Hale’s Ales has the distinction of being one of Washington state’s oldest craft breweries, founded by Mike Hale in 1983. Today Hale’s Ales most popular products are widely available in bottles at Seattle area grocery stores as well as on tap at local restaurants and bars. However, what attracted me to the brewery and pub was the chance to sample Hale’s HSB – which isn’t so widely available.
It is well documented at Hale’s Ales website, as well as other places, that before starting his own brewery, Mike Hale apprenticed in the south of England at the George Gale & Co brewery in Horndean, Hampshire. Gales flagship beer, also called HSB for “Horndean Special Bitter”, is a beer I was familiar with in the pubs south of Reading way back when.
Anyway, it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to wonder whether Hale’s HSB or “Hale’s Special Bitter” is Mike’s labor of love attempting to recreate the late great Horndean brew. Perhaps he bases his HSB on the original Gales HSB recipe or, most importantly, I wonder if he is maintaining a strain of Gales original yeast. But that’s purely speculation on my part.
Here is how Hale’s Ales describes HSB on their website: “of all the ales we make it is the one that most closely emulates the famous “special bitters” of Great Britain.”
Either way, I got to sample Hale’s HSB and I must say it ranks among some of the best bitters I have ever had on this side of the Atlantic. Only downside – it was on a nitro tap – I would have loved to try it cask-conditioned. But I still rate it a 8 or 9 out of 10. Obviously beer preference is highly subjective – for this subject it more than did the job.
Here’s an interesting thought: in 2005 George Gale & Co was taken over by Fullers, of “London Pride” fame. The Horndean brewery was closed and HSB production moved to Fullers Chiswick facility. But is it still the same beer? This made me wonder if we have a kind of weird beer parallel to what happened in the French wine industry. Back when the vine aphid decimated French vineyards in the 19th century, they were saved by grafting their vines onto aphid resistant American vine rootstock. Is the historic legacy of George Gale’s original HSB being preserved by Mike Hale in Hale’s Ales HSB here in Seattle? Hmmm!
OK, so what about the brewery and pub? Well, it’s definitely worth a visit. The production area is in full view from the pub and you can follow self-guided information signs at your own pace to learn all about the step-by-step brewing process – no tour required. Since this brewery is very traditional – in the English style of brewing, the top fermenting yeasts can be seen at work in the open-top fermenters via mirrors on the ceilng. And as if that isn’t pungent enough, there are samples of the malt barley grains and hops to handle and smell too. All in all an interesting experience.
The pub menu is extensive, reasonably priced, and kid-friendly. The food – ours at least – was good.
Hale’s Ales is located between the Fremont and Ballard neighborhoods at 4301 Leary Way NW. From downtown Seattle the best bus to take is #28. The bus passes through Fremont before picking up Leary Way. Once on Leary you need to get off the bus right after NW 42nd St. The brewery will be ahead on the left.
Alternatively, when the weather is nice, take the #26 or #28 to Fremont, get off the bus right after the Fremont bridge, and walk along the ship canal on the Burke-Gilman Trail towards Ballard. You’ll come to the brewery after about 1 mile.
If coming from the U-District, take the #30 or #31 and get off in Fremont, then either transfer to the #28 or take the walk I just described. If coming from the Eastside, several routes connect through downtown or the U-District – it all depends on your starting point – for these I recommend using Google maps, the get directions feature, and selecting the By public transit option.