Gritty McDuff’s opened their first brewpub in Portland, ME in 1988, with the mission of making great small-batch ales and serving them in an English-style pub atmosphere. They now have brewpubs in three Maine locations, Portland, Freeport and Auburn. Gritty’s also bottles and distributes their beer into six states in the Northeast. Gritty’s beers are based on traditional British ale styles, from their year-round bitter, brown and IPA’s to seasonal offerings including Halloween Ale. Gritty McDuff’s Halloween Ale is an ESB, or Extra Special Bitter, a traditional English style that blends medium/dark malt character, solid hop bitterness and higher alcohol content than British bitter or pale ales. Despite the “bitter” in the description, ESBs aren’t hop-bombs like IPAs, ideally they are slightly darker and more balanced between malt sweetness and hop bitterness.
Gritty McDuff’s Halloween Ale pours a clear amber/red, lightly carbonated with a small off-white head. The smell is pretty balanced, some spice and earthy notes from the hops combined with some malt and light brown sugar. The first taste is slightly malty, notes of caramel and toasted bread. This sweetness is nicely balanced with a solid hop bitterness. The hops add some pine, spice and herbal flavors. The mouthfeel is on the lighter side, with effervescent carbonation, and the beer goes down smooth. The finish has a nice bitterness, it’s not going to pucker your mouth like a hop-bomb IPA, but the aftertaste has a tartness that makes you want another sip. Overall this is a very solid version of an English style ESB, appropriately balanced between malty and bitter, and full at 6.0% ABV. This is a great beer to have on hand in the fall, solid enough to hold up to the chill, but not overly heavy. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.