New restaurants inhabit their spaces in many different ways. Some occupy structures that have been custom-built just for them, where every inch of the place feels like it is part of a unified vision of the establishment’s brand. Others body-snatch a former tenant’s digs (and sometimes even their furniture) and do nothing more than slap a different shade of paint on the walls, leaving the ghosts of restaurants past to haunt the dining room.

Then there are businesses like Foulmouthed Brewing in South Portland, a double-barreled brewery and restaurant that took nine years to move from conception to reality. One of the biggest obstacles co-owners Craig and Julia Dilger faced was where to set up shop. “It’s a working brewery, so we needed the right size, the right zoning, a pretty residential area so we could become a neighborhood spot where locals could walk. Then we found this spot along the greenbelt with everything we needed, but it was just the bones of an auto garage,” said brewer Craig Dilger.

Rather than fight against the building’s history, they embraced it – especially the huge overhead doors now used for loading and unloading – converting two-thirds of the building into an industrial, yet spotlessly clean, multi-tank brewing facility.

In the front, they built a bar and dining room in a modern, Scandiavian-inspired style, with white subway tiles and a pale pine-slatted ceiling. Even the exterior has been spruced up with a canopied steel corner entrance and black-and-white paint job, but still sits within the same squat footprint as the auto repair shop that came before. Yes, it was once a garage, but Foulmouthed Brewing feels perfectly at home.

That comfort is expressed best in the brewpub’s signature beverage. The 4×6 flight ($10 for six, four-ounce glasses) of all of the brewery’s current beers revealed a remarkable deftness and confidence with several styles of brewing. Among the best pours were the Brat ($5 for 16 oz.), a clean, German-style session ale; Wharf Rat ($5 for 16 oz.), a toasty, malty Porter with a great cocoa aroma; and a resinous, hoppy Malcontent Double IPA ($5 for 8 oz.) that, at nearly 9 percent alcohol, is a single-serving scene stealer.

Only one beer, the fruity, banana-scented Belgian-style Mr. Giggles Golden Strong ($5 for 8 oz.) showed hints of any off-flavor, with a Hubba Bubba-esque, esterified sweetness, but even with a little bubble gum on the palate, it was still a decent glass.

The team’s mastery of brewing makes sense, when you consider that everyone from Julia Dilger, the CEO, to chef Dan Lindberg was at one point a homebrewer.

Beer is not only the connective tissue that links the team together, it also provides a creative orientation for the kitchen. As he develops new dishes, Lindberg is forced to think about not just balance among flavors, but also how his food will work with the brewery’s constantly changing roster of lagers and ales. “I like to take complex flavors and present them to the diner in a simple manner. A sandwich is the perfect vessel for doing that. And after doing fine dining (at Hugo’s), I thought it would be nice to go back to sandwiches and make them work with beer,” he said.

Some pose little challenge, like a straightforward tuna melt ($14) with sharp cheddar, Sriracha mayonnaise and pickled onions that were pink and crunchy, but missing the pointy vinegar bite of a good quick-pickle. Or the superb Spicy BLT ($13.50), with house-smoked pork belly, smoked tomato mayonnaise and an intensely racy hot pepper relish – a lively sandwich that offered a great counterpoint to the malty amber Autumn Sweater ($5 for 12 oz.).

Other are more complicated stumpers, like a misleadingly simple-sounding grilled cheese ($12), which according to Lindberg, turns out to be a deconstructed-then-reconstructed beet salad, in sandwich form. His reinterpretation builds layers of flavor through salt-brined roasted beets, chevre, charred pickled fennel and walnut butter. It also shifts the flavor profile so that this agreeable version of the dish works with the gentle, dry bitterness of Foulmouthed’s Fraktur ale ($5 for 12 oz.), rather than a more traditional glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

It’s no surprise that Lindberg transformed a salad into a sandwich because, as he told me, “Even I generally don’t think that I want a salad with a beer.” Perhaps that explains the least successful dish we ate: the Summer Harvest Salad ($13), a blackberry vinaigrette-dressed plate of mesclun and tomatoes, topped with dried-out, crunchy fried chickpeas and wedges of funky, fermented black radish that were too tough to spear with a fork, despite being deep fried.

Which is not to say that the kitchen is not adept at using its fryers; it makes a satisfyingly smoky poutine ($12) with lardons and pork gravy, and crunchy chicharrones ($6, served “with a side of ranch for your heart,” according to the menu) that stick pleasingly to your tongue as they pop in your mouth. Better yet are the cumin-flavored Korean BBQ pork nachos ($14), a mammoth plate that somehow manages to harmonize sweet, creamy, crunchy, sour and spicy flavors. It’s classic “beer food,” but nuanced and interesting enough to hold its own against anything the brewery produces.

In addition to its own beers, dispensed from six wall-mounted taps embellished with quirky handles (a camera, a shoe last, a wrench), Foulmouthed Brewing also offers cocktails like the blueberry vodka-based Summer Blues, made with aromatized Cocchi Rosa and triple sec – so sweet that one of my table-mates compared it to jungle juice. Unsurprisingly, the bar fares better with its beer cocktails, including a sweet and grainy hot buttered rum ($9), blended with wort, beer’s unfermented precursor. Or The Snoop ($7), a hip-hop reference and Double IPA-topped gin cocktail all in one.

When we ordered it, our server declared it to be “the s—,” and then launched into a breathless six- or seven-minute TED talk about ales, lagers, brewing, malt and the state of bars in Portland. He even brought out a sample of the day’s wort, placing it on the table and insisting that we all “try it so you can get a real idea of what we’re working with.”

As we finished our meal, we were a little afraid to call him back so we could order dessert, but by that point in the evening, the restaurant had filled up enough to give him a new captive audience, so our German chocolate cake sundae ($7) arrived without another word.

Presented in a 20-oz. beer mug, the sundae comprised layers of cake, chocolate butter cream, whipped cream and coconut-walnut brittle, along with a malted caramel sauce made from the run-off from brewing. In another context, that sauce might have been confusing, but here, at a table in a brewpub, it was a comfortable fit. More than that, the entire dish offered another example of Foulmouthed Brewing’s self-assured proficiency at connecting beer and food – even dessert – and making the experience of settling in for a meal in the renovated shell of an old South Portland garage feel like the most natural thing in the world.

Andrew Ross has written about food in the United Kingdom and in New York, where he co-founded NYCnosh, a food website. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is an Internet researcher and higher education consultant. Contact him at:

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Twitter: @AndrewRossME