Post now updated with pics!
New England is known for beer and has one of the most well-developed craft brew scenes in the US. (Vermont and Maine are in the top five most-breweries states per capita, New Hampshire is 11th, and even populous Massachusetts is 22nd.) But there's beer culture and then there's beer culture. I learned on Saturday night just how advanced Maine is.
There's a little town near the New Hampshire border called Lovell. It's got a thousand people and is nowhere near any center of real population. Portland's over an hour away, and nearer towns include Paris, Berlin, Norway, and Poland--big names, but tiny populations. When you get to Lovell, there's a certain unmarked turn you can take onto a dirt road that leads , after a short drive, to an old farm. This is Ebeneezer's, a pub apparently famous among the beer intelligentsia but unknown to me.
The owners decided to try to recreate a Belgian pub, from the tchotchkes on the wall (here manifesting mainly as very cool breweriana) to 35 taps and dozens more bottles to moules frites on the menu. They did a fine job--call it White Mountain Brussels. The show-stopper and te reason to visit is the tap list. I was staggered to see TWO offerings from LoverBeer and another from Baladin--breweries most beer geeks haven't heard of. (LoverBeer only makes 500 barrels a year.) They had classic selections from De Dolle (Arabier), Silly, St Bernardus, and so on, a nice mix of styles and colors--and keep in mind this is just draft. Belgian breweries don't do much kegging, and of what they do, not a lot comes to the US. Beyond that, there are bottles aplenty, the rival of any bottle shop. The ambiance is great--cozy farmhouse--and I'm told they scatter tables outside during the summer.
This is middle-of-nowhere Maine. I know there are tourists around; Maine is a three-season destination for vacationers. But there's no way a pub this far off the beaten path can survive without locals, and locals willing to pay a huge premium for the experience of having a Brussels pub nearby. It's amazing. I can't imagine a pub like that surviving in a similar place anywhere else.
As a sort of addendum, I ate last night in the Jolly Drayman in Bethel. It is an absolutely wonderful evocation of a British pub. Not a kitschy echo to remind yanks of their week in the Cotswolds, but a place for people who want a cozy pint in the kind of space British toss off with a shrug (but seem beyond the ken of most Americans). A nice selection of a half dozen beers and a cask engine. Again, a great experience, and one the people of Bethel (population 2400) are very fortunate to have. Not many towns that size do.