In August, Milwaukee Brewing Company announced the sale of its four-year old Ninth Street brewery and taproom to a buyer that ended up being Chicago’s Pilot Project Brewing. At the time, the future the Milwaukee Brewing brand and its beers was unclear. This week, Eagle Park Brewing announced that Milwaukee Brewing has a home.
Eagle Park, a brewery that has expanded quickly and successfully in its five years of existence, purchased the rights to Milwaukee Brewing’s recipes, intellectual property and branding. At the onset, the core lineup of Louie’s Demise amber, Outboard cream ale, MKE IPA, O-Gii wit and MKE MVP hazy IPA will be brewed at Eagle Park’s sizable brewery in Muskego.
Eagle Park co-founder Max Borgardt was 8 when Milwaukee Brewing got its start in the Milwaukee Ale House in 1997. But the legacy of one of Milwaukee’s early craft breweries isn’t lost on him.
“The biggest thing for us is that it’s existed for 25 years,” said Borgardt. “When I first started drinking beer, Lakefront and MKE beers were two of first craft beers I had. It was those two brands. It’s got a place in our hearts for sure. That was the big draw for us. It was one of those things if they’re gonna sell it, I want them to sell it to us and not someone else. We wanted to be the ones to carry it forward.”
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The sale reflects somewhat of a changing of the guard in Milwaukee’s craft beer scene. Sprecher Brewing and Lakefront Brewery are the godfathers of local craft, having opened in 1985 and 1987, respectively. Milwaukee Brewing followed a decade later and became one of the bigger beer producers in the state. But a local brewery boom over the past seven years meant much more competition among craft brewers. One of those upstarts was Eagle Park, which has been on a meteoric rise since its humble beginnings in the Lincoln Warehouse in 2017. It now operates a taproom on the East Side (823 E. Hamilton St.) and has a massive brewery in Muskego (S64 W15680 Commerce Center Pkwy.) that opened in 2020.
“We have enough [capacity] to sustain both brands without any problems right now,” added Borgardt. “We have some more equipment that’s being put in in February in March. A new brewhouse, more tanks, a lot of new quality-control equipment. Once we get that build-out done by February or March, we’ll be set up for anything Eagle Park or MKE can throw at us.”
The Future of Milwaukee Brewing
Eagle Park wasn’t interested in purchasing the large Ninth Street location that was obtained by Pilot Project. The goal was to preserve a local brand.
“With what we have here in Muskego, we don’t really need more space,” said Borgardt. “That’s why we were so interested. We have the space and means. It wasn’t a massive stretch for us to take the production in. We want to give it a refresh in a way that modernizes it. We also don’t want to change it so much that people who have been fans for 20 some years won’t want it. We’re going to focus really hard on the cohesive brand.”
The plan ahead is to provide Milwaukee Brewing with a brand refresh, essential when competing for crowded shelf and tap space. Eagle Park also intends to eventually find a separate location, that includes a taproom, to produce Milwaukee Brewing beers.
“The brand itself needs to have a home,” said Borgardt. “That’s important in this industry to have a front-facing taproom. People want to go to the place where the beer is made. That’s part of the experience. It’s part of the culture.”
The Eagle Park team isn’t putting a number on future production goals, but achieving and eventually surpassing 10,000 barrels is certainly in the conversation. Milwaukee Brewing had consistently produced slightly more than 10,000 barrels over the past few years.
“It’s a massive opportunity for us,” explained Borgardt. “We keep scratching our heads and say ‘wow is this really happening?’ It’s a nod to how hard our team works. We’re excited to have a legacy brand from Milwaukee. The fact that we get to respect its traditions but then also tweak some things moving forward is exciting. I think it makes Eagle Park and MKE both stronger. It’s not going to change Eagle Park and it’s not going to change MKE at its core.”