Way back in the woods of western Maine, in Lovell – a little more than an hour outside of Portland, 20 minutes past Shawnee Peak Ski Resort, and just a half-mile past a historic storefront that burned down recently – you'll inevitably miss the left turn for the best beer bar in the world. Flip around, take that turn, drive about 300 yards through the pines and you'll reach Ebenezer's.
"When I bought this little farmhouse pub 10 years ago, the rarest beer on tap was Red Stripe," says the bar's owner, Chris Lively, who has the perma-smile vibe of a guy you'd find grilling locally sourced sausage at a Phish tailgate. "And now we've been named Best Beer Bar in the world 13 times."
Indeed, influential beer-geek publications like 'Draft Magazine,' 'Beer Advocate,' and 'Rate Beer' have many times given Lively's small pub and restaurant their highest honors. That's because Ebenezer's boasts more than 700 beers in the cellar and 36 offerings on tap, many of which are nearly impossible to find. "A couple rare ones we have on draft right now are De Struise 'Pannepot Wild,' and I think we're the only place in the world with that one," says Lively. "And also Evil Twin's 'Naked Lunch in a Heavenly Copenhagen Restaurant,' which, besides having the greatest name ever, is a killer imperial stout. We're the only place in the U.S. with that, too."
Yet despite the distinction of being America's beer paradise, the bar's wooden facade is wholly inconspicuous. Could be an inn. Could be a farm. Could just be the house of some old Mainer riding out his final years far away from society. But enter, and there's no doubt that something miles beyond ordinary is happening at Ebenezer's. Freckling the walls are tin signs – all made long, long before the craft beer boom – that boast famed Belgian trappists like Chimay, Orval, and Westvleteren. An array of glasses, goblets, and chalices in shapes ranging from stout, tall, wide, narrow, thin, and thick hang above the Z-shaped bar. Commanding the rear: a lineup of blown-glass tap handles, and a glass-door refrigerator filled with bottles with labels that would send the average beer geek into hysteric, teenage-girl-who-just-saw-Justin-Bieber fits.
Sit down. Chris will hand you a beer menu, then tell you to try the frites and divulge that they are made with heirloom potatoes grown just a quarter mile up the road. The beautiful thing: He explains this – as he does most things about his bar – with a sense of grateful wonder, as if it's all just a blessed stroke of luck, like, Hey, this guy up the road grows these incredible potatoes, so we decided to make fries out of them; isn't that just so cool?
Excellence accomplished in an entirely thankful, nonchalant, noses-never-in-the-air way, besides the beer, is arguably why Ebenezer's is so successful – which is to say that the pub has been able to avoid the biggest downfall of your average craft beer bar: that thick, putrid air of pretentiousness.
"Our goal is to make everyone happy, and that starts with us being friendly, happy, and approachable," says Lively. "I've had people describe the vibe in this place as like a preschool class. Everyone is nice to each other and wants to be here." Indeed, no one will ever sneer if you mispronounce a beer, or mispair your brew with your food – or, hell, even order a Coors Light if that's what you feel like drinking.
And because of that, townies and out-of-towners alike flock to Ebenezer's. "I've turned a lot of Bud-drinking locals onto excellent Belgian beers," Lively chuckles. "And we have serious beer-nuts come from all over just to check out the cellar. Last week, we had a couple of guys come in from Alaska."
How did this all come to pass? How did Lively transform a shitty old pub in the Maine woods into the greatest beer bar in the country? First, more than 100 years of beer run through his veins. "It's basically history," he says. "My father and grandfather were beer collectors who ran a Belgian brewery in Texas before and a few years after prohibition; the cellar is passed down." Second, Lively's friendliness and enthusiasm for his work are impossible not to be drawn to; before opening Ebenezer's, he did a stint in L.A. as a chef who put on some of the country's very first beer dinners. There, he made lasting relationships with importers who to this day hook him up with their best and hardest to find. In fact, Ebenezer's test-pilots most Italian craft beers – the next big thing in the craft beer world – before they're imported into the states.
This is all to say that a trip to Ebenezer's is in order for any thirsty traveler who happens to find himself in New England (Ebenezer's is just three hours from Boston), or any true beer geek who finds himself, well, anywhere. Maine's nickname is Vacationland, meaning that anytime is a good time to visit. The summer is ripe for spending the day at any of the nearby lakes and then chilling out at the pub afterwards. Note that it's also the most crowded time of the year at the bar, with waits that can be up to two hours.
That's why we like visiting Ebenezer's in the wintertime. Hit the slopes of Shawnee Peak (or any of the other four mountains within an hour's drive) during the day, then fire up a sled and bomb down the Maine Snowmobile Association's extensive trail system – the pub sits on trail SB81.
Once you arrive, first let Lively take you on a 20-minute tour of the cellar. Afterward, sidle up to the bar for a few beers. Chances are you won't know everything on the beer menu, so ask for a recommendation. Sip that one as you wait for a Lobster roll. Welcome to the middle of nowhere – glad you found it.