December 20, 2013

Gritty’s got the Maine beer scene brewin’

Two men who started with an idea 25 years ago paved the way for Maine’s explosion of craft beer makers.

By Ray Routhier
Staff Writer

People who enjoy eating and drinking at Maine’s brew pubs may have Margaret Thatcher to thank.

click image to enlarge

Richard Pfeffer, left, and Ed Stebbins co-founded Gritty McDuff’s Brewing Co. on Fore Street in Portland.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Stebbins holds open a sack as Pfeffer shovels spent grain from a mash tank at the Gritty’s brewery in Portland in December 1988.

1988 Press Herald file photo/Jack Milton

Additional Photos Below


WHERE: Gritty McDuff’s, 396 Fore St., Portland

WHEN: 4 p.m. Friday (Saturday is the actual anniversary)

HOW MUCH: Free to get in, free music, free appetizers while they last ... but you pay for the beer.


thirst-quenching options

A sampling of other interesting places to drink beer on Portland’s peninsula


Novare Res Bier Café

4 Canal Plaza, Suite 1, Portland


In’Finiti Fermentation & Distillation

250 Commercial St., Portland


Little Tap House

106 High St., Portland


The Thirsty Pig

37 Exchange St., Portland


Mama’s CrowBar

189 Congress St., Portland


Ed Stebbins was a teenager living in London, where his father was a banker, when Prime Minister Thatcher’s free-market policies began changing the beer industry. Suddenly, brew pubs – a concept virtually unknown in Maine at the time – opened up all around Stebbins.

“They were popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm, sort of like what’s going on with brewers here in Maine right now,” said Stebbins, 51. “I was just turning 18 and I was fascinated. Then, in college, I spent some time at (a brew pub) in New York City and I fell in love with the idea of the brew pub,” where the beer is served right where it is brewed.

After college, in Maine, Stebbins met Richard Pfeffer, who had been intoxicated by the magic of the brew pub in other parts of the world. Together, they learned to brew beer from David Geary, who in 1986 began making Maine’s first craft beer since Prohibition.

In 1988, Stebbins and Pfeffer took what Geary had taught them and opened what’s recognized as Maine’s first true brew pub, Gritty McDuff’s on Fore Street in Portland.

Today, 25 years later, “Gritty’s” has pubs in Portland, Freeport and Auburn, and about 180 employees. It sells beer throughout the Northeast, and is a local landmark for Mainers and beer tourists from all over.

Observers say Gritty McDuff’s success and style played a big role in helping Maine’s brew scene take off and become the industry it is today.

Portland has become a city filled with craft beer bars, gastropubs and brew pubs. Gritty’s is now just one of many, but it remains the bar that people often think of first when they consider where to have a beer in Portland. It has not only survived an explosion of craft beer, it has thrived.


Maine’s craft beer industry has grown from two commercial brewers in 1988 to 48 today, including 15 brew pubs, according to the Maine Brewers’ Guild. In 2012, the national Brewers Association ranked Maine fifth in the country for the number of craft breweries per capita. And at least 10 of Maine’s 48 brewers have opened in the past year or so – since the Brewers Association’s rankings came out, said Sean Sullivan, director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild.

Just this week, the Brewers Association issued a report that listed Maine fourth in the nation for the economic impact that craft brewers have on the state’s economy. The ranking is based on how much money the industry contributes to the economy per capita, based on the population of people 21 and older.

“Gritty’s was really important in building the scene, in the sense that they helped make Maine a welcoming place for other craft brewers,” said Josh Christie, author of “Maine Beer: Brewing in Vacationland,” a history of Maine beer-making. “There’s a whole generation of people here in Maine who have grown up thinking of Gritty’s as their father’s beer. They don’t remember a time when there was no local beer.”

During the lunch hour Wednesday, the crowd at Gritty’s original Portland location included businessmen in suits and ties, holiday shoppers and a few kids.

Larry Malone of Cape Elizabeth sat at the bar having a Reuben sandwich and a Pub Style pale ale, while taking a break from Christmas shopping in the Old Port. In the early 1990s, he went to Gritty’s fairly regularly, and was even a member of its famous mug club. But he hadn’t been in the place for years when he tried to think of a place for a midday beer Wednesday.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Larry Malone from Cape Elizabeth is among patrons enjoying the fare Wednesday at Gritty McDuff’s in Portland.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer


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