The Best Beer Bar in the World?
With the explosive growth and hyper competitive craft brew markets
around the globe, it would seem irresponsible, even irrational to proclaim
any single beer bar is the best in the world. Without trying them all, how
would you know? What would such a place look like? Would it have a
parade of shining taps lined up like a hundred Radio City Rockettes
flowing with endless amounts of free craft beer? Maybe. Would the
servers all look like Swedish super models and absolutely love your
personality? Why not. Would the beer menu be thicker than the
unabridged version of Moby Dick?
Sure, while we're dreaming. What about if this "Best Beer Bar in the
World" looked like a rustic house, could fit about 20 people shoulder to
shoulder at the bar, and was located in the woods in the middle of
nowhere? If this is what comes to mind, you've either heard this story
before, are named Chris Lively, or have been to Ebenezer's Pub, in Lovell
Maine. I first heard about Ebenezer's while drinking a Black Albert with
the De Struise brewers in Bruges, Belgium. They said, "Sure our beer is
great, but if you are really into beer, you must go to Ebenezer's." Why
would a Belgium artisan brew master, in Belgium, recommend going deep
into the woods of Maine? Madness!
This proposed pilgrimage seemed so odd at the time that I put it out of
mind for a year, until a couple dear beer friends of mine reported back.
Now, not only were Men's Journal and Beer Advocate proclaiming this
glorified cabin in the woods was the best beer bar in the world, but
trusted friends of mine also? I had to check it out for myself and put this
preposterous claim to the test.
Kids dropped off at the grandparents, check. Muscle car loaded with the
wife and a couple weekend bags, check. 400 miles of rain and 7 hours
later, questioning my car choice on a partially frozen back road, we
arrived at the Old Saco Inn. The calm, cool, and well rested Saturday was
filled with a sense of heightened yet skeptical anticipation. I felt like an
unbelieving yet hopeful child invited to Santa's workshop, about to meet
jolly St. Nick himself.
Walking into Ebenezer's, I was greeted by the owner, chef, and uber-beer
aficionado Chris Lively. I was presented with a relatively simple, yet
surprisingly adequate menu with some hearty Belgium-style cuisine and
set off to work. On tap was about 30 brews perfectly picked to satisfy
even the most picky beer snob, yet will entertain all levels of the thirsty.
My wife, really not a "beer person" was introduced to what the server
Jessica called the perfect "Bathtub beer", the Aphrodite by Brasserie Dieu
du Ciel, a stout with cocoa and vanilla. It was a perfect fit, and
admittedly delicious. I kicked it off with a De Struise T.H.R.E.E.
(Tangerine Heated Rare Evil Edition) Bourbon Barrel Aged tripel, an Evil
twin naked lunch in Copenhagen Heavenly Resto, several others I have
never heard of, then a 1996 vintage Kriek Cantillon Lambic. Now they
really have my attention.
Then unexpectedly, Chris Lively appears and presents a 111 year old
bottle of King's ale, a glass, and a smile. Seriously? Now it's getting very
interesting. Later, things were settling down a bit and Chris suddenly
reappears and asks "do you want to see the cellar"? Yes, yes I do. We
descend into a spacious basement packed full, not with copious
quantities of craft beer necessarily, but with irreplaceable vintages and
varieties, many of which exist nowhere else on the planet dating back to
the 1860s. You could find beer bottled when Ulysses S. Grant was
president. A few bottles I saw were brewed before the Transcontinental
railroad was completed. Now I'm starting to believe.
What I saw was like something out of an alcoholist's fairy tale that would
do the Brothers Grimm proud. There were hundreds of carefully shelved
dust covered wax-sealed and corked bottles of the rarest, best, and most
sought after brews in the world. There were numerous bottles of
impossible beers, the kind which you have to line up outside freezing for
hours waiting for a single bottle of some limited release. What I saw
was the product of eight generations of careful collection and handed
down expertise, connections, and passion.
There was a wooden support beam hand signed by literally every top
notable craft or artisan brewer capable of making the pilgrimage to the
hamlet of Lovell. I became a believer. Not only was this hole in the wall
the best beer bar in the world, it was non-reproducible. It wasn't just the
atmosphere, absurd location, and brew selection, it was the sum total of
everything, plus some unexplainable "It" factor that simply must be
experienced to be understood.
You simply must go to Ebenezer's and see it for yourself.