I make 2-3 trips a year up to mid-coast Maine to visit family and friends in the area where I was born and raised, the first trip this year was over the holiday weekend. Even with the additional demands of traveling with a child, I am usually able to make some beer-centric stops on the way, so you can expect to see reviews of a number of Maine beers populate Hoppy Boston over the next few weeks. One very frequent stop is Gritty McDuff’s in Freeport. Gritty’s has three pubs in Maine, each serving a full menu of pub fare along with a number of their own brews. Gritty’s also distributes their beer in bottles, but they seem to be focusing more on the restaurant business, as it’s now rare to see their beers in Massachusetts (you see them more in shops in Maine). I’m a big fan of their pubs, well made food, good atmosphere, family friendly during mealtimes, and a good selection of traditional British ales including a few on cask. While I drank a cask IPA with my lunch, I also grabbed some bottles of Vacationland, a blonde ale brewed as Gritty’s summer seasonal. Gritty’s Vacationland is brewed with Cascade and Saaz hops and is available April through August on draft and in 12 and 22 oz. bottles.
Gritty McDuff’s Vacationland pours clear light yellow with a solid white head. The aroma is a mixture of light malts and floral hops. The flavor is balanced. The hops are pronounced for a blonde, notes of lemon, cut grass and herbs along with a crisp bitterness. This is balanced by pale malts, touches of white bread and crackers. Vacationland is light and very easy to drink, sessionable at 4.8% ABV. The finish is crisp and dry, very clean for an ale. Gritty McDuff’s Vacationland is a very nice summer beer, crushable, refreshing and full flavored. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Previous Gritty McDuff’s Reviews:
Gritty McDuff’s Christmas Ale, Gritty McDuff’s Halloween Ale
My wife loves Christmas, it is her absolute favorite time of year. I’ve never been a big seasonal decorator, but our apartment now has a large and fully decorated tree, stockings and a host of other festive Christmas ornamentation. My wife is also a craft beer drinker with a very respectable palate, she loves IPAs and most Belgian beers. One of her all-time favorite beers is Gritty McDuff’s Christmas Ale, you can usually find some in our fridge in November and December. I think the tie-in to Christmas helps, but this is also a very solid beer on its own merits. Gritty McDuff’s Christmas Ale is an ESB, a British style that balances medium colored and flavorful malts with a solid hop bitterness. Christmas Ale uses crystal malt and roasted barley for the deep color and malty flavor, followed by four varieties of hops to add bitterness, flavor and balance. While many Christmas ales are spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and other seasonal flavorings, Gritty’s Christmas Ale is brewed without any adjuncts.
Gritty McDuff’s Christmas Ale pours a clear and dark reddish/brown with a small white head. The smell is malt forward, brown sugar, toasted bread and a touch of raisin. The taste starts malty, with notes of toffee, biscuit and molasses. The hops provide nice balance to the flavor, there is a solid hop flavor of pine, earth and spice. The bitterness from the hops is in balance with the dark malt sweetness. There is a touch of warming alcohol in the finish, at 6.2% ABV it isn’t an overly heavy beer, but you get a touch in the flavor. Despite the alcohol the beer goes down pretty easy, it has a medium to full body but it is delicious to sip. The aftertaste is a good mix of malt sweetness and some hop bitterness. Overall this is a very well executed version of an English style ESB, with an even balance of malt and hops. Grab a six pack and enjoy a few with your Christmas dinner or leave it under the tree for someone special! Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
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.