Photo: Bernt Rostad, Flickr
Over Labor Day weekend, my girlfriend and I drove deep into western Maine in search of Ebenezer.
"Is that it?" my girlfriend asked, pointing at a ramshackle building.
"That's a gas station," I said. "That's it! Turn!"
We bumped down a dirt road, where a wooden sign confirmed we had reached the town of Lovell's Ebenezer's Pub. Since L.A. expats Chris and Jennifer Lively opened Ebenezer's, they've transformed the former Bud-serving dive into a Belgian-beer paradise that draws beer pilgrims from across the nation.
While Ebenezer's serves oodles of cellar-aged sours from Cantillon, De Ranke's hoppy XX Bitter and strong Belgian ales, I've come to sample a specific beer: Black Albert.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," Jennifer tells me, "but I think we're out." The annual Belgian beer fest recently wrapped up, draining the pub's reserves. My face fell. "Hold on," Jennifer said. "Chris will check the cellar." Twenty minutes later, she returned bearing a cold bottle of Black Albert. "It's from Chris's personal collection."
I nearly wept right there. To celebrate Ebenezer's third Belgian fest in 2007, Belgium's De Struise Brouwers created a brand-new beer style: the Belgian royal stout. Glancing at the beer's stats (100 IBUs,13 percent ABV), you might assume that Black Albert -- its name references its inky hue and Belgium's King Albert -- would be a palate-crushing monster.
Not so. Black Albert smells like burnt sugar, figs, cocoa and tobacco -- I get tons of coffee and chocolate flavors, with a vinous, grape-like character and less bitterness than I'd guessed. Equally surprising is the mouthfeel, which is as smooth and silky -- not a hint of the high ABV, which is downright dangerous.
"What do you think?" my girlfriend asked.
"I think," I said, polishing off the last luscious, potent sip, "you're driving home."