The Mack House Brews Up Creativity and a Loyal Following

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It would be easy to pass over the small retail bay on your way to laser tag next door if it weren't for the large, lit-up, red letters burning "Brewery" into the night sky. Still, the strip-mall vibe belies the nanobrew-level scale of experimentation and uniqueness that emerges from inside.

The brewpub is the inner heart of the line of Holy Mackerel beers that grace store shelves across the state: Special Golden Ale, Panic Attack, and Mack in Black. But these aren't brewed on premise. The commercially distributed brews are fashioned up at the Thomas Creek brewery in Greenville, South Carolina. What you'll get at the Mack House are small-batch, one-of-a-kind beers available only at that location.

Since October 2012, owner Larry Hatfield and his son Kyle have been working to make this slice of beervana into a hangout for local beer lovers.

See also: Canale Brings Fresh Italian Fare to the Venice of Florida

"We wanted to have another platform to feature our beers," said Kyle Hatfield, the brewpub's general manager, "somewhere we can do anything we want to do with them."

Taking over the space that was occupied by Stage 84, a venue that hosted live musical acts and open-mic nights, the Hatfields moved quickly to have beers produced onsite. Even though they purchased the Holy Mackerel brand from creator Bobby Gordash in 2011, they kept him on as head brewer and tapped into the local beer scene.

"The first few months were slow and tough," Hatfield remembers. "The name recognition wasn't what we hoped for."

After a few months, Gordash moved on (on good terms) to work for Florida Beer Co., and the Hatfields immediately sprang into action.

"We somehow got invigorated by it," Hatfield explains of Gordash's departure. The search for a head brewer was on, but it ended up being short. Justin Miles was the first and immediate choice. "He had always brought his homebrewed beers to us when it was still Stage 84, and we've always liked them. It just seemed natural.

"The biggest transition from doing homebrewing to this commercial setup is keeping up with the pace," Hatfield says. "And at home, you can be a little more experimental as well, since anything that turns out just awful you can dump it. But here, I have to serve everything I brew to customers or it's wasted time and space."

With a three-barrel (93-gallon) system in place right now and plans to grow, beers come off the line at a fairly quick pace. Downpour IPA is a crowd favorite, for example, and uses some of the beer world's favorite hops -- Centennial, Chinook, and Simcoe -- giving a multifaceted layer of bitterness and citrus aroma. A recent hefeweizen showcased the lighter side of brewing with a mild 5 percent alcohol-by-volume, wheat-oriented springtime refresher. Anything in-house, in the Holy Mackerel portfolio, or, in fact, anything on draft will set you back $6.

The most interesting featured brews are the culinary ones, like an andouille sausage beer or a superpopular maple chipotle brown ale.

Unfortunately for those looking to make a night at the Mack, food is limited. Try the ale-glazed meatballs ($8) that come embraced with a Mack in Black-infused, barbecue-like sauce that packs a hit of heat with the sweetness. Pair it with a glass of Mack in Black (a dark and roasty Belgian strong ale) to balance the spiciness.

Or if carbs are your thing, order the large hot pretzel with an IPA cheese spread ($6) or the tropical mango and pineapple salsa served with a tray of tortilla chips ($5).

"I'd say 90 percent of our patrons live within ten miles," Kyle Hatfield told us. "People have embraced us as a true craft beer bar."

Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger who focuses on Florida beers, and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow him @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.

Follow #FloridaBeerFriday for more reviews of Sunshine State brews.

Get out there and #DrinkLocal.

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