The last beer I reviewed was just a straight forward beer style that the brewery was showcasing as their Winter beer. This time we’re going to look at something that is anything but straight forward – Troegs Brewing Mad Elf.
I remember when Mad Elf was just like any other holiday offering on the shelf (it started appearing in earnest around 2003) and to be honest over the years I haven’t payed it much mind. Then all of a suddenly, over the last couple of seasons this thing has just become a monster. People start asking for it before I’ve even had a chance to purchase my Halloween candy. Bars last year squirreled away kegs to tap during Wilmington Beer Week and Christmas in July events (to much fanfare). And of course, when the beer does manage to hit the shelf, people start buying it – by the cases. If this frenzy keeps growing I wouldn’t be surprised to see the beer highlighted on A&E’s Hoarders:
What’s behind all of this craziness? Let’s taste.
THEM: Mad Elf starts with a grain bill of Pilsner, Munich and Chocolate malts. Saaz and Hallertau hops are used although sparingly in the case of bitterness as the beer only clocks in at 15 IBUs. Troegs uses a “spicy” Belgian yeast to ferment it to 11.0% ABV. But what puts the “mad” in the Mad Elf, is a combination of sweet and sour cherries, and fresh honey from Pennsylvania.
ME: Mad Elf pours clear with a nice head that fizzles down to a nice little continent of bubbles in the middle of the glass and a nice ring along the edge. In a dim light the color could almost be confused for a light brown, but no matter what kind of light you put it in, there’s always a hint of red around the edges. The beer has a light nose to start (although it may be because my fridge has been getting my beers ripping cold lately) consisting of cherries, candy sugar and phenol. It smells very much like putting your nose in a bottle of cherry cough medicine, except without the over the top fake cherry flavor they put in it that makes you (me) want to gag. This is quiet pleasant, and not at all cloying or objectionable. The flavor is cherries (shocking I know), and the rest of the elements found in the aroma. The front is surprisingly clean, the flavor not really kicking in until you get to the middle when the cherries (and a creamy sweetness that I could almost talk myself into believing was the honey) hit. The end has a little sour cherry “twang”, along with a bit of spice (from the “spicy yeast” I would imagine). The beer leaves your mouth coated with a combination of a slight stickiness and a bite on the inside of your cheeks. And the honey definitely becomes more pronounced as the beer warms up (is it sacrilege to say that I almost prefer this beer a little warmer than the recommended 55 degrees?)
Where Mad Elf succeeds for me is that the first couple of sips loads you with a sweetness that if it continued to build would make it a one and done beer, but it doesn’t. It delivers sweetness up front and leaves your palette clean on the back end, to the point that after I finished drinking my 22oz bottle I felt I could easily have had another. Which exposes you to a little danger. There is a little boozy warmth in this bottle, but other than that, there’s not much to warn you about the 11.0% that is lurking concealed under all that cherry. But I’m sure you’d feel it after a couple of pints.
I’m certainly not ready to join the ranks of the hoarders, but I will definitely be enjoying more of Mad Elf throughout the rest of the Holiday season.
Time for another beer.