Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On the Road with The Brew Lounge, Part 3

We've Arrived at Ebenezer's Pub The trip from Portland to Lovell is a scenic trip, crossing a few lakes along the way, Sebago being the largest. But, upon arrival at Ebenezer's Pub, I soon found out that Ebenezer's would have no problem fulfilling one of my requirements for an outstanding beer bar: location. Situated just off the green of the 2nd hole at Lake Kezar Country Club, Ebenezer's is a bar that's been through a few hands, most recently falling into Chris and Jen Lively's 5 years ago.

The Livelys moved from Southern California to build the perfect beer bar in the middle of nowhere Maine. They live on site and it became quite clear early on in our evening that when at Ebenezer's, the Livelys treat each and every one as a guest in their house. It was a shame that we arrived later than we would have liked to because we missed out on some great welcome beers like the Cuvee des Champions from Cantillon and Pissenlit from Fantôme. Plus, the pre-dinner kibitzing and photo ops of brewers arriving and some last-minute delivered beer from FedEx.

Fortunately, Shaun O'Sullivan from 21st Amendment sent along some pictures that he's permitted me to include in my photo gallery over at Picasa. We got over our last minute arrival frazzle and were settled at our table. We were seated with a bunch of locals/regular Ebenezer customers who had attended the inaugural dinner with Sean Paxton in 2008. This made for interesting perspective on this year's dinner. Plus, it also gave us perspective of the local scene and the role that Ebenezer's plays in it.

Big Elephant in the Corner? Alright then, let's get this out of the way. As this dinner was being planned out during the year, I've heard varying degrees of criticism around the price of the dinner, $250 per person. Patty and I have spent close to this in the past on dinner, for many less courses and for quality that was of a more suspicious nature. And, definitely delivered by people who didn't bring nearly the same passion to creating a top-notch experience as the crew at Ebenezer's and Sean Paxton.

This was a 12-course dinner lasting over 6 hours. This was an event...a gastronomical event for those that love great food and great beer. The beer alone, its vintage and its rarity taken into account, was almost worth the price of admission. But, then the food, its creativity and its careful pain-staking preparation and its cost of ingredients, added another level to the dinner that may very well have pushed this dinner to a barely-breakeven proposition for Ebenezer's. (I have absolutely no idea, this is just my semi-educated guess.)

Take into account, for example, that nearly $1000 worth of beer was used in the sorbet preparation and you're at the beginning of an interesting cost-benefit analysis. What hobby do you have? What passion do you pursue? Some people put oodles of money into sports betting/fantasy sports teams, some into their cars, some into video games and other computer-based technology, others into clothing, some into photography, others into artwork, others into season tickets to sporting events, others into their homes and related upkeep. Others search out the best of the food and beverage world. I think you get my point. We all have our hobbies, and all hobbies have a segment that focuses on the very best there is to offer. This was one such occasion.

Let's break it down from a Philly local perspective. This Ebenezer's dinner carried a $250 price tag for a 12-course meal. Straight-line average would say that's about $20 a course. A typical 5 or 6 course meal at Monk's in Philly is usually around $65 (12-ish dollars/course). Monk's is often called one of the best beer bars in the country. If you take their menu from a typical beer dinner, put even more planning and sourcing into it the dinner event, and then add some of the most obscure and most aged beers in the world, we're in roughly the same ballpark price-wise.

And, heck, while I'm on the topic, consider New York City Beer Week has a beer dinner on its schedule at the famed Per Se restaurant near Central Park pairing Thomas Keller and Garrett Oliver. It's a 7 course meal and it costs $350, excluding tax and gratuity. I think I made enough of a defense for what turns out to be a not-so-unreasonable pricetag at this Ebenezer's dinner. If you're looking at this with the same type of concern as "how cheap can I get a package of boneless chicken breasts for," then we're really having two separate conversations here. Am I looking at this the wrong way? Were the people gathered for the fools in this story? I really don't think so; it's just a different way of looking at food and beverage and the thought and preparation that goes into it.

Now don't worry, I'm not necessarily chastising you if you don't get your head around the fact that a dinner with small portions of high-quality food and rare beer can really cost you a pretty penny. And, I'm not trying to trivialize $250. I did, admittedly, find myself a little disappointed when I realized I'd have to parcel out two ounces of beer between tasting by itself, tasting it with the food, and tasting it by itself again...with no topping off as I might have liked. I'd remind myself, though, that this was about quality, not quantity...and that this was an event beyond compare. Still to have a little more beer on the table at all times, even just a pedestrian calibration beer, would have been nice. But, now I'm splitting hairs a bit more than I'd like.

So what do you say we start to jump into things a bit deeper here? I don't have the disk space to go into every nit of the dinner, the people, the food, the beer. I'll try, of course..ha!..because, that is what I do, right? In addition to the evening's food and beer, I interviewed Sean Paxton for almost 2 hours. Instead of putting that material up in a Q&A format, I figured I'd try to weave it into the retelling of the night's activities. That certainly added a level of complexity and contributed to my delay in getting all of this compiled for your, uh, digestion. Hang on, this is gonna be fun...

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