Ebenezer’s Pub in Lovell, Maine, is regarded as one of the best beer bars focusing on Belgian brews in the United States, as well as rest of the world. Owner/Executive Chef Chris Lively and his wife, co-owner Jen Lively, started the business in 2004. Lively was trained as a chef in California, and met Jen while working at a restaurant in Los Angeles.
Ebenezer’s has won numerous awards over the years, such as Best Beer Bar in the U.S.; Best Beer Bar in the World; Best Beer Destination in the World; and other awards, from such entities as Beeradvocate and Ratebeer.
Lively was made an honorary member of the Knights of the Brewer’s Mash Staff of The Belgian Brewer’s Association in 2014. I was there to record the event, as was wife Jen.
Lively has what is likely the largest collection of aged Belgian lambic brews in the U.S. These include many from such hallowed makers as Brasserie Cantillon, Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen, Bokke, and all of the other lambic makers in Belgium. A cellar visit at Ebenezer’s is one of the most coveted invitations in the lambic beer world.
Ebenezer’s holds a Belgian beer festival in late August every year, which is kicked off by a multi-course beer dinner the Thursday night before the festival begins. Tickets to the coveted event sell out the same day they go on sale, and the demand is high: “We had a waitlist of 2,000 people this year,” Lively said a few days before the event.
There were 85 attendees at this year’s dinner, held on August 26. This edition was the 17th annual Ebenezer’s Belgian beer dinner. It was a blisteringly hot 93 degree day, but it did cool off a bit after dark. This was the third time I attended the dinner, having been before in 2012 and 2013.
Lively enthusiastically told attendees at the start of the dinner: “We did an abbreviated version of the dinner in 2020 due to the pandemic. This year, I wanted to go all out and get back to our normal, full on, multi course extravaganza. We are so glad and honored that you are all here tonight!”
Course one was Hamachi, Cucumber, and Tobika (Red and Wasabi) paired with Brouwerij Girardin Black Label Gueuze. The sushi was excellent!
Course two was Alexa’s Black Truffle Tart, paired with both 2010 Cantillon Gueuze and 2010 Cantillon Bruocsella Grand Cru. The truffles were divine, as were the beers.
I should also mention that there were many more beers served at the dinner than the ones shown on the menu. Chris brought out numerous other bottles between courses, with many saisons, lambics, and other brews. It was a smorgasbord of beer!
Course three were Scallops with Blackberry Gastrique, paired with one of the world’s best brews, the legendary Orval Trappist. The scallops were succulent, and were some of the most divine I have ever enjoyed, and paired well with Orval.
Course four was Lobster Pie, and vied for my favorite of the entire dinner. It was paired with Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen Zenne y Frontera batch 6. The lobster was amazing, as was the creamy sauce and biscuit.
Course five was Radishes with Cultured Butter, paired with Brasserie Fantome La Dalmatiene. While I’m not generally a big fan of radishes, I liked these! Chris has a way of making every single dish interesting, and these were.
Course six was divine: Duck Leg Confit with Sour Cherry Wine and Maple Sauce. This was one of the most popular dishes of the dinner. It was paired with Brouwerij Alvinne Cuvee D’Erpigny, a dark blonde strong ale of 12% abv, formerly aged in barrels that held Monbazillac, a dessert wine from the Bergerac region of France. Having visited Château de Monbazillac and several other Monbazillac makers, and being a fan of sweet wines, this has always been one of my favorite Alvinne beers. Alvinne now uses former Sauternes barrels to age this brew in.
Course seven was equally delectable: Beef with Veal Mustard Glace and a potato croquette. It was paired with De Struise Brouwers Pannepooch Reserva 2013, which is a variation of their highly regarded Pannepot Reserva.
About this brew, Urbain Cotteau of De Struise Brouwers had this to say: “Pannepooch. This is the Pannepot, brewed in Portland, Oregon at Alan Sprints’ Hair of the Dog Brewery, and aged in brandy barrels for 9 months.”
Urbain added: “Alan brought me a case in 2015 or 2016, and I kept sharing this marvel with friends and family. My tasting notes from that time: notes of sweet apple, more dark fruits, and chocolate. Faint leather & subtle brandy and barrel notes. Nice body, mild, foamy carbonation.”
Course eight was 1989 Old Grand Dad Bourbon, at 86 proof. If anyone knows Chris Lively well, they know he is also a fan of vintage bourbons. This was a good digestif after a couple of very rich, heavy dinner courses, and a good lead in to the multiple dessert courses that would follow. (Yes, I said multiple dessert courses. Ebenezer’s and Chris Lively don’t do anything halfway.)
Course nine was Cheese and Strawberry with Our Honey. This was paired with Bokke’s Baphomet, a blend that is comprised of 1, 2, and 3 year old Belgian lambics and Fantome Saison, which was then aged in a former Weller bourbon whiskey barrel that was handpicked by Christopher Lively for his establishment. Bokke, formerly known as Bokkereyder, has become a legendary lambic maker in just a few short years. Blender/owner Raf Souvereyns is an expert at working with lambics and with fruited lambics, and has a lot of wine-making experience as well. Raf’s beers are only available at a few special beer cafes around the world, and Ebenezer’s is among those few. The only other outlet at the moment in the USA is DeCicco & Sons in Brewster, N.Y.
Suffice it to say that Baphomet is a superb lambic, and pairs well with Weller Antique 107 and Weller Full Proof.
Course ten was yet another culinary, decadent masterpiece: a Foie Gras Donut, paired with Brouwerij St. Bernardus Abt 60th anniversary beer, poured from a 12 liter bottle.
Course eleven, the grand finale, was Pannepot Dome paired with De Struise Brouwers Black Albert 2021.
The Ebenezer’s staff was, as usual, as efficient as ever. Planning an 11 course meal with multiple adult beverage servings is one thing. Executing it is quite another, as that takes talent and lots of hard work. Kudos to Chris and Jen for hiring and training the right people for the job.
The cost of the dinner? Well, if you were there, you know. Suffice it to say that all of the culinary delights and hard to find Belgian beers, and aged bourbons, are not cheap. That, and the very generous bonus beers handed out by Chris, make for an unforgettable time. Some of the other bonus brews included 2007 3 Fonteinen Golden Blend. “We don’t hold back during the beer dinner. It’s our marquee event during the year, along with the Night of the Great Thirst, which is held every odd numbered year here,” Chris says.
I spoke with some of the dinner attendees after the amazing event, to hear their thoughts. Mary and Craig Schanning of Milwaukee, who have been attending the festival and beer dinner every year since 2011, had this to say: “We went to our first Belgian Beer Dinner at Ebenezer’s in 2011 to celebrate our wedding anniversary, and now it’s our annual anniversary gift to each other. There were the obvious favorite courses this year, like the lobster pie and the scallops, but also the unexpected standouts like radishes with cultured butter — who knew that could be so tasty? Plus, the Ebenezer’s team always comes up with something new that stands out, like this year’s foie gras donut. Beyond the amazing food and beers, though, are the great people. Not only our hosts, the Lively’s, but the entire staff, plus so many regulars who come from far and wide every year to the middle of nowhere in Maine to enjoy this great meal.”
Jesse Leibowitz of New Jersey, attending his third Ebenezer’s Belgian Beer Dinner and Belgian beer festival, had this to say: “There’s something magical about Maine, and the entrance to the forbidden forest that is Ebenezer’s in Lovell. Ive been going for three years in a row, and there is nothing that I enjoy more in this world than being at Ebenezer’s during the Belgian beer fest, dinner, and Night of Great Thirst. The dinner this year was spectacular, as always. The crowning achievements were the ever decadent lobster pie; scallops in a blackberry gastrique; and the duck confit, which was divine. Each course, was, of course, accompanied by a vintage Belgian beer that paired exquisitely with the food. All were enjoyed at my table by my Belgian beer comrades, who have been veterans of this event for far longer than I. The dinner progressed in a lovely way, and the “whiskey” course, which this year was a 1989, Pre-Jim Beam acquisition, National Distillers Old Grand Dad 86 at Proof, was very enjoyable. This ’89 vintage was bottled in the “bowling ball” bottles, and was a delightful break from the immaculate fare. Of course, there was a round of Bokke, formerly Bokkereyder, included in the meal, which was the infamous Baphomet. This one was matured in a Weller bourbon barrel: an aged lambic/saison blended by Raf Souvereyns exclusively for Ebenezer’s. The beer has aged beautifully over the years: the vanilla, caramel and oak nuances go hand in hand with the lambic mineral and oak flavors. Truly a spectacular evening that was only the beginning of the Belgian Beer fest.”