Halloween is here. Not the holiday, but Gritty McDuff’s Halloween Ale, which is showing up on store shelves. The first batches for the company’s three brew pubs will be brewed Friday.

“This is the 21st year of Halloween Ale, and we start on Friday the 13th,” Ed Stebbins, Gritty’s brew master, said last week. “We always brew the first batch on a full moon or Friday the 13th.”

Halloween Ale is an extra-special bitter with 6 percent alcohol, and Stebbins promises “no pumpkins were harmed in the brewing of this beer. I promised my mother I would never put spices or fruit in any of our beer.”

Halloween Ale and the other cool-weather seasonals at Gritty’s — Christmas Ale at 6.1 percent and Scottish Ale at 6.3 percent — are the most potent beers in its lineup.

“When we began brewing these, they were considered extreme beers,” Stebbins said. “That’s no longer the case. As we like to say about the Halloween Ale, ‘It’s scary, but not too scary.’ “

The Halloween Ale I tasted at home after interviewing Stebbins was excellent — smooth and not as bitter or hoppy as I would expect an ESB to be. And the only way I would find it scary is that it is a really smooth-drinking beer, so at 6 percent alcohol, it would be easy to drink too many, too fast.

Bitter is also another word for a pale ale, and the Halloween Ale was not pale — it was a dark, reddish-brown, and actually darker than the Gritty’s Best Brown that I just happened to have on hand. The head produced was fairly small and did not last long.

Stebbins said craft brewers like to make seasonal ales because it gives them a chance to do something different and experiment. Before the days of refrigeration, brewers made stronger beers heading into winter, because they knew they would be selling less beer, and with higher alcohol and more hops, the beer would keep better.

In Germany, Oktoberfest came about, Stebbins said, because it was too warm in the summer and they couldn’t brew beer then. They brewed the beer in May, and it was ready for October.

Stebbins and Richard Pfeffer opened the Portland Gritty McDuff’s in 1988 — the first brew pub in Maine since Prohibition — and they now also have brew pubs in Freeport and Auburn.

All of the Gritty’s beer served at the three pubs is brewed on site. All of the beer for kegs sold to other bars and restaurants — along with mini-kegs and 22-ounce bottles — is brewed at the Freeport pub, which Stebbins thinks is the largest brew pub in New England. All of the beer for 12-ounce bottles is brewed and bottled under contract with Shipyard Brewing Co.

Stebbins said that despite being brewed in different places, the beer will taste similar.

“The beer we serve at the brew pubs is unfiltered beer,” he said. “The beer we package we run through a filter, so it will keep better, and that takes out some flavor. I’d say that is the biggest difference.”

Stebbins has no problem with all the competition from other brew pubs since he opened the first one.

“I grew up in England, where there were a lot of pubs all right next to each other,” he said. “It is great to have so many other local brew pubs. I think there are about 60 now in New England.”

Stebbins said people in New England like a beer with quite a bit of hops, certainly more than they prefer in Europe and most of the rest of the United States. West Coast beer drinkers prefer more hops than anyone, he said.

As for what’s new, Stebbins said Red Claws Ale, created last year in collaboration with the local Developmental League basketball team, will soon be coming out in 12-ounce bottles. Until then, we’ll have to get along with Halloween.

Staff Writer Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at:

[email protected]