Ale to the Chief
Tapping into the North Country's first-round draft picks
by Annie Stoltie
Sudsmaster Christopher Ericson’s best-selling beer should sport a name like Serendipity considering the circumstances that put him in the hops limelight. Instead, the proprietor of the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery (LPP&B), across from Mirror Lake, concocted Ubu (pronounced OOH-boo) in the most of happening of High Peaks watering holes thanks to an unlikely set of elements: a profound love of beer, a cavorting chocolate Labrador named Ubu, an unwanted gift, a case of only-child syndrome, plus a knack for what he credits “being at the right place at the right time.”
But first, it’s Tuesday evening in the village, which means a busy two-for-one night at the LPP&B That also equals a gathering of jovial locals: forest rangers, Olympic Training Center escapees, college professors, a couple members of a rock band. Some customers belly up to the dark, cozy mahogany bar downstairs known the last two decades as P. J. O’Neill’s, which Ericson left intact for its loyal regulars when he opened the brewery in 1996. Others head upstairs, where waitresses serve what Ericson refers to as “comfort food,” like nachos, burgers, bangers and mash, and shepherd’s pie. Here, bartender Norm Horner slings house brews including Moose Island Ale, 46’er India Pale Ale, Ectoberfest, and Barkeater Amber—depending on the season, six taps draw from a repertoire of fifty recipes—to a thirsty crowd. Tonight, as with ever night, the beverage of choice is Ubu Ale, a beer former President Bill Clinton liked so much during a 2000 trip to Lake Placid that he ordered growlers for the White House. “Growler” has nothing to do with the late Ubu’s disposition. In fact, Ubu the dog, the English strong ale’s namesake, was a popular pooch-about-town, once spotted hopping into a cab after exiting a nightclub. (Ericson recently bought a Plattsburgh breery that bottles twelve-ouncers of Ubu and 46’er, but folks who want suds-to-go can also buy half-gallon growler just at the pub.)
In 1993 B.U. (Before Ubu) Ericson graduated from Williams College, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and received a home-brewing kit as a gift, something the only child in him dreaded accepting. “I was living with seven buddies and was convinced that if I put my heart and soul into this, my drunk roommates would get into the beer,” he admits. Ericson made a fine batch of ale, fought off his surly pals and decided this was the career for him. “I drank a lot of beer in college,” he says, “but certainly never thought I’d do it for a living.”
Faster than you can tap a barrel of lager, Ericson was refining the draft in his native Maine, at Federal Jack’s, in Kennebunkport. He was soon at the helm of The Shed, a microbrewery in Stowe, Vermont, and secretly writing a business plan for his own brewery with college friend Chad Cleveland. A waitress there offhandedly mentioned her mother’s desire to sell a bar in Lake Placid, and six months later the ambitious entrepreneurs moved to the Adirondacks.
Thirty-year-old Ericson says the LPP&B has exceeded his expectations, producing about 850 more barrels of beer on site per year than it did four years ago, enough to circle Mirror Lake three times with back-to-back growlers. Cleveland’s since left the beer biz to be replaced by Ericson’s wife, Catherine, now co-proprietor. She paired up with Ericson in 1999 and married him a year later. That too involved serendipity and beer, but it’s another story entirely.