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A look inside Maine's first brewpub

PORTLAND/FREEPORT/AUBURN Craft brewing is experiencing something of a renaissance in Maine. The state's 33 breweries ranked Maine fifth in the nation for brewers per capita in 2011, which according to the Brewer's Association is one brewery for every 40,253 people Vermont ranks first with 24, or one for every 26,073. We wanted to take a moment to reflect and focus on one of the brewers who helped start it all: Gritty McDuffs.

Back in 1988, a small brewpub opened in the Old Port of Portland. One of the co-owners, Richard Pfeffer, said he had been traveling in the South Pacific with a friend from Australia when he lit upon the idea of opening a brewpub in Maine. It was the first in Maine and only the third in New England.

'I was very lucky to be given the idea, lucky to get the location we got (in the Old Port). I love this business,' said Pfeffer.

hopsBrewing in the state for as long as they have has fostered a relationship with the other long-standing breweries, including Geary's and Shipyard. Pfeffer and his partner, Ed 'Billy' Stebbins, both learned how to brew beer at Geary's. They actually helped craft the laws around craft brewing in the state. The resurgence of small breweries owes a lot to the groundwork laid by Pfeffer and Stebbins.

'We helped create the laws to get the state up to speed [with craft brewing's needs],' said Pfeffer. 'They [state officials] were willing to help do that, but they had to get the laws changed.'

They're the reason you're able to sit down at your favorite brew pub and sip on a beer that was brewed on site. How's that for trail blazing?

brewhouseThe location in Freeport brews the beer for the pub itself and keg sales to off-premise draft accounts. That location also does some bottling in the 22-ounce size Gritty's 12-ounce bottles typically found in retail outlets are brewed and bottled at Shipyard's facility in Portland. The other two locations do their own brewing as well.

Yet the magic of brewing is combining several, fairly simple ingredients (grain, water, hops and yeast) and concocting a nearly infinite number of beers. Gritty's has been working with the same strain of yeast for 17 years. It's almost old enough to buy its own beer but not quite.

Another thing that sets Gritty's apart is their open fermentation process. This means that the fermentation tanks are open at the top, and if you take a tour you can actually see the beer brewing. Although it takes three more days, the hoppy scent is already detectable. Good thing you can pull some off the tap upstairs.

Unsurprisingly, the pub serves Gritty's beers, from Maine's Best IPA, Original Pub Style and Red Claws Ale to the seasonal brews, such as Halloween Ale and Christmas Ale. One of the things that is really propelling the beer market is the ease in which beer pairs with food. There is a beer for everything.

And there's no gimmicks when it comes to the seasonal beer at Gritty's. They don't add spices or infuse fruit into the beer, but they do brew it so that it almost makes you think they do.

'Ours is the original Christmas Ale in the state. It's a great beer for the season. There's no fruits, nuts or berries in our beer. We make beer, we don't make tea,' said Marketing Director Thomas Wilson. 'But it's a very complex beer more malty than hoppy. It has a unique flavor profile that is more sweet than bitter and it's a perfect beer to match with a beef stew or hearty winter meal.'

Wilson credits the burgeoning craft beer resurgence with Americans becoming more educated about the product and an increasing desire for fostering local culture. The big three beer companies (Budweiser, Miller and Schlitz) dominated the market in the 1960s because there was a desire for homogeny. If you went from East Coast to West, the beer would taste the same. Now, people want to experience the local flavors what does Portland, Ore., taste like? How does it stack up to Portland, Maine?

'Beer plays a role around the world,' said Wilson. 'We want to return that culture to America.'

For more information about Gritty's, visit them online at www.grittys.com or check out their three locations in Portland, Freeport and Auburn (http://www.grittys.com/contact.php). They are also on Facebook and Twitter

Meet your beer

Gritty's offers a wide variety of craft brew. Because my beer lingo often doesn't extend beyond 'I like that' or 'Mmmmm, hoppy,' I'm pulling the descriptions off Gritty's website. Full disclosure: I've got a beer crush on the Halloween and Christmas Ales. The Pub Style also elbows its way into my affections.

Maine's Best IPA

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This beer is a blend of American hops with a British body, utilizing English 2-Row Pale malts. The IPA starts with a hoppy aroma and taste but has a sweet finish.

Original Pub Style

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This beer harkens back to the first brew's Gritty's produced at their Portland Brew Pub back in 1988. The Original Pub Stle is a light copper-colored medium-bodied with a nice dry bite at the finish. A subtle combination of Cascade and Willamette hops give this ale a floral aroma and a slightly fruity aftertaste.

Best Bitter

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This is a true English classic. This beer is brewed with rare East Kent hop flowers which imbue it with a fine dry finish that compliments the malty palate.

Red Claws Ale

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This smooth ale has a dark red-amber color, a full round malt palate with nutty, roasted accents and a delicate hop flavor.

Black Fly Stout

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This is a dry, all-malt stout balanced with Oregon Willamette and Yakima Clusters hops. Gritty's uses six different grains in this dark beer. They boast it's the best stout west of Galway Bay.

Halloween Ale

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This Extra Special Bitter is a little sweet and toasty on the palate with a medium-dry and slightly floral finish.

Christmas Ale

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Another Extra Special Bitter, this holiday brew has a lovely dark red-amber color and a rich full-bodied, malty taste with a slightly roasted undertone. Bring on the Big Guy!

Scottish Ale

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Gritty McDuff's Scottish Style Ale is the brewery's interpretation of the robust brews native to Scotland. Made with generous quantities of Pale malt along with Munich and Caramalts, this ale has a deep and complex flavor profile.

Vacationland Summer Ale

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This is an Extra Special golden ale that is light in color, but full-bodied with a snappy hop finish.

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