The Hop Review has been a part of the craft beer community for years. Their amazing interviews, fantastic photos, and meticulous tracking of Chicago area brewery openings and closings was unmatched. The team behind the phenomenon that was The Hop Review was gracious enough to answer a few questions for us in a recent interview posted below.
What was your favorite interview?
That’s a tough one, there were so many memorable interviews. We often talk about our 100th interview in 2016 with Mike Schallau, who was then the “Master of Barrels” at Pipeworks. Not only was he incredibly personable and easy to talk to, went spent a significant portion of our time with him walking the barrel room, pulling nails from in-progress barrels to sample, while Mike explained the nuances of what he was trying to achieve with each. It was an incredible view into the art of brewing that most people don’t get to see in such detail. I’m really excited to try more of his stuff now that he’s ventured out on his own with Is/Was. There really were some special interviews though – Tony Magee of Lagunitas, Calvin Fredrickson at Spiteful, Ed Marszewski of Marz… we even got to interview Mike Ditka. I could go on forever.
Who were some of your favorite people to interact?
Many of our friends and people we’ll still gladly share a beer with in the industry are folks we first met during an interview. I’ll always be grateful for the people who gave up their time in the early days of The Hop Review when no one knew who we were. People like Kevin Cary at Begyle, Claudia Jendron then of Temperance, and Adam and Ari at Maplewood (then Mercenary) are folks we’d still call friends years later. One of the reasons we felt confident starting this is because we saw how welcoming the beer industry is and how excited people were to share what they do. That’s been true for 99% of the people we’ve run into over the years.
Anything that ended on the cutting room floor you wished you would have published?
Nothing major, just a whole lot of amazing titbits that just didn’t make it to the final edits of our interviews. We’d often find ourselves chatting for a couple hours which, when written down, doesn’t make for a quick read to say the least. The amount of times we’ve had to make the tough decision to cut a great section of the conversation to keep the piece readable is incredible. The raw recordings of the interviews might be fun to go back and listen to one day….
How did you assemble your team?
We met at college and eventually ended up in Chicago living in the same neighborhood. It was a simple as realizing our shared passion for great beer and deciding that we’d like to know more from the folks who do it best. Over the years, we brought other friends with the same passion into the fold – like Nick Costa who effectively become our third arm and many talented photographers and guest writers along the way.
What got you into the blog et al?
The whole thing started as a way for us to document our homebrew adventures. Let’s just say that wasn’t our most successful experiment. We quickly realized that we were far better off talking to the people in Chicago who were already doing an amazing job of making beer we actually enjoyed drinking. Those were relatively early days for craft beer in Chicago and we were able to grow alongside the burgeoning industry. It was something that grew organically, starting as a simple wordpress blog that we slowly expanded to include regular content from around the world and photography that really showcased each brewery.
What was your favorite event to cover?
Gosh, that’s a tough one. We’ve attended so many great events over the years–from craft beer fests in the woods of Maine, to warehouses in London, to hop harvests in Idaho and Michigan... But, one that stands out to me personally might have been covering Upland Brewing’s ‘Sour Wild Funk Fest’ in Indianapolis in 2018. I went down there with one of our writers, and my wife, and we got an Airbnb near the venue downtown. We honestly didn’t know what to expect of the event, but it was fantastic. Located in an amazing warehouse loft, with just the right amount of attendees, it provided such an incredible breadth of beer without ever feeling overwhelming. It was just a great event with lots of surprise beers. Other than that, Schlafly’s Stout & Oyster Fest, Portland’s Oregon’s PDX Beer Week Festival, and of Course Chicago’s own Beer Under Glass are some of my favorites from over the years.
How did Ultra Fresh come to be? What made it so great?
Ultra Fresh spawned from a meeting with Bitter Pops back prior to the popular ‘slashie’s’ opening, in 2016. We went to college with one of the bar’s owners and were getting together to concept an event for us to co-host for Chicago Craft Beer Week that year. Tom White (the other half of THR), came up with the idea to build an event around beer’s freshness, since that was something that often would come up in conversations with brewers. So, we got to work building an event where all the beers present were packaged within 5 days of the event. That first year brought a packed house at Bitter Pops’ cozy space, and the following years it expanded into a 500-attendee festival. I think just the concise concept and parameters required for all the beer available at Ultra Fresh is what made it so interesting. Never before had someone been able to drink such a breadth of ‘ultra fresh’ beer in one place. The logistics of making that type of fest happen are a lot of work, but the unique venues, the brewers, and the creativity behind the fresh beers, and the attendees really made it all gel into something we really looked forward to hosting each year.
What’s the biggest thing you’ll miss in shuttering the blog?
It’s crazy, but simply being ‘in touch’ with the industry by way of events and beer releases is something I already miss. Just being away from it for a couple months has already been a whole different perspective of craft beer for me. I think when you are so entrenched in something, it’s easy to forget that that your viewpoint on the topic isn’t quite how most people perceive X,Y, or Z–and that certainly has proven true now that we have stopped publishing on the site. It’s all about differing perspectives. Aside from that, the beer-related travel is certainly going to be missed, no doubt. I’ll always involve beer in my travels, but THR allowed us access we might not have gotten otherwise.
Favorite trend? Least favorite trend?
I think the easy answer here is Hazy IPAs. For me, it’s both my favorite and my least favorite trend. Personally, it is not the beer style or approach I prefer when I reach for an ‘IPA’, but I think the way it has shaken up craft beer is unmatched. It went from a modest New England ‘style’ of brewing unfiltered IPAs, to a behemoth of a trend that turned the term IPA on its head. For as much good as it has brought to beer, it’s brought equal amount not-so-good. But, I think overall it has pushed the boundaries of exactly what you could consider ‘beer’, and forced breweries to be more nimble and creative in order to compete in the current landscape. For better or worse, it’s here to stay…for a while at least. My real answer for ‘best trend’ might be including Brettanomyces in various styles. I cannot get enough. Keep ’em coming!
Predictions for the Chicago (or Midwest) beer scene in the coming years?
Contrary to my previous statement re: NEIPAs, I think the Midwest will begin to circle back to some of the unique takes on styles that gave us more regional versions of things–more ‘Midwest IPAs’, more creativity in barrel-aging, traditional and Old World styles, and yeast profiles. I think the wait-in-line-for-beer-releases culture will die down significantly, as has already shown in recent years. And personally, I think more palatable, lower-ABV styles will start to become more prominent; table beers, grisettes, low-ABV IPAs and lagers… Take a look at what Hacienda, Is/Was and Keeping Together are doing–I think they’re onto something…
What made you decide to close up shop with a successful site?
Honestly, it was just time. We had a great eight-year run, with at least five of those providing us a fairly robust publication and event schedule, as well as travel. Life simply caught up to us. Tom [White] and I started this back at a time when craft beer was still fledgling in the Midwest, and the US for that matter. We used the site as a springboard to learning more around beer, across all topics, for ourselves–and saw the value of sharing that with others. But as time elapsed, our commitments to our full-time jobs and family tipped the scale somewhat. A lot of our writers and photographers moved out of state, as did Tom and our third arm of the operation, Nick Costa. It just became harder to maintain the level of content we had always aimed to put out, as often as we had. We never wanted to publish content just for the sake of it.
Well, personally, I (Jack Muldowney), will continue focusing on my design studio, Malt, where I help clients of all sizes execute branding, illustration and packaging. And I’m able to do so thanks to several connections I had made via THR over the years, who have become great clients of mine. I’m really looking forward to continuing to grow my business, and stay involved in craft beer through this angle. I also wouldn’t be opposed to doing some writing and photography for some other beer publications here and there–and have a few that have already shown interest. So that will give me a good excuse to stay involved… I’m not done yet!
I (Tom White), am staying in the beer industry in my role as Midwest Sales Manager for Collective Arts Brewing. It’s a fun, challenging job that allows me to travel and drink a whole lotta new beer. I certainly wouldn’t be in the position I am today if we didn’t get our feet wet exploring the beer industry with The Hop Review. You’ll see me at many a bar or bottle shop throughout the Midwest so if we run into each other, be sure to say hello!