It’s a big day for the small brewery incubator with massive plans.
Today, Logan Square brewery incubator Pilot Project confirmed in a press release what had originally been reported weeks ago: that they would indeed be taking over the four-year-old MKE Brewing facility in Milwaukee with plans to take brands nationwide.
This is a massively ambitious step for a brewery that has helped bring over a dozen brands to market, including Azadi Brewing and Funkytown Brewing. It’s tough enough to get one brand to go nationwide (Bell’s hasn’t even done that yet) so their plans to launch multiple brands each year while also sending beer from coast-to-coast is, well, a pretty tall order. Moving into facility that can produce tens of thousands of barrels of beer per year can certainly get them to that place.
Adding to that difficulty factor is the fact that Pilot Project is stepping into a state with multiple massive contract breweries alongside them: notably Octopi on the high end, and Minhas on the low end. How does Pilot Project fit into that space?
What really caught our eye was the international reveal. After launching this massive plan to go nationwide with their brands, they’re not planning on stopping there: “The five-year pipeline includes launching incubators and taprooms in key national and international cities, including Los Angeles, Miami, London, and more.” [Bold type ours.]
Notably absent from this release: Any indication that their plans include continuing the MKE Brewing brand, though we won’t count them out just yet. (Bummer if they’re done, though – we liked their O-Gii Wit.) It’s also worth noting that their stated mission (per the below) is ” to foster experimental and small-batch brewing.” That’s hard to do when you’re making dozens of barrels at a go in a 70,000 square foot facility.
MKE Brewing had a successful decades-old operation but got out over their skis by building the expansion that Pilot Project is now planning to acquire. They tried to go too big at the wrong time, and now they’re all but gone. Will Pilot Project succeed where MKE couldn’t? Let’s find out.
The full press release follows:
Chicago-based Pilot Project Brewing Announces $8 Million Seed Round Fundraise
The brewery incubator plans to use the assets to purchase a 70,000 square-foot production facility in Milwaukee and to continue its national expansion
CHICAGO (September 22, 2022) – Pilot Project, the country’s first-of-its-kind brewery incubator dedicated to the art of brewing and community inspired by the craft, today announces it has closed on an expansion-focused seed round fundraise of $8 million led by Chicago-based investment group InvestBev.
Comprised of manufacturing, distribution, and retail resources, Pilot Project reduces the friction for innovation in brewing and enables expedited growth for its portfolio of owned and incubated brands. The seed round follows a previous friends and family fundraise of $500,000 in 2019.
“Partnering with Dan and the team at Pilot Project will be game changing for the contract distilling and community brewing category,” said InvestBev managing general partner Brian Rosen. “We look for disruptors in all our investments and Pilot Project is certainly redefining the business model. We are excited to be involved in the Milwaukee and Chicago facilities and look forward to a national expansion. This will be a great portfolio company for our Fund III.”
With the funds, Pilot Project co-founders Dan Abel and Jordan Radke, and Head Brewer, Glenn Allen, have purchased the facility assets and will take over the long-term lease of Milwaukee Brewing Company’s production facility located at 1128 N 9th Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as well as the attached Bottlehouse 42 restaurant. Sprawling over 70,000-square-feet of indoor and outdoor space, the new facility will become a playground for Pilot Project’s incubated brands and will support their national growth out of the Midwest.
“Pilot Project was established to support creativity, diversity and innovation in an industry that often overlooks it or maintains unreasonable barriers to allow it,” shared Abel, Pilot Project’s co-founder and CEO. “By bringing Pilot back to Wisconsin, where Jordan and I went to school, we are introducing a business focused on catalyzing innovation to the birthplace of disruption in brewing. The Milwaukee Brewing facility is a former Pabst building, and we are eager to participate and continue the legacy of innovation rooted in this city and support creativity in brewing nationwide.”
Pilot Project launched in August 2019 as a purpose-driven, collaborative, and artistically curious brewing facility and tasting room to help support talented brewers in an industry with exceptionally high barriers. Modeled after the music industry, Pilot serves as a launch pad for start-up breweries, offering assistance with fine-tuning recipes, production scaling, business development, marketing, distribution and, with the addition of the Milwaukee facility, unencumbered growth potential. It is Pilot Project’s mission to foster experimental and small-batch brewing, present an unparalleled consumer tasting experience, and
operate as an industry-defining innovator in fermented malt beverages.
Since its inception, Pilot Project has launched 13+ breweries, including nationally recognized brands like women-founded Luna Bay Hard Kombucha and ROVM Hard Kombucha, Black-owned Funkytown Brewery, travel-inspired Brewer’s Kitchen, Indian-led Azadi Brewing, and others. Luna Bay Booch ‘graduated’ from the Pilot Project program in July 2020 and is now distributed from coast-to-coast in 20+ states.
Pilot Project operates as a breeding ground for diversity and innovation in the beverage/alcohol industry.With the additional funding, Pilot Project has plans to launch between 5-10 new brands annually. The five-year pipeline includes launching incubators and taprooms in key national and international cities,including Los Angeles, Miami, London, and more.
In Milwaukee, Pilot Project will refresh the Milwaukee Brewing Company building, including its beer garden, rooftop, restaurant and tasting room. Any events previously scheduled with Bottlehouse 42 and Noble Catering will be honored and managed by the Noble Catering team.
For more information, please visit www.pilotprojectbrewing.com, visit the tasting room and café in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood at 2140 N Milwaukee Avenue, or follow along on social media at @pilotprojectbrewing.