Pilot Project Brewing offers a unique concept in the craft beer space. Many people dream of brewing their own beer and opening their own brewery. Unfortunately, reality may hit and the talented but poor brewer may lack the $2 million in funds to start a successful brewery with a tasting room.
Like many great programs in Chicago like 1871, Pilot Project provides the means necessary to help a brewer with big dreams but no resources to match these dreams. Pilot Project is a one stop shop for small brewers and provides everything from brewing equipment to consulting advice. It allows brewers to make beer and not have to worry about the headaches of making major investments in the startup process.
DAN AND JORDAN
Dan Abel and Jordan Radke grew up in the Twin Cities area and went to the University of Wisconsin together. The long-time friends took opposite roads after college. Dan went into the music business in Los Angeles and then moved to San Francisco and then New York. Jordan stayed in Madison and worked at a not-for-profit.
Dan, trying to make it in the LA music scene experienced frustration with high barriers to entry, and how these high barriers to entry made it difficult for people to break in. Unless you had connections at the record label, it was hard to become successful. The creative talent pool didn’t have the freedom or the advantages, it was an unfair game.
But one day, along came YouTube which changed the whole game and allowed the creatives a platform. This was a game changer because it broke down the barriers of entry and provided more opportunities.
Inspired by YouTube and the parity between the music and the brewing scene, Dan thought about creating the YouTube for brewers. A place where brewers could showcase their talent and be discovered. Instead of facing a broken dream based on a lack of capital, Pilot Project would allow the incubator brewer a stage to shine.
Although they were separated by thousands of miles, Dan and Jordan stayed connected. Dan had the creative force and Jordan brought the key element of operational intelligence. Jordan started his career as the second employee hired by a not-for-profit and with it came tons of responsibility. He thrived in an operational role that saw the not-for-profit expand rapidly.
The two good friends brought their talents together to create Pilot Project. Pilot Project would bring the infrastructure to the table and the brewers could utilize the infrastructure to get their business off the ground.
Irish Liquor Lawyer’s Thoughts
The brewing community is very fortunate for Dan and Jordan. What I liked the most is that Dan took his frustrations on being blocked out of a market and channeled them into something positive. And these actions are providing brewers the opportunity that they may have never had.
I have no doubt their business will be a success; these are two highly intelligent and motivated individuals. But the best part of the business is how they plan to make others successful. In a world where people often times step over colleagues to get ahead, it is great to see a business whose main goal is to help others.
Pilot Project is scheduled to open in Early July. I highly recommend visiting Pilot Project, you will not only get great beer but also be supporting a noble endeavor. Great job Dan and Jordan, enjoy the interview!
PILOT PROJECT BREWING INTERVIEW
Irishliquorlawyer: Tell us a little about your background, and how you both met?
Dan: Jordan and I met in kindergarten together became really good friends in 5th grade.
Irishliquorlawyer: So, it took a little while to warm up to him, 5 years!
Dan: (Laughing) Ya we both had our reservation about the other. No, we were friends in kindergarten but went to different elementary schools. We both played soccer and sports in general. 5th Grade we became really tight, Jordan was a lady’s man and had a fun house to go to.
So fast forward, Jordan and I go to the University of Wisconsin. We were never the ones that went out to get hammered drunk. Jordan and I would go out to the liquor store back in 2006, we go to the liquor store instead of buying a 30 pack of Milwaukee’s Best, we would get a six pack of something good. Back in 2006 there wasn’t a ton on the market yet, there was Ale Asylum and New Glarus. We would get a six pack and have three good beers and we were good.
Jordan: Ya there is more than Natty Lite and PBR, and I love PBR. But when the craft beer scene came along there were more options and we wanted to explore those options. That was kind of the spark, after college we would go to local breweries and check things out.
Dan: We graduated school, I was exploring a music career, I moved to Los Angeles. There is a lot of parity to the music space with the brewing space. I was exposed to the high barrier to entry for a musician. At 22 years of age as a musician I had to pay to play a club or guarantee I can bring in 50 people and I would get nothing. It was tough to break in and if you didn’t have relationships with someone at a label, it was hard to get your music syndicated. This was back in 2006, this was a problem, there was no YouTube. Fast forward 5 years, I joined YouTube. I was really fascinated with the business model of breaking down barriers, and giving power to the creatives.
Jordan and I wanted to do something together, he was in grad school at the time. After a couple of more moves, I moved to San Francisco and then to New York and then to Chicago, he and I said, what if we had a place for nomad brewers? Of the 220 breweries in Illinois over a 100 are nomad breweries that are fighting for tap handles, distribution, and promotion. It is a hard barrier to entry, kind of like music. We came out with the idea of why don’t we create a recording studio for breweries. And that is where the brewery incubator came together. What is fascinating about the business right now is all these nomad brewers are all over. One of the most successful brewers on the east coast was a nomad brewer for 10 years. So that was fascinating.
Since we thought about this idea 4 years ago, a million people picked up the idea of home brewing, and guess what, this field is getting filed with people that are very intelligent in the brewing process.
Irishliquorlawyer: When did you guys lay the ground work for this concept?
Dan: We started in the summer of 2017.
Jordan: We were looking back at our emails and we had a friend that wanted to do a collaboration with another brewery, and you would see the emails go back and forth that it couldn’t work. It was frustrating to see two breweries that couldn’t make it work.
Irishliquorlawyer: So you guys provide the heavy equipment and everything else to get the incubator brewers started?
Dan: Yes we can brew 12 different beers at once, we will have a gorgeous tasting room?
Irishliquorlawyer: Have you seen Great Central?
Dan: Yes, they are a contract brewer, but we wouldn’t identify that way. For example, if you want to brew one beer for 12 days, awesome let’s do it. Contract brewers have minimums built into their business to work at scale. You need to be willing to brew a lot of product and, for us, we need to help you prove yourself so that you can graduate and go to something like Great Central. We’re kind of a test kitchen in that sense.
Irishliquorlawyer: Alright so you guys are like the first step?
Dan: Great Central has an awesome business model, but they are brewing for mass distribution. We are brewing beer for Milwaukee Avenue, and a limited number of accounts that we are hand picking to be your test market. If your beer can hold its own in our tasting room with 175 people in it or any of the bars or restaurants we are handpicking, you basically have that credibility from us to get a bank loan and launch your own brewery or scale it with Great Central.
We are giving you the market research to show that you got what it takes.
Irishliquorlawyer: You guys are lucky, when I went to college there was no craft beer. I had Milwaukee’s Best, Heineken was a premium.
Dan: We grew up with the Bell’s stuff.
Irishliquorlawyer: Jordan what was your job before brewing?
Jordan: I worked in not-for-profit, photography not-for-profit. I was in charge of the archives.
Irishliquorlawyer: So how did that help you in brewing?
Jordan: The organizational side of things, it was a small not-for-profit, I was only there second employee. They dropped a lot of responsibility on me, and it was me figuring out my ways of doing things. Now there are 4 employees, it has doubled since I have been gone. It helped dealing with the operation side of things of a new business.
Irishliquorlawyer: Your first job out of school?
Jordan: Ya, Dan was the mover, I was the squatter. I loved Madison and it was interesting seeing the progression of the craft brewery scene there. Its miles beyond what it was 10 years ago. It would be fun to see our concept in Madison, where they have all these nomad brewers.
Dan: Jordan is the operational side of the business, the archivist, and record management person.
Irishliquorlawyer: When do you see the tasting room opening?
Dan: Early July, barring any issues. Waiting on licenses.
Irishliquorlawyer: What’s your goal, where do you see this going long term? Do you see this as an 1871 model?
Dan: Right now, it feels like 1871, what we want is to help you through the whole cycle. Right now, if you’re a brewery and have talent, we want you to be able to start with us and stick with us. So right now, we are at the preliminary stage, we want to figure out logistics, supply chain, and the production side of things.
Jordan: There are some many other aspects, there is branding, there’s legal, it is more than making good beer! We are forming partnerships with various groups. We want to be a one stop shop; you brew with us and we can help you off the ground.
Dan: We want to open up in other locations. There are other cities like Chicago that are positioned well.
Irishliquorlawyer: So you are looking at this as a national model?
Dan: Definitely, we would go international based on the way craft beer is picking up in Western Europe. They are mimicking American beer there. They are were we were 10 years ago.
Irishliquorlawyer: That is true, I was in Ireland and went to a restaurant and ordered a Guinness and they said they don’t have Guinness but they have a craft stout. F….k that, you have to drink Guinness in Ireland.
Dan: No doubt, Guinness in Ireland should be considered a craft.
Irishliquorlawyer: Getting back to your goals.
Dan: There is this notion that if you are a brewery you need to make 20 different beers. And that seems crazy, and a guy like David Chang who is a world-renowned chef, should be able to say, “I want a beer that represents my work, my perspective on the world.”
David Chang should have a brewery that makes one beer! And he even posted about it recently, he had a triple Venn diagram that had Coors light, Miller light, and Coors banquet and in the middle was the perfect beer, and a person like that should be able to have one beer.
Irishliquorlawyer: The barriers to entry seem pretty large?
Dan: If you want to open up a brewery with a tasting room you are looking at $2 to 2.5 million dollars just to start. Then you are starting in an industry that is so heavily regulated that the regulations sometimes restrict how much money you can make and it is a $2 million barrier to entry, that is insane.
Irishliquorlawyer: I wanted to thank you guys for your time, this is a noble endeavor that helps small businesses get off the ground and test their markets without having to expend the capital they don’t have!