Beer Heaven

A pilgrimage to Ebenezer’s Pub
By JOSH SMITH  |  March 24, 2010

WHERE TO BEGIN? Tapping into the beers of Belgium at Ebenezer’s Pub

Beer heaven does exist. And it’s in the backwoods of Lovell, Maine.

I love beer trips. They are an opportunity to discover a new favorite brewer and chase that perfect pint. At this point, I’ve covered most of New England and even took a Beer Trip/Honeymoon — in that order — to Portland, Oregon! (That joke only works in certain company.)

The key to a successful beer trip is a little research up front. I always create a Google map with points of interest en route. Even more important is finding that friend willing to step up and be the designated driver for the day. (Thanks, Nate!)

Our destination was Ebenezer’s Pub, the brainchild of restaurant veterans Chris and Jen Lively. The couple relocated from Los Angeles in order to live out their dream of opening their own restaurant. But this wasn’t to be a run-of-the-mill eatery; Ebenezer’s extensive collection of Belgian beer led it to be voted by Beer Advocate as the number one beer bar in the world!

In the craft beer universe, Belgium is renowned for brewing some of the most complex, diverse, beautifully presented, and just plain tasty beers known to man. Many of these beers are bottle-conditioned (whereby the yeast sediment remains in the bottle during fermentation) and brewed using centuries-old traditions. This tiny country is home to 125 breweries . . . and even the monasteries make beer!

I had convinced three friends to join me on a weekend excursion to the town in western Maine. Although to call Lovell a town may be an exaggeration; we passed
a general store, bait shop, a quilting store . . . and not much else. We were not the first beer geeks to make this trip, and a couple of wrong turns along the way seemed a rite of passage.

Hidden down a dirt road, it isn’t hard to imagine how Ebenezer’s was once a dive bar. The Livelys had put in a beautiful bar and lined the walls with some very cool beer paraphernalia. We settled into a table overlooking the adjacent golf course, our home for the next five hours.

The tap list, with its 35 options, can be a bit overwhelming at first . . . and that isn’t counting the coolers full of bottles behind the bar or the cellar with even rarer beers downstairs. Fortunately, the staff is very knowledgeable and seemed to have tried every beer we ordered. Then the beer is not only brought to you in proper glassware for the style, but often from the very brewer you ordered!

I felt like a kid in a candy shop. My first pick was a CANTILLON GUEUZE, a lambic-style beer with many white wine qualities. Even better were the darker and complexly flavored VAL-DIEU GRAND CRU and a 2007 version of PANNEPOT OLD FISHERMAN’S ALE. The DUCHESSE DE BOURGOGNE was a perfect beer in my opinion, a Flanders Red Ale where the sour cherries and candy-like sweetness wrestled for supremacy.

Fittingly, this was the night where I would rate beer number 1000 on my beer blog. DE PROEF’S SIGNATURE ALE seemed appropriate as a collaboration with California’s legendary Port Brewing and billed as “a hybrid of American and Belgian brewing techniques.” The distinctive yeast, biscuity malts, and healthy dose of hops all shined through in this delicious and balanced brew.

Most wouldn’t consider the beer cheap at $8-$9 per glass (the De Proef bottle cost $25), but it was very affordable considering many of these beers can’t be found on tap anywhere else. Besides, Ebenezer’s isn’t just a bar, it’s an event, a destination. Dinner is a must, with an impressive menu ranging from massive burgers to my choice of mussels cooked in Witte Bier.

Ordering perfect beer after perfect beer was almost surreal and certainly one of the coolest beer experiences of my life. And while I highly recommend making the trek to the greatest beer bar in the world someday, you can start by getting to better know the joy of Belgian beer.

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