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Previous Pint Pleasures - October 1998

Guinness Eileen

Hale's Brewery and Pub, 4301 Leary Way Northwest, Fremont

Hale's Brewery originally opened in 1983 in the northeastern Washington town of Colville. Three years later a second brewery was opened in Kirkland. In September of 1995 the Kirkland brewery was relocated to Seattle, into this former industrial hose manufacturing plant on Leary Way, right where Fremont crashes head-on with Ballard. Some locals call this area "Bleary", no doubt because of the larger clustering of brewpubs. However you refer to the neighborhood, Hale's is a welcome addition. It's an inviting place offering a sunny living-room feeling in the bar as well as tables for the whole family in an adjoining room.

Since we were three childless beer lovers we opted for a cozy booth in the bar. Max had a pint of the Dublin-style Stout (original gravity 1.054), which we unanimously considered to be a bit too smooth and characterless for a stout. Adam chose the Celebration Porter (1.058), which he claims is one of his favorite porters. It's good, well-balanced and smooth, not overly dry like many of the local porters. According to Hale's menu some Seattleites claim the Celebration Porter "improves your dream life." Adam couldn't vouch for this because he says he never remembers his dreams. Now that I think of it, perhaps the porter improves one's waking dream life. Next time I see Adam I'll have to ask how his daytime fantasies are shaping up.

I had a pint of cask-conditioned Hale's Special Bitter, or HSB (1.047). This brew has a beautiful, creamy head, smooth but with character, and it's not overly hopped like so many American bitters seem to be. Actually, it's very much like a pint of English bitter; in fact, it's the closest thing to a real pint of good English bitter I've ever had in this country. Now that I think of it, the first time I drank a pint of cask-conditioned American ale was back in 1990 at Murphy's Pub in Wallingford, and it was Hale's Special Bitter. I'd forgotten all about this beer, and it's a sad thing. Thank God for this jolt to my memory.

Actually, the Hale's Special Bitter is very much like another HSB I've enjoyed recently. As I sip this Hale's I'm instantly transported, jetlagged and travel-confused, to a Kentish pub. As I sail in, my feet a couple inches off the ground, and sit at a wooden table near the bar, a friend hands me a pint, waits for me to have a few sips, and says, "So what do you think of that one?" Yes, I can taste the cheese, the wonderful English cheese -- Stilton, most likely -- and the bread, perhaps a good crusty French bread, not to mention the old, grassy and mossy buildings with funny little names, and don't forget all those sheep. But I must sheepishly admit the HSB doesn't taste ovine -- it merely supplies the visual image (black sheep with white wool) grazing in a field of cool damp green. Yes, I'm there, I'm there...

After researching the history of Hale's I discovered the similarity of Hale's Special Bitter to that other HSB is no accident. Apparently founder and president Mike Hale was originally inspired to open his brewery after a year spent bicycling around southern England, during which time he fell in love with the traditional ales of England's small breweries, most notably Gale's in Horndean, Hampshire -- the same brewery which produces the Horndean Special Bitter (ABV 4.8%, original gravity 1.050) of which I'm speaking. I enjoyed Gale's HSB on more than one occasion at the County Members Inn in Lympne in southeastern England. Now, is that an amazing coincidence or what? Or does it simply prove that the truly great beers of the world are indeed the truly great beers of the world and nothing less?

Hale's nine taps also feature Pale Ale, IPA, Amber Ale, Moss Bay Extra, and Cream Ale. A 5-ounce sampler is $1.00, a schooner $2.00, a pint (American or Imperial) is $3.00, and a pitcher is $9.00. The food is decent enough, consisting of foccaccia, pizzas, salads, and seafood. Adam, of course, was disappointed they don't have French fries (or chips, for you sticklers). It would be nice and only fitting if they could add these to their menu.

You can also get beer to go here, just like at the Elysian and McMenamin's. A microkeg is $2.25 and gallons are $29.95, and a refillable 32-ounce growler is a little over $7.00.

I keep wondering about this term "Dublin style", however. Hale's Brewery claims it uses this process, also called nitrogen conditioning, to produce beer as smooth as cask-conditioned but as fresh as normally pressured beer. So does this mean it's not true cask-conditioned ale? According to CAMRA (Britain's Campaign for Real Ale), this technology -- which is used to serve Guinness Stout on draught -- utilizes a mixture of nitrogen gas and carbon dioxide which results in a creamy head but negatively affects the flavor and distinctiveness of the beer. Ah, well; check out CAMRA's website if you want more information on this. If you're a simple American microbrew drinker content to enjoy the vast improvement of nitrogen conditioning over ordinary keg beer, then don't worry about it. Just relax and enjoy a pint of Hale's HSB, a truly great find in the States.

In case you've never made your own beer and you're confused, like I was, about the various alcohol ratings you run into with microbrews -- i.e. ABV, ABW, and gravity -- I'll try to clear up the matter. First of all, alcohol by volume (ABV), which refers to the amount of alcohol in beer in terms of percentage volume of alcohol per volume of beer, is the standard alcohol rating method used in most parts of the world including the US. Alcohol by weight (ABW) corresponds to the alcohol content in terms of the percentage weight of alcohol per volume of beer. Since the weight of alcohol is less than that of water, the weight measurement will be lower than the volume measurement. To simplify matters for us mere beer consumers, you can convert between the two as follows: to convert alcohol by weight to alcohol by volume, multiply ABW by 1.25; to convert alcohol by volume to alcohol by weight , multiply ABV by 0.80.

The term specific gravity refers to a liquid's density compared to that of water, which is 1.000 (1000 in the UK) at 60 degrees F. Original gravity (or OG) is a measure of the specific gravity of the wort prior to fermentation. This is calculated by multiplying each malt's weight in pounds by its extract rating; then the results are added and divided by the size of the batch in gallons. The higher a beer's original gravity the more sugars it contains, so there's a higher potential for alcohol content. The average English bitter with an ABV of 3.5% might have an original gravity of 1.037. Final gravity is a measure of the specific gravity of wort after fermentation has completed. A beer with a lower final gravity is more desirable because it is an indication of efficient fermentation -- i.e. more sugars have been converted to alcohol.

(In case you really want to know, alcohol by weight can be computed by subtracting the final gravity from the original gravity and multiplying by 76, then dividing the result by 1.78 minus the original gravity. But why waste time doing idle calculations when you could be sipping a good beer instead?)

To confuse matters even further, alcohol content can also be measured on the European degrees Plato scale. For example, an average American light beer which has a specific gravity of 1.034 will have a density of 7.5 degrees Plato -- but this has to do with unfermented beer. And I only care about the fermented kind myself. And so should you. Trust me.