In 2004, a tiny pub in rural Lovell, Me., (population 1,140) began a transformation into what is now regarded as one of the best craft beer bars on the planet. Located nearly three hours from Boston and tucked up against the White Mountain National Forest, Ebenezer’s Pub has drawn drinkers from dozens of foreign countries to taste beers from a cellar that, with more than 1,000 bottles, feels like a thorough reference library devoted to Belgian brewing legacy. Since owners Chris and Jen Lively took over more than a decade ago, it’s been given a 100 rating by BeerAdvocate and a 99 consumer rating by users at RateBeer.com. Men’s Journal has called it the Best Beer Bar in America.
“I let my cellar breathe,” explains Chris Lively. “You know, most people believe in cold-storage, dark, yada yada yada. Well, there is another way of doing it.” In person, Lively’s zealous affect is reminiscent of Dennis Hopper (more Apocalypse Now than Blue Velvet). “We let it get warm in here, we let it get too humid, we let it dry,” he says. “I don’t wanna know the science. I’m doing all of this by feel. Please show me a better cellar anywhere in the world.”
Chris recently curated a spectacular tasting in his cellar for Bloomberg, cracking open decades-old Belgian beers, along with some fresher creations that are super-rare. On occasion, he blended two beers to create something totally new, a talent that showcases his true love for, and understanding of, beer.
The bar is nestled up on a rough road, alongside a picturesque golf course in Lovell, Me.
The wooden bar was built out by a local artisan to the taste of the Livelys. The walls are festooned with vintage brewery memorabilia covering just about every viewable inch of space. And with 35 beers on-tap and hundreds of bottles in the fridge behind the bar, it feels like a place you could (or should) stay in a while.
1979 Thomas Hardy’s & 2006 De Struise Earthmonk
We started with an impeccably aged Thomas Hardy’s ale, which teemed with dark fruit flavors and had oxidized to the point of feeling like a port wine in the mouth. Chris likes to make a blend out of an older vintage of that beer with a younger, sour one from Belgium's De Struise brewery, the vinously tart Earthmonk. This results in a beverage he particularly prides himself on, and it was indeed a real palate-bender, an incredible sour brown ale.
2001 Cantillon Fou’ Foune
Brasserie Cantillon is like the Château Pétrus of Belgium’s lambic world. (Lambic beers are traditionally fermented just with the natural airborne yeast in and around Brussels.) When fresh, Cantillon's popular apricot lambic Fou’ Foune has a fuzzy mouth-feel. After 15 years in the bottle, this particular early vintage maintained that pillowy fullness but yielded a very harsh acidity from its long conditioning with feral yeast in the bottle.
2006 De Struise Pannepot (and Chris Lively)
The brain behind the award-winning De Struise Brouwers belongs to Urbain Coutteau, a Belgian madman with a lion’s mane of hair and a global cult following. He’s good friends with the Livelys, so Chris opened an early vintage of Pannepot, De Struise’s most acclaimed beer. In Ebenezer’s cellar, the 2006 vintage aged into something special: Deep cola notes sprung from the glass, and it had a nicely drinkable mouth-feel supporting the dark flavors.
1965 Westmalle Dubbel & 2013 Westmalle Dubbel
At first we tested out a hyper-aged Westmalle Dubbel, which exhibited sticky toffee-like flavors once the contents had a chance to breath after 50 years in captivity. Unfortunately, the body had become watery thin. Lively decided at the spur of the moment to blend it with a more recent bottling of the same beer, which has been made by Trappist monks since the mid-1800s. (The “Dubbel” style of Trappist brown ale is characterized by mid-to-high alcohol contents, light bitterness, and distinct fruit flavors.) The blend was better balanced while still highlighting the flavors the older bottle had developed.
1994 Cantillon Kriek
Back to lambic! After a couple decades of slumber, these demi-bottles of Cantillon’s fruit-heavy Kriek have evolved into Chris’ favorite cherry-rich sours on the planet. The cherry flavor was as vibrant as the ale’s color itself; here, age seems to have played a crucial role in harmonizing the sometimes battling elements of beer, fruit, and oak.
1964 Gouden Carolus
Het Anker is a family-run brewery that’s been operating in northern Belgium since 1872, and was revamped in the early 1990s. The Gouden Carolus traces its roots even farther back, having evolved from a brew made for emperors by the local brewers guild. Now, it’s a criminally overlooked, strong ale that generally offers a wine-like warmth when consumed close to bottling. After being tucked away for a half-century, as this bottle was, it becomes something else entirely, with a complexity akin to that of a dry sherry.
2003 De Struise Pannepot
This bottle is the Holy Grail for De Struise fans, a ghost beer that barely exists anywhere outside the Livelys' cellar. The first vintage of the brewery’s Pannepot line, it has become in many ways the ideal aged beer. The recipe’s trademark figgy sharpness was complemented nicely by oxidation only possible with the passage of time.
2009 Hair of the Dog Cherry Adam from the Wood
To round out the lineup, Chris opened the inaugural vintage of Cherry Adam from the Wood, a barley wine from Portland, Ore.’s Hair of the Dog Brewing. After 18 months of barrel-aging (with the addition of cherries) and nearly seven years of rest in the bottle, the completely flat barley wine had all the savor one could hope for in a high-quality liqueur or fortified wine. May genre lines be forever blurred.