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Chicago-Based Brewery Incubator Expands North Into Milwaukee

A brewery incubator project has expanded from its original Chicago base to Wisconsin with the purchase of a 70,000 square-foot production facility.

The Pilot Project used $8 million seed round fundraise to purchase the facility assets and taken over the long-term lease of Milwaukee Brewery Company’s production space, as well as the attached Bottlehouse restaurant next-door.

This will allow the incubator to work with new brewing entrepreneurs to help them launch their brands, says Dan Abel, who founded Pilot Project with Jordan Radke in August 2019.

“Basically, we couldn’t take on any new brands until existing brands graduated” from the support and programs of Pilot Project, Abel says. “With our new production facility, this bottleneck is removed so the velocity we can work with new concepts and brands and people is uncapped.”

In taking over the space, Pilot Project didn’t, however, take over the intellectual property or the brands of Milwaukee (MKE) Brewing Company. “Though Jordan and I went to school in Wisconsin, and we’ve spent a lot of time in Wisconsin, that didn’t feel quite right,” Abel says.

Instead, Wisconsin-based and founded Eagle Park Brewing took over the assets, and they’ve already begun brewing some of MKE favorites, including Louie’s Demise and other beers.

In the nearly three years since Abel and Radke began the Pilot Project, they’ve successfully launched 13 brands, including five women-owned businesses, only the second black brewery in Chicago and an Indian inspired brewery.

Their original goal, though, was to work with five to ten unique, new ideas or brands every year, which up to this point, they couldn’t achieve. “We now have the capacity to do this,” Abel says. “Our fundraise has allowed us to do this project.”

Their new space will open by November, and it will allow existing Pilot Project brands, which don’t have their own brewhouses, to host events and do tastings. “I love our Chicago facility, and it’s extremely modular, but if you want to throw and event for your brand, you can do it, but you have to takeover the entire facility,” Abel says. “In this new space, any of our brands – their personalities can shin in different spots. They can do a curated tasting for an intimate group or do a massive event.”

The construction project for the Milwaukee business will be completed in phases, opening different parts of the new incubator space over the next nine months. “Come November, you should be able to come hang out and watch a Bucks game,” Abel says.

Consumers also will be able to taste any of the brands they’ve already helped launch. “Since we hold he license to distribute for ourselves, expect all different types of beer, hard kombucha, hard seltzer and products that don’t even have names yet,” Abel says. “Across the beer spectrum, you can enjoy a super-crushable, day-drinking lager to a super crazy mezcal margarita inspired gose.”

One of the new brands that Pilot Project is working to launch within the next year is Flora Brewing, owned by Sarah Flora, out of Los Angeles. “Our original intent was we never wanted to be geographically inclined, and we are open to launching brands all over the world,” Abel says. “In theory, we should remove any barrier so you’re able to build your business the way you want to do it.”

They’re also extremely interested in launching brands closer to their new production facility in Milwaukee. “We’d love to incubate a brand straight out of Milwaukee,” Abel says.

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