Carla Jean Lauter

The Beer Babe

Portland, Maine Beer Adventure – Gritty McDuff’s

On a torturously cold January evening, I ventured up to Portland, ME – a true beer city here in New England. Home to more than five different breweries and some wonderful beer pouring places, it’s a town I’ll be paying visit to often when exploring the New England beer scene. This trip though took place on a day that spit would freeze before hitting the sidewalk, and I shuffled quickly up cobblestone streets in a puffy winter coat to the warmth and refuge of a great brewery.

Gritty McDuff’s has two locations in Maine, one in Freeport, home of the original L.L. Bean, and one in Portland.* They recently released a new IPA to commemorate their twenty-first year of existence. The local radio ads say that their pub is finally old enough to drink…. in the pub.
The brewery is two-leveled, with the beer making process going on in the ground floor, and the upper section is a brick-walled brewpub with ceramic steins hanging over the heads of the bartenders proudly. A mural of a mother with a babe at her breast proclaims “Blessed Be to the mother who gives birth to a brewer.”

I ordered both a 21 IPA and a casked 21 IPA. For those unfamiliar, an ale which has been “casked” has been allowed to ferment a second time, and is served unfiltered and without additional carbonation added to it. The refermentation and the serving method (along with the usual warmer serving temperature) means that the same beer, if casked, can taste radically different than its normal on tap counterpart.
The regular 21 IPA is an amber/mahogany color with absolutely no head. The smell is sweet and hoppy, but not overwhelming or bitter. The taste is flavorful and rich, but does not have the typical sting of an IPA that I’m used to. It was described by @Hoppy_Mike as hitting the taste buds “like a baseball bat instead of a knife” and I think that’s a wonderfully graphic yet appropriate descriptor. Its blunt tasting, smoothed over. There’s no one point that hits hard, but its a strong flavor.
The casked version (on the left) was almost the same color but darker and a tad bit cloudier. It had a more persistent head and sheeted down the glass as I drank it. The taste here was completely different. The hops had mellowed from the refermentation, leaving a smooth and creamy texture with a backbone of malts. This definitely a departure from other casked IPAs that I’ve tried, and I think that the earthiness was a welcome addition to the brew. 
I always enjoy the opportunity to try new beers and to do side-by-side comparisons of similar beers. So, it was worth the bitter cold and long drive to enjoy the evening snacking on pulled pork, sweet potato fries (with maple syrup) and wonderful clam chowder. If you’re in Portland, Grittys is a must stop on a beer tour there. 
*After posting this I was informed that Gritty’s has three locations, including a pub in Auburn, Maine which is right on the Androscoggin and opened in 2005 that I somehow missed. My bad! I plan to check this out soon on the way up to go skiing.

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5 Comments

  1. psoconnor

    “Blessed is the Mother whom gives birth to a brewer” is an old Czech saying that is inscribed outside of one their oldest breweries.

  2. We stopped in there last Fall and were impressed by not only the beers, but the atmosphere and staff as well. We were just passing through on our way to Boston and the airport and wish we had more time to explore Portland and the other breweries there. As it was, we had great beer all over Maine on that trip, especially at Marshall Wharf and Andrew’s.

    Nice blog!

  3. ben

    Portland, ME is a great city and great place to enjoy a pint or two. I always like to go there in the winter when the tourists have cleared. Gritty’s brick walls, dark setting and local beer drinkers remind me of what Portland was probably like way back when it was strictly a fishing town. Also, Gritty’s sells some of their stuff retail so be on the look out if your a fan.

  4. Grizzlygator

    Very interesting. I have always wanted to try the regular and cask versions of an ale side by side.

  5. Jez

    Wow, those IPAs sound almost Imperial-like. I’ve noticed that the Double IPAs or the Imperial IPAs seem to have higher IBUs, but end up being “smoother” or have more of the hop flower aroma or flavor.

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