Chroniclers of Chicago’s craft beer scene explosion hang up their mugs
In a decision with hints of bitter but more sweet, after eight years of getting beer backstories, Jack Muldowney and Tom White have called it quits.
It was 2012, and Tom White and Jack Muldowney loved beer and had extra time on their hands.
Not exactly groundbreaking traits for two 25-year-old dudes, but the foundation for noteworthy things to come.
A craft beer wave was washing over Chicago, and the two wanted to ride it.
But they were mediocre home-brewers.
It was more fun, they decided, to chat with people who were good at it. Really good.
Turned out, all they had to do was ask.
Thus began the eight-year run of chatting and drinking and editing and posting those interviews to their website, The Hop Review. That run ended Wednesday.
What they created was an archive of craft beer origin stories riddled with trial and error.
Their stuff evolved into must-read content for industry insiders and a growing number of craft beer devotees.
A few samples:
Steven Slater, a brewer with Finch’s Beer Co. at the time, talked about struggling to operate a canning machine that came with instructions in a different language:
It was all in Chinese. It was all Chinese-manufactured so I had to use Google Translate on my phone to read it. It was not a great machine.
Tracy Hurst, who founded Metropolitan Brewing with her husband, Doug, a brewer, talked about running the business after the couple’s divorce:
You get a divorce and all that s--- you hate about your spouse that you had to muscle through ... now you’re divorced. Now you can gripe about it. You can say, ‘You suck and here’s why.’
Jude La Rose, co-founder of Hop Butcher for the World, a craft brewing operation in Darien, said White and Muldowney hold a special place in the hearts of brewers who shared their stories as upstarts and have since risen to mainstays.
“They gained the trust of everybody because they were kind, honest and fair. And they were easy to talk to, they got people to open up,” said La Rose.
“You don’t have the time to learn the story of everybody. ... They’d bring the story to you,” he said. “And it wasn’t like it was fluff. They spoke about the good and the bad, but if it was the bad, it was done in a very constructive way.”
After more than 150 interviews between the two— and a few other beer nuts they tapped to help — they announced Wednesday they were calling it quits.
“Tom moved back to Michigan, and eight years of a side project is pretty good. Now it’s a matter of focusing on family and full-time jobs,” said Muldowney, 33, a graphic designer who lives in North Center.
“You get used to it as a part of your life ... and now it’s not there anymore,” said White, also 33, who moved to Grand Rapids in April.
The two didn’t get into it to make money — any cash they made was spent on the website or travel expenses as they began interviewing people in other states and countries.
Muldowney picked up a few design gigs for beer companies and White made a career change from digital marketing to beer sales a few years ago, but to remain impartial, they excluded their employers from any content that made it to website.
They weren’t the only “beer journalists” in town. Others will continue to cover the city’s craft beer scene. But they were among the first.
White remains busy raising his 2-year-old son.
“It’s possible I won’t be drinking as much,” mused Muldowney, who was married a little more than a year ago at Whiner Beer Co. on the South Side.
Appreciation for their work was evident on social media.
Goose Island tweeted: “Thank you for being a valuable resource to the beer community in Chicago and beyond. You will be missed.”
Dovetail, a brewery in the Lincoln Square neighborhood, tweeted: “Thanks for all the thoughtfulness you brought to spotlighting breweries, including our own.”
The Hop Review website will remain live, but the only thing that will be updated on the site will be the map of every brewery in the area.
The end of the blog also mean it’s closing time for the beer festival they founded, Ultra Fresh, which served only beer that had been packaged within five days.