Brew Review – Troegs Brewing Mad Elf

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?)

Troegs Brewing's Mad Elf
Troegs Brewing’s Mad Elf

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.

The Local Tap – Pescatores Autumn Craft Beer Dinner

Tracey and I were fortunate enough to get invited up to Glen Mills PA for an Autumn craft beer dinner held by Pescatores Italian Restaurant.  The menu looked awesome (Tracey was quick to key on the homemade pumpkin cheese cake) and the selection of beers contained several that we hadn’t had before, so we accepted with great gratitude, and made the trip up on a lovely fall Thursday.  Upon arrival, the first thing that greeted us was a sign on the door informing people that the restaurant was closed due to the beer dinner.  Pescatores apparently had no problem finding folks like us who thought the dinner looked fantastic, as they had sold out the entire restaurant!  We were seated at our table by a courteous hostess and quickly greeted by General Manager Dennis Glick who gave a quick run down on the events of the evening and invited us to make our way to the restaurant’s bar for our first beer selection of the evening.

And it Begins….

To get the evening started Pescatores had an offering of two beers to choose from, Long Trail’s Pumpkin Ale, and Magic Hat’s Hex.  The Long Trail had a nice pumpkin flavor with a nice hint of spice mixed in.  This is a really good pumpkin beer.  Hex, which is Magic Hat’s take on a traditional Oktoberfest, gets a flavor twist from the addition of Cherry Wood Smoked Malt and Malted Rye.  I really loved this beer with its nice caramel malt and touch of dryness from the rye.  I’m not sure if it’s available locally, but you can bet I’ll be keeping an eye out for it.  This was a really great start to the evening.

Finch’s Golden Wing Blonde Ale

By the time we were finishing up our beers it was time for the  first course; a mango arugula salad with cherry tomatoes, feta cheese & red onions with a Raspberry Vinaigrette dressing that was paired with a beer I’d never had before, Finch’s Golden Wing Blonde Ale.  Brewer Mike Finch was on hand to introduce his beer, which I found to be solidly in the blonde style, although I though it might have had a touch more hop in the flavor than the style usual does.  There are definitely citrus notes mixed in with the subtle malt flavor and the beer does end with a nice crisp finish.  Probably why the brewery refers to it as a “dirty blonde”. The salad was delicious, the raspberry vinaigrette being something that if I could make it at home, might be just about the only thing I’d ever make to put on my salad.

The Second Course: Crab and Spinach stuffed Calamri in a Zesty Marinara Sauce

Next up was Goose Island’s Harvest Ale, which Pescatores chose to pair with a sauteed calamari stuffed with spinach and crab meat in a zesty marinara sauce.  I’m going to be honest, I’m not much of a calamari guy, however, crab meat and spinach, yeah that I can get in to.  The stuffing was very good with the spinach complementing the sweetness of the crab meet.  Add to that the marinara sauce which  had an excellent flavor and a nice bite to it and the dish really came together.  The Harvest Ale was tasty and showed why it won a bronze medal at last year’s GABF in the Extra Special Bitter category.  I love a well made bitter, and if I could have found this at the liquor store today I’d be drinking it while I write this.

The ladies of Pscatores getting ready to bring out the Goose Island Harvest Ale…
… and a bar full of Uinta’s Punk’n Ale getting ready to go out with the next course.
The Third Course: Pumpkin Ravioli in a Mushroom Cream Sauce

I looked at the next course with great interest.  Pescatores had opted to pair their Pumpkin Ravioli which was  topped with a fresh mushroom cream sauce with Uinta’s Punk’n Ale.  When I did my Pumpkin beer round up last year, Uinta’s was one of my favorites, but I was interested to see if the pumpkin  in both the beer and the dish would be to much.  Punk’n was just as good as I remember it, plenty of perfectly balance pumpkin and spice.  The dish was very good with the ravioli having a lovely pumpkin taste that blended well with the sauce that to be honest, I’d have drunk through a straw if I could have.  Simply delicious.  I found my concerns to be unfounded, as although pumpkin was evident in both the beer and the dish, they were not over powering, and in fact, played well off of each other.

The meat course was next, paired with another beer I hadn’t had, Prism’s Red Zone.  Prism has taken the tradition “fall spices” you’d find in a pumpkin beer (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice) and put them in an Irish red ale base.  Then they throw in a touch of Pennsylvania maple syrup to round it out.  Veal Short Ribs with maple and cinnamon basted baby carrots, and garlic mashed potatoes were paired with it, and the spices and slight sweetness of the beer pair very well with ribs as well as the maple and cinnamon on the carrots.

Finally Tracey had to wait no longer as they brought out the pumpkin cheese cake paired with Troegs’ Java Head stout.  The cheese cake was silky and flavorful, and of course paired with what amounts to a 7.5% ABV cup of coffee was the perfect dessert to end our dinner.  Sadly, I decided to take a little taste of my cheese cake before I took a picture:

Rookie Mistake…..

Pescatores out did themselves with this beer dinner.  Not only were both the food and beer excellent across the board, but the whole evening was a blast with not only representatives from the breweries showing up to discuss their beers, but on top of all that many local businesses donated prizes that were raffled off during the night.  No lie, they gave out a ton of stuff.

One level of the dinning room.
Finally, a quiet moment in the kitchen.

I’d like to thank Dennis for hosting Tracey and I for what turned out to be an awesome evening.  I also want to give a special shout out to the staff, who were so pleasant and worked their butts off bringing out all the food and beers.  Kudos to the kitchen staff for the amazing food, and thanks to the representatives for taking the time to talk about their beers.

I talked to Dennis a few days after the event and he indicated that we can expect more from Pescatores in the future.  “We will be having our spring beer dinner in March, and we will be hosting our second ‘Bootlegger’s Ball’, a prohibition themed blow out, in May.”  We can wait to see what they have planned in the future!

The Local Tap – Tröegs Tap Take Over at Two Stones Pub

The Board at Two Stones Pub for the Troegs’ tap take over.

On July 17th, a few members of the Delaware Craft Beer and Wine Lovers met at Two Stones Pub for a Tröegs Brewing tap take over.

I started with Perpetual IPA.  In this case the “I” stands for “Imperial”, as the alcohol comes in at 7.5% ABV and the beer utilizes an impressive list of hops throughout the brewing process: Bravo, Chinook, Mt. Hood, Nugget, Citra, Cascade,  and Amarillo.

It’s a big beer, but well balanced.  I was debating on another but decided to go with a Dreamweaver Wheat  instead.  This beer, brewed in open top fermenters, hits all the check boxes; spice, clove, pepper and bananas.   Open top fermentation allows the brewery to skim off and collect the foam, or krausen, from the top of the wort during the fermentation process.  This krausen, containing yeast and wort proteins, is then used to start the fermentation of the next batch of Dreamweaver Wheat.  The brewery states on their website that this gives the beer stronger pepper and clove notes than traditional closed fermentation.  Seems to work!  Very refreshing.

Perpetual IPA. Cask on the left, keg on the right.

Two Stones Pub Co-owner Ben then asked if I wanted the first pour of Perpetual IPA on cask (who wouldn’t?), so after a toast between me, him and Troeg’s rep; I turned my focus to the cask ale in front of me and and a taster glass of the keg version for comparison.  I enjoyed the smooth creaminess from the cask version, although bartender Anna preferred the crispness of the keg.

Next up was Dead Reckoning  Porter.  I’m very fond of porters and this is a nice one.  From a pure “style” stand point, the light hop that peaks out behind the cocoa/chocolate malt might not be to everyone’s liking, but I didn’t mind it that much.

The final three beers were from Tröegs’ Scratch Beer Series.  This series is Tröegs’ way of doing small batch experiments with new processes and ingredients; and the beers are quiet often only available in Tröegs’ tasting room.  The beers are often simply refer to by style, but the series is also numbered with a code, xx-yyyy; with xx being the number of the batch in the series (starting at 1 and now sitting at 72) and yyyy being the year the beer was made.  The beer that started out as #4-2007, at first simply labeled “barleywine”, is now doing duty for the brewery as their Flying Mouflan.

The first was More Helles, Less Bock (#69-2012) a Helles/Bock/Maibock amalgamation that showed a complex nose and flavor; laced with malt, bread and maybe some honey.  This illustrates one of the sad things about hunting around for great beers, sometimes when you find one, you have to accept the fact that it will probably (sometimes definitely) be the last chance you have to enjoy it.  Really, really good.

The true “Clash of the Titans”

The final two beers have the distinction of being created as a result of a friendly(?) challenge by Tröegs to two legends in the craft beer world (and indeed, the PA/DE/NJ craft beer scene); Jack Curtin, beer columnist and the man behind Liquid Diet; and Lew Bryson, beer author and the man responsible for Seen Through the Glass , The Session Beer Project , and fellow survivor of the REC.FOOD.DRINK.BEER usenet group.   Each was challenged to brew a beer as part of Tröeg’s Scratch Beer Series, which was to be presented head-to-head as part of this year’s Philly beer week.  And of course, bragging rights were on the line.

First up was Jack Curtin’s Beire de Grouch (#66-2012), a Beire de Garde made with fresh cracked black pepper.  The French/Belgian influence was all over this beer with earthy notes amongst malt and yeast.  But the pepper was the real star here.  Both in the aroma and in the taste where it was just enough to give a warm pepper finish without over powering the rest of the flavors.  Awesome balance.  Great beer.

Finally, it was time for Lew’s beer,  Zwickel Licker (#68-2012) (note, the beer is WAY more fun to order when you are surrounded by women who have a great sense of humor) an unfiltered Dortmunder.  The beer is a pocket german lager with good amounts of malt, and a hop finish that’s crisp and clean.   There would be worst things in the world than sitting around a grill and drinking this all day long.

The winner?  Sadly, I’ve been informed by my editor that since I was not contacted to serve as an official judge in what was obviously a very serious competition, I can’t say.  But he has agreed  to put up a picture.

The Winner!!

Thanks to Two Stones Pub for another great tap take over.  Thanks to Tröegs for the great beers.  And thanks to Tröegs’ rep for the beer swag (pint glasses, key chains, etc).  Shout out to new DCBaWL member Mike for stopping by.  Always great to meet new members, especially when they’re a fellow Doctor Who fan.

Time for another beer…..

Brew Review – Troegs’ Sunshine Pils, the Perfect Vanilla Ice Cream for Converting Heathens

Troegs’ Sunshine Pils

Last Friday I had some things to finish up around the house so I stopped into Stateline with the thought of picking up one or two new beers for the weekend, plus a six pack of something to sip on while I toiled away.  As I paced up  and down the cooler row it was plain to see that the summer beers had firmly landed.  Carriers after carriers promised smiling suns, hot days, and good beer that goes with both.  Since it was almost impossible to escape them, I knuckled under and picked up a six of Troegs‘ Sunshine Pils.  Let’s taste.

Them:  This beer is text book pilsner.  The beer begins with a mixture of pilsner and crystal malts on top of which is built a hop profile with Saaz and Hallertau Mitt, both of which are classis pilsner/lager hops.  Sunshine Pils is bittered to 45 IBUs and fermentation with a lager yeast takes the beer down to 4.5% ABV.

ME: Classic golden pilsner color with nice white head.  The beer looks great.  Aroma is pretty tight to style as well, grassy, a touch of noble hops with an under laying malt base.  The flavor is very uncomplicated, which in this case is spot on, with malt in the front, a touch of grass, hint of hop and some light pepper notes in the back.  Slight bite from the hops but nothing harsh.  Well balanced, not overly carbonated.  Nice.

Troegs says on their website that Sunshine Pils has a”kicked-up hop character”.  And why not?  After all their style competitor is the dreaded Miller Triple-Hopped brewed Miller Lite.  And Troegs doesn’t have a vortex bottle to fall back on!  But hop talk must always be approached with an eye towards style.  Is it American Pale Ale kicked up?  No, but it is Miller Lite kicked up, and in fact it was as I was enjoying my third Pils (the beer was REALLY the only thing  getting finished at my house on Friday) that I realized that what I had in my hand could indeed be a very excellent transition beer for non-craft beer drinkers.

Zac over at Beer is My Church has made it his personal goal to “Convert(ing) beer drinkers to craft beer one heathen at a time.”


No, not the band.  Pay attention….

Better.  Editors!

Continuing…and I couldn’t help but think of his mission as I continued to empty my glass(es).  Here was a perfectly good gateway craft beer.  After all you have to be careful when you try to indoctrinate a person who drinks the likes of Miller into the world of craft beer.  Many well meaning craft beer lovers have failed, over zealously handing them a bold imperial stout and then wondering why the “heathen” doesn’t appreciate it’s roasty depth of flavor and high octane ABV.  It’s like trying to get someone to step up in the quality of the vanilla ice cream they eat by handing them a bowl of double chocolate mocha coffee ice cream. Fail. Sunshine Pils should definitely be recognizable to someone as vanilla ice cream, and hopefully they can taste that it’s better vanilla ice cream, removing all the flaws of the lesser (adjunct flavors, no hop character, over carbonation) by using better ingredients and striving for a better quality product.

Does this mean that it’s a slam dunk that the person you’re trying to convert will quickly jump to the other side?  No, probably not.  Some people just like the vanilla ice cream made from low fat cream and “naturally artificial flavings”, no matter how much you put one made with real quality cream and real Madagascar vanilla bean in front of them – same with beer.  But by not giving him(or her) something that they’re likely to dismiss on first sip, you’ve opened up the possibility for some conversation and possibly the first steps to salvation.

So next time you’re invited to a summertime event bring a six or two of Sunshine Pils with you and see how many heathens you can convert.  Zac would be proud.

Time for another beer.