The Beer Nut: The nitty Gritty about beer

Norman Miller

The Gritty McDuff's brewpub in Portland, Maine, will always have a place in my heart.

I still remember my first time. It was July 24, 2004, and while enjoying the Best Bitter and splitting an order of chicken fingers with a friend, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees got into a bench-clearing brawl, a fight many believe sparked the Sox to their first World Series win in 86 years.

I haven't been back there since that day, but luckily I can still relive that memorable day in my mind when I have a bottle of Best Bitter, or any other of their English-style ales that are widely available locally.

Gritty's beers are sometimes overlooked amid the hype that surrounds the latest 10 percent alcohol by volume extreme beers that seem to hit shelves every day.

But what Gritty's offers, maybe better than any other New England brewery, is a solid lineup of low-alcohol, high-flavor ales.

"The extreme beers are great there's nothing wrong with them. We like to drink them ourselves," said Thomas Wilson, marketing director for Gritty McDuff's. "We kind of believe there's a market for us. We like to offer a real nice session beer. People are going to go out and buy a six-pack or a 12-pack of our beers and have one, two or three bottles, and sit down and relax without worrying about having too much to drink."

A session beer typically refers to a lower-in-alcohol beer - you can drink several in one "session" without becoming intoxicated.

Portland is the home of several breweries that specialize in English-style ales. Along with Gritty McDuff's, there is Geary's and Shipyard Brewing. Gritty brews its own beers for the three brewpubs in Portland, Freeport and Auburn - but Shipyard brews and bottles Gritty's 12-ounce bottles for sale.

The Freeport location also bottles the 22-ounce bottles that are sold, including the latest, the Scottish Ale. The Scottish Ale is in stores now and is the highest ABV beer the brewery produces, at 6.2 percent.

It's still a delightful beer to drink. It's spot-on for the style - sweet from the malts with very low bitterness from the hops.

The other two beers available in 22-ounce bottles are the Halloween Ale and the Christmas Ale. Both are different versions of ESBS, or extra special bitters.

Both are excellent beers very balanced, with neither the hop bitterness nor the malt sweetness overwhelming the other.

"We have a funny little saying when we're doing beer trade shows there's no fruits, berries, twigs or spices in our beers we're making beer," said Wilson. "We say no to fruit, because we're making British-style ale. We have fun with what we're doing."

Gritty McDuff's will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The brewpub was started in 1988 by Richard Pfeffer and Ed Stebbins in Portland.

It began bottling and distributing its beers about 14 years ago, and opened up the brewpubs in Auburn and Freeport. Wilson says he's always looking for other locations to open a fourth.

The brewery was inspired by British ales, and uses Ringwood yeast, a British yeast brought to the United States by Alan Pugsley from England. Pugsley is the head brewer at Shipyard.

Although Maine customers buy the most Gritty McDuff's beers, Massachusetts is second. McDuff's sold 6,500 cases in the Bay State last year, and Wilson said the brewery will "blow by that" this year.

"It's fun for us in Massachusetts because you guys are very educated. You guys know your beer," he said.

Other bottled beers available include the Best Bitter, a traditional English-style bitter; the Black Fly Stout, which is an Irish stout along the lines of Guinness, but better; the Pub Ale, which is an American pale ale; and the Vacationland Ale, a lighter American pale ale brewed with some wheat.

Also, Gritty McDuff's pushes its cask-conditioned beers in Massachusetts. Cask-conditioned ales are brewed with live yeast, which constantly changes how the beer tastes.

Locally, the Horseshoe Pub in Hudson and the British Beer Company in Walpole both occasionally have Gritty's available on cask.

"Ed and Richard (the brewery's founders) had a vision about this place 'We make beer, but we're going to have fun with it,' " Wilson said.

Gritty McDuff's beers are widely available, including at Fifth Avenue Liquors and Water Street Wine & Spirits in Framingham; Town Line Liquors and 9 East Wine Emporium in Natick; the Vin Bin in Marlborough; Julio's Liquors in Westborough; Liquor World and Hickey's Liquors in Milford; the Depot Package in Holliston; Village Mall Liquors in Franklin and Marty's Liquors in Newton.

Norman Miller is a Daily News staff writer. For questions, comments, suggestions or recommendations, e-mail or call 508-626-3823. Check out the Beer Nut blog at