Chicago-based Pilot Project will purchase MKE Brewing through $8 million in seed financing

Chicago-based brewery incubator Pilot Project is purchasing Milwaukee Brewing Co. near Fiserv Forum and has closed on $8 million in seed financing to become the new owners of the 70,000-square-foot production facility in downtown Milwaukee.

It is part of the brewery incubator’s national expansion plans. Dan Abel and Jordan Radke established Pilot Project in August 2019. Its head brewer is Glenn Allen.

The three members of Pilot Project’s leadership team each have unique backgrounds. Abel worked for five years with Google and YouTube as a music marketing vet, helping to launch the musical careers of artists including Dua Lipa and Chloe & Halle. Radke has held leadership roles in the nonprofit sector. Allen has worked for major breweries including Goose Island, Lagunitas and Revolution Brewing.

Pilot Project’s model is to serve as a launch pad for startup breweries. Pilot Project’s mission is “to foster experimental and small-batch brewing, present an unparalleled consumer tasting experience, and operate as an industry-defining innovator in fermented malt beverages.”

Some of the breweries in the incubator include Los Angeles-based Flora Brewing, Oak Park, Illinois-based Funkytown Brewery and Chicago-based Azadi Brewing Co. Since its inception, Pilot Project has launched over 13 breweries and other beverage companies.

Chicago-based investment group InvestBev led the $8 million seed round fundraiser. InvestBev has over $120 million under management. Pilot Project also raised $500,000 from friends and family in 2019.

“Partnering with Dan and the team at Pilot Project will be game changing for the contract distilling and community brewing category,” InvestBev managing general partner Brian Rosen said in a press release. “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.”

Through the recent funding, Pilot Project has a five-year growth plan that includes launching new incubators and taprooms in several cities including Los Angeles, Miami and London. The company plans to launch five to 10 new beverage brands annually.

The purchase of the MKE Brewing facility, 1128 N. Ninth St., includes the production facility, beer garden, rooftop patio, Bottlehouse 42 restaurant and tasting room.

Pilot Project said it will honor any events previously scheduled at Bottlehouse 42 and Noble Catering.

MKE Brewing announced its final day of taproom service on Aug. 30 following a social media announcement of the facility purchase.

“Pilot Project was established to support creativity, diversity and innovation in an industry that often overlooks it or maintains unreasonable barriers to allow it,” Pilot Project co-founder and CEO Abel said in the release. “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.”

Margaret Naczek, Milwaukee Business Journal

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