting notes for all four beers in their current lineup: PsycHOPathy, grassy and tiny aromatics over a malt background; Gnarly Brown, with vanilla and brown sugar notes; Happy Amber, with a little caramel and breadiness; and Identity Crisis, which spans categories — McNutt says it’s kind of a black IPA and kind of a porter. Sounds intriguing. MadTree will also do seasonals, like the Rye Pale Ale they’re starting next week.

To make any type of beer, beer brewers use a lot of grain — but they don’t actually use it up. “Spent grain” is the largest by-product of brewing and is traditionally seen as a waste, but it doesn’t have to be. 

As the Brooklyn, N.Y., Brewshop’s Spent Grain Chef blog (brooklynbrewshop.com) explains, “After you’ve made your beer, you are left with a pile of spent grain that still has a great deal of nutritional value.” 

Small home brewers have recipes for spent-grain bread, spent-grain pretzels and even spent-grain-battered fried chicken. A brewery in Alaska has developed a way to use the steam from its hot, soggy grain to boil the wort for their next batches of beer. And here in the Midwest, there are hungry cows and pigs that love spent grain. The key is connecting the brewer with the farmer. 

“We started brewing our first batch on the morning of January 22,” McNutt says. “And by 11 p.m. that night, we realized we forgot to get a plan for spent grain. We use about 1,000 pounds of grain for a batch, and when it’s wet, that’s about 1,500 pounds.” 

Justin Dean, beer aficionado and manager at Napoleon Ridge Farm (4310 Highway 16, Napoleon, Ky.), was following MadTree on Facebook when McNutt posted something about his massive quantity of spent grain. Dean offered to take it off their hands and headed up to MadTree’s site with clean feed barrels. He’d been doing this already with Listermann Brewing on a smaller scale, but the MadTree grain was significant.

“Two tons of feed costs about $1,000 and lasts less than a month,” Napoleon Ridge owner Tricia Houston says. “We’ve seen a 25 percent savings in the cost of food for our animals since Justin got this underway.” 

Napoleon Ridge is one of the primary sources of local beef and pork for restaurants like Local 127 and Bouquet, and for home cooks as well. 

Along with the farm, Houston runs Napoleon Ridge Grocery, where she spotlights MadTree in some of her specialty dishes. She developed a short ribs recipe using MadTree’s Gnarly Brown, as well as Gnarly Beer Cupcakes with beer cream cheese frosting and a candied bacon garnish. 

Houston has been known to send along some cupcakes and Brooks Meats’ Smoked Beer Sausage, made with Napoleon Ridge pork, when Dean goes to MadTree to pick up grain. She gives the brewery props for their role via social media, linking back to them on Facebook.

This is great local symbiosis. 

I can’t imagine a better picnic than a grill full of Napoleon Ridge beef burgers and pork sausages, frosty mugs of MadTree beer and Gnarly Beer cupcakes for dessert. Hurry up, summer! By then — actually by mid-April — you should be able to find MadTree in cans at smaller beer shops in Ohio, especially around Hyde Park. They’re not able to sell in Kentucky yet. 

They also plan to have a taproom at the brewery soon (located at 5164 Kennedy Ave., Madisonville), opening by the end of April. Currently, they are on tap at Habit’s in Oakley and Gordo’s in Norwood, as well as the Hyde Park Cock N’ Bull. 

And the gnarled wood tap handles? They’re made from pieces of Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick, a shrub with contorted branches, grown in Houston’s garden at Napoleon Ridge. But you guessed that, right?

Follow MadTree Brewing on Facebook at facebook.com/madtree.

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