Eagle Park Brewing & Distilling Co. made one of the most newsworthy business moves within the local beer scene this year with the acquisition of Milwaukee Brewing Co.’s intellectual property, recipes and branding.
In March, Milwaukee Brewing Co., after 25 years in business, announced plans to sell the company and all of its assets.
When Eagle Park owners Max Borgardt, Jack Borgardt and Jake Schinker learned that Milwaukee Brewing Co. would be put up for sale, they were shocked and knew they had to act right away.
“I grew up drinking all their beer, even before we had Eagle Park,” said Max Borgardt. “Our first thought was it’s obviously terrible to hear, but then our second thought was we want those brands. We didn’t want someone to come in from out of state or some investor that just wanted to own a brewery and do their thing … that brand means a lot to the city.”
Since acquiring Milwaukee Brewing Co.’s IP in late September, the Eagle Park team has been producing Milwaukee Brewing’s flagship beers – including Louie’s Demise, Outboard, O-Gii and MKE IPA – under the brand’s original name, brewing a total of 1,000 barrels of Milwaukee Brewing Co. beer, or about 330,000, 12-ounce cans, in two months.
In recognition of its decision to seize a big opportunity, Eagle Park is the BizTimes Milwaukee 2022 Best in Business Small Business of the Year. The brewer has operations in Milwaukee and Muskego. It doubled its beer production at the end of September, with annual totals slated to reach 14,000 barrels. An estimated 6,500 barrels of Milwaukee Brewing Co. beer will be produced in 2023.
“It’s definitely weird to think how that is twice as much beer as Eagle Park produced our entire first year (2017) as a business. This has now doubled the output of our facility overnight and allowed us to increase our production staff by 63%,” said Jake Schinker. “Accounting for growth from both brands, we expect to have an increase in our total production by 90% to 100% in 2023.”
Once the core brands have been restocked, new Milwaukee Brewing products will be introduced. Those will eventually include a line of hard seltzers and spirits under the Milwaukee Brewing Co. name.
The public response to Eagle Park’s acquisition has been positive, Schinker said, although there was some initial worry from customers that Milwaukee Brewing products could have disappeared from the shelves.
“We saw an outpour of passion for MKE Brewing and what it means to the people in this city,” said Schinker. “The limited overlap in each brand’s product offerings allows each to coexist without hindering one another. This, I feel, is the most unique aspect of this acquisition and what influenced our decision to pursue it in the first place the most.”
Borgardt echoed this sentiment, saying he believes Eagle Park taking over Milwaukee Brewing Co.’s brands makes sense because both entities can exist without necessarily crossing paths. Milwaukee Brewing is known for more traditional craft beers, while Eagle Park has taken a more modern approach.
“I think what we’ve done in five and a half years with Eagle Park has kind of stood for itself … with our growth and the quality of products and the innovation and other things we’ve put into our brand, (Milwaukee Brewing Co.) knew we were capable of pushing the brand forward,” said Borgardt.
Production of Milwaukee Brewing brands has been temporarily moved to Eagle Park’s Muskego facility. The company’s Hamilton Street facility on Milwaukee’s Lower East Side has been serving as a temporary taproom until a new Milwaukee location can be found. The search for a new Milwaukee taproom location is still in the early stages, but the team is open to any area in the city, Borgardt said.
Also in the works is a brand refresh. Milwaukee Brewing Co.’s flagship beers will continue to have the taste consumers have become accustomed to, although the cans will have a more modern design. The new design will reflect the balance of tradition and modernity Eagle Park is working to achieve.
“Eagle Park has always focused on innovation and developing new products. Now with acquiring MKE (Brewing), it’s more of a focus on tradition,” said Schinker. “Striking a balance between both ideologies is a challenge but having both brands makes us more flexible than ever before. We hope this revitalization will bring MKE the modernization it deserves while staying true to its strong roots spanning back 25 years to the formative years of craft beer in Milwaukee.”