Two years after opening his pub’s doors, Sid Hale of McHale’s Brewhouse still finds that newcomers are astonished to discover the out-of-the-way Hixson gem.
Granted, the blacked-out double doors on the front of the one-story building on bustling Ashland Terrace might seem a bit menacing to an outsider.
However, the slightest push on the handle gives way to a surprisingly warm bar with a boisterous crowd, eight taps of house-brewed beer, and enough darts, pool and karaoke to entertain the neighborhood all week.
“The reputation for the area for bars has always been negative,” Hale said. “I get people here all the time who come in and say, ‘I didn’t have any clue how friendly this place was.’ That’s what I wanted to bring here—a little bit of downtown culture to Hixson.”
Hixson’s hub for good beer
Hale owns McHale’s with his mother, who also manages the bookkeeping, and his cousin, Adam Hale, who serves as the head brewer.
The family nature of the business lends itself not only to the cozy feel, but also to the bar’s Scottish flair. The Hales are Scotch-Irish in heritage and have incorporated that genealogy into the McHale’s look and feel.
The walls are painted with Scottish crests, each tabletop has a shamrock emblem and green is the family’s favorite color.
“We are your quintessential neighborhood bar. It’s like Cheers,” Hale said. “You come in here, and everybody knows your name and knows what you want to drink.”
The idea for a brewpub was a floating topic of conversation between the Hale cousins for some time.
Adam started brewing as a hobby, and after about two and a half years, he became a proficient and respected brewer, as well as a creative mastermind behind countless recipes and handmade home systems and a member of the Barley Mob Brewers Club.
His pale ale, the Apollo, was voted Best Pale Ale in Chattanooga in a blind tasting at the Chattanooga Market, and his Bloody IPA won second-best in show at a Peach State Brew Off, a home brewers competition with approximately 400 entries.
After having a kind of life-changing epiphany one night during a conversation with a friend, Sid decided to turn down an IT job that would relocate him to the North in the middle of winter and opted instead to do something he’d always wanted to do: open a pub with Adam.
The cousins, along with friend Ted Lindsay, who managed McHale’s for a time but was bought out by a silent partner, settled on the seemingly unlikely choice of address in Hixson. The location required a bit of an overhaul and the installation of "the lab," complete with a three-tank system and six fermenters.
Though away from the go-to scene for local beer, McHale’s fills a vital need for Chattanooga-based brews in the suburbs.
“Looking at locations downtown, I thought it was pretty saturated in terms of brewpubs,” Hale said. “You’ve got The Terminal and Big River, and [Chattanooga Billiard Club] and Moccasin Bend Brewery are tasting rooms. But there’s nothing in Hixson. There’s no place to go and drink good beer.”
The pub is smoker-friendly, which Adam pointed out is a draw for many customers. McHale’s also host APA pool leagues on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and Sid is exploring the potential of launching an in-house league.
With "the lab" in full production mode, the Hales are able to more than satisfy the demand on the eight taps at the bar. The staples include a Scottish ale, which is nicely heavy on the malt side, and a stout, a velvety pint light enough to be completely drinkable and dark enough to capture a chocolaty taste without being overwhelming heavy or chalky.
There are also the award winners, the Apollo, a balanced crisp and citrusy pale ale, and the Bloody IPA, another citrusy offering, as well as the McHale’s Light.
The other taps see a rotation of the double browns, Belgian witbiers and seasonals, each with a distinct style and flavor. Sid joked that Adam enjoys doing things a little differently from other brewers.
“We’re definitely the small guy,” Adam said. “I’m happy to be able to be experimental and bring in that home brewer’s perspective.”
Case in point No. 1: The Mudslinger on tap now is a brown oatmeal IPA. Though darker IPAs are becoming a trend in the beer industry, the oatmeal takes the brew one delicious step further. Adam’s recipe calls for about 20 percent oatmeal, which lends the beer a creamier, thicker, nuttier flavor in its interaction with the traditional IPA hop.
Case in point No. 2: The upcoming spring seasonal will focus on capturing the strawberry taste. Though Adam hasn’t completely developed the recipe yet, he plans to employ hibiscus flowers to get the strawberry color.
The seasonal beer Clementine is yet another example: Though many brewers go for a darker brew in the cold months, McHale’s is serving a lighter, citrus-tinted beverage flavored with a winter fruit—the clementine.
Adam explained that his concoctions can often start off with bits of newly discovered styles he might want to emulate and bits of beers he wants to drink himself. Some recipes are basic, and some are far more complex.
“Usually, it's about finding the right two things to define the beer,” he said. “If you have two strong elements playing off each other and playing well together, it’s going to be a good beer.”
After obtaining their distribution license in November, the Hales are branching out from Ashland Terrace. In addition to the bar at McHale’s, Chattanoogans can find Adam’s brews at the Hixson Lupi’s, Tremont Tavern, in rotation at Brewhaus and for growlers at Riverside Wine, Spirits and Beverages.
“We’re going to continue to put out a consistent delicious serving,” Sid said.
McHale's is located at 724 Ashland Terrace and features a full pub food menu with a few Scot-Irish additions. The bar is open Monday through Saturday, 3 p.m. until late, and Sundays, noon until late.