Food at Mucky Duck Brewing is better than the beer during our reviewer’s visit and the barbecue was memorable.

GREEN It’s surprising when the beer is the least distinctive thing at a brewery, especially one that’s been in business for almost four years.


This was my experience at Mucky Duck Brewing Co., the only brewery in the Portage Lakes vicinity, located in a shopping center at 4019 S. Main St. I brought along a friend who’s a knowledgeable craft-beer enthusiast.


We arrived just after 5 p.m. last Thursday and sat at the bar, which is multi-sided with 20 tall chairs, and brewing tanks fully visible behind it. Bartender-manager Lyndsey Simons offered a warm welcome and was well informed and enthusiastic about the beers and food menu.



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The Mucky Duck menu has 10 beers, including an IPA, double IPA, Irish red ale, Belgian white ale, triple Belgian ale and bourbon barrel ale. There were five more small-batch rotating beers, including a cherry chocolate porter and a traditional English beer called ESB. (Extra Special Bitter). We each ordered a flight of four 5-ounce tasters for $8.


The drawback for me and my friend was that the beers had excessive sweetness to them, inappropriate for their styles, and not enough other flavor differentiation. The double IPA was less hoppy than sweet, the bourbon barrel ale was less deep-flavored than sweet. I tried five beers which weren’t undrinkable but none really stood out. The cherry chocolate porter didn’t really seem like beer. My friend gave his highest scores to the malty ESB, the cirtusy PLX IPA (Mucky Duck’s flagship) and the light-bodied honey lager.


But we did enjoy our Mucky Duck’s visit. The place has the kind of rustic-industrial wood and metal decor prevalent at most breweries, and we enjoyed sitting at the bar and conversing with Simons and bartender Rachel Hough. A flatscreen TV hanging overhead played bowling throughout our stay. There was a rousing soundtrack of grungy rock -- Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana, Alice in Chains -- playing at medium volume.


Best was the BBQ. The Kent-based Burnside Barbecue handles the food at Mucky Duck and we heartily enjoyed it.


I’d spotted a photo of the Texas Twinkies on Facebook and it literally inspired me to visit the place. This appetizer ($7) was two roasted jalapeno peppers stuffed with brisket and cream cheese, then wrapped with bacon, brushed with BBQ sauce and broiled in an iron skillet. The peppers packed heat but the cream cheese helped calm things down and added richness.


“We run out every night,” Simons said. These are a must.


The mac and cheese ($6 for a very shareable portion) was just how I like it, with a very thick, sharp-cheddar sauce holding things together. For an added fee, pulled pork ($3) or brisket ($4) can be added to the mac.


The thick-sliced brisket in the brisket sandwich ($11) was tender with just the right fat element, served on a toasted brioche bun. The toppings — pickled red onion, peach mustard BBQ sauce and coleslaw — made it messy but it was worth it for the flavor combo.


For a $1 upcharge, I got a side of potato salad, which was good stuff, with soft chunks of Yukon Gold potatoes in a creamy, dill-infused sauce.


Other BBQ-menu temptations include five jumbo duck wings ($10); pulled pork or chorizo nachos ($10); smoked brisket chili with onions, cheddar and creme fraiche ($4/$8); pulled pork sandwich with slaw, house pickles, vinegar BBQ sauce and house chips ($9).


Note: The Mucky Duck has the same owners as Nauti Vine Winery, a popular waterfront spot located across South Main from the brewing company.