When Megan McKay built a brewery in the small Iowa town of Knoxville, Iowa, her decision had little to do with the beer industry. Instead, a passion to start a business in her hometown stemmed from something much bigger.
“Ten years ago, there wasn’t much to do in terms of night life in Knoxville,” said McKay. “There wasn’t a place for people to gather and there wasn’t a center for arts and culture. I saw the need to help develop the community and wanted to create a place that would make Knoxville more attractive to residents and visitors. A brewery seemed to hit all the marks.”
McKay turned to history, both her family’s and the state of Iowa’s, to select the company’s name – Peace Tree. Once a historic grand sycamore located near Red Rock, Iowa, which is also her mother’s home town, the tree was a place at which Native Americans met for generations. Additionally, the tree served as a meeting place for fur traders and a location where Indian peace treaties were negotiated.
With an ambition that beers crafted in her brewery would one day spur conversations and new friendships, like the historic tree in Red Rock, the name Peace Tree was born. As for the company’s slogan, it has just as much meaning behind it.
“We were sitting around after work drinking one day and someone commented, ‘Saving the world, one beer at a time,’ – it just stuck,” said McKay. She adds that with this slogan, Peace Tree recognizes that the brewery business is “one beer at a time.”
“With every person who buys a pint of our beer at a restaurant or at a bar, we have built it piece by piece, beer by beer,” she said. “Admittedly, the saving the world piece could be perceived as arrogance, but on the other hand I believe humanity comes down to connections. Getting people to stop, look around and take some time to get to know their neighbors. That is the fabric we are building within Peace Tree. A simple thing, but the stuff that will keep us moving forward in the right direction.”
Today, Peace Tree Brewery has established itself as a top-tier craft brewery and earned several accolades, including World Beer Cup gold medal for its Belgian-style strong ale and the Iowa Farm Bureau’s Renew Rural Iowa Entrepreneur Award.
In addition, the company has doubled goals set in the original business plan and expanded to locations in Des Moines and Grinnell. “It’s been a lot of hard work and I think we’ve really seen that pay off,” said McKay. “We wanted to get our beer in lots of hands, in lots of mouths, in lots of places. This was a business model where we could bring money back home and attract more people to see Knoxville for something other than what they had historically thought about it.”
Reflecting on the last decade, McKay is proud of what Peace Tree has become. “We have built a good reputation with our brand and Peace Tree has helped make people think of small-town Iowa differently,” she said. “I think we have built up a trust over the 10 years that when you grab a Peace Tree beer, you are going to have a good quality beverage and maybe share a good story that goes along with it.”
McKay credits her community and Iowa for helping her accomplish the goal she originally set. “I think Knoxville gave me a great opportunity to get involved in a way I couldn’t in a larger city,” said McKay. “I’ve been able to put down roots, reinvest in my community and make an impact in the town that has always been near and dear to my heart.”