Beer in Reviews: Mad Elf Back-to-Back-to-Back AND Naked!

I promise you, no typo in the post title above.

In anticipating my visit to Troegs Independent Brewing earlier this week, I was looking forward to checking out their Christmas seasonal, Mad Elf Ale. I was happy to see that the Troegs taproom not only had this year’s version of Mad Elf on tap, but the 2017 AND 2016 editions, as well! 3 types of Mad Elf, and 3-beer flights offered by Troegs? Easy choice!

Mad Elf pours a pretty Ruby Red color and is a massive beer, clocking in at a whopping 11% ABV and 15 IBU. Despite that high ABV, the beer is not super-boozy. Or at least, the booziness blends well into the fruit profile of the cherries and the overall sweetness coming from the honey, two of the key brewing additions in this beer. Some mild chocolate notes are also present coming from the chocolate malts.

On to the varietals. To be frank, I could tell very little difference between the 2018 and 2017 editions. The 2016 Mad Elf showed definite changes, starting with a slight lightening of that ruby red color compared to the other two. Overall, the beer was a little smoother with a little more coming from the sweet honey and fruity cherry ingredients.

In addition to the Mad Elves, Troegs also had a variation called Naked Elf. Far lower ABV (6.9%), similar IBU (17) compared to Mad Elf, this is a stripped-down beer, where the cherries, honey and chocolate malts are never added. The result is a fairly straight-up Belgian dark style ale. Several wintery spices are present—cinnamon, cloves, and others—along with a hint of bubblegum sweetness. It’s a neat little beer, but the Mad’s additional brewing ingredients, especially the cherries, really help kick Mad Elf up a notch. Fun little experiment, but I like my Belgians in fairly small doses, so I don’t feel the need to check this out again once my crowler runs dry.

We’re not done with Mad Elf, either! Coming up later this week: Mad Elf Grand Cru.

BrewVue: Troegs Independent Brewery

I am in Pennsylvania for the holiday, and already got started on the local beer scene. I’ll be writing about some of the newbies soon, but started off with an old standard.

I got fresh off the plane in Harrisburg, PA, picked up by my parents, grabbed some lunch, and then headed to Hershey for our third ever trip to Troegs. This marked our first time going on their well-regarded brewery tour. It opened with a pre-tour choice of beers, roughly 10 ounces of their core Amber Ale, seasonal IPA, or small-batch Cranberry Porter. This was followed by a perusal of their art gallery, featuring winners and notable entrants from their annual art contest. Starting at the bottom of the hour, the tour began in earnest. Our tour was led by a lovely young woman whose name I forget, because I am a lousy person. She had a Zooey Deschanel thing going on, if that helps.

The tour covered the four principal ingredients of beer (water, malt, hops, yeast) and the brewing process in-depth, with a walk-through of the production floor. Highlights included tasting malted barley at various stages of roast, smelling fresh and pelleted hops, and sampling “green”/unhopped beer. The tour concludes with further sampling, including our being able to sample their Perpetual IPA fresh off the bottling line. We closed out with a taste of their excellent Jovial Dubbel Ale. Troegs puts together a high-quality tour with some unique experiences. Even if one doesn’t want to do a guided tour (which costs $10—quite a bargain—and takes about an hour), the self-guided tour allows you see some of the processing equipment and contains a ton of information itself, written on glass windows and walls along the couple hundred square-foot tour. Even more of the process equipment, including the boil kettle and hopping tanks, are visible from the main taproom, easily the cornerstone of the brewery overall.

Courtesy, the Troegs website

Courtesy, the Troegs website

The taproom bar presents upwards of two-dozen beers from their core, seasonal, and small batch line-ups, with all but a few rarer offerings available on tap and able to be carried out in growlers or crowlers (in addition to an extensive group of single bottles, six- and twelve-packs available in their main store. With such a long line-up at the bar, it’s easy to find something you’ll like, but among their notables are the previously-mentioned Jovial along with the current seasonals, Blizzard of Hops, a Winter IPA, and Mad Elf (more on this one at a later date). Among the year-round group, the Perpetual IPA, HopBack Amber, and JavaHead Stout stand out.

Beers in Review: Going Back to Christmas!

Let's see how my writing is after all this time...

Nothing like doing a Christmas beer in May, right? In December, I got to check out the 2017 version of Mad Elf from Troegs Independent Brewing, but my parents were also kind enough to grab me a bottle of their barrel-fermented, bottle-conditioned variant, Wild Elf. Pouring a highly carbonated reddish-amber, cherries are the big player in the Elf beers, as I got both the cherries as well as some cranberries. There is also a significant funky note in the beer. The beer is 11% ABV, but the booziness is hidden by the fruit tartness. Honestly, I feel like I probably liked the straight-up Mad Elf better, but I highly appreciated having an opportunity to check out the variant. Thanks for both, Mom and Dad!

Finally moving on from Christmas, I jump to a similarly-styled beer called Pleroma from Sweden's Omnipollo Beer. Officially an American Wild Ale, Omnipollo calls Pleroma a "raspberry creme brulee sour ale with lactose sugar, raspberries, and vanilla". A hazy, ruddy pink-red color that checks in at 6% ABV, I got lots of tart raspberries and some red wine notes. The beer is zesty and effervescent, but it goes away quickly.

Finally, let me write about the beer I just had. Edmund's Oast Brewing Company looks to be fairly new to Charleston, SC, and very recently made their way to Columbia. Hush That Fuss is their American Pale Ale. I found it to be surprisingly pale in color and while playing like a session pale (5.5% ABV), I found this beer very different from just about any pale ale of any style. It has a wheat component to it (I'm not entirely sure it works) along with some citrus notes, most notably orange. Mildly hoppy overall, I feel like I need to track down another one of these to really get a good feel for it.

Beers in Review: More from Troegs

Last week, I talked about the outstanding 2015 and 2016 Mad Elf varietals from Troegs Independent Brewing. I have two more beers from Troegs for reviewing, so let's get started.

First up is Troegs' year-round Perpetual IPA, which utilizes 6 different types of hops throughout the brewing process. Perpetual comes in at 7.5% ABV and 65 IBU, and pours a honey-gold color. The hops bring a wide variety of flavor notes into this IPA, most notably citrus and pine. A subtle tropical fruit note resulted in some hop candy and orange candy notes. This IPA has a medium body with a mild bitterness that ramps up as it gets warmer.

Next up is a beer out of Troeg's Scratch Series, which is their experimental small-batch series. At this point, they're up to batch 270+, but around Christmas, I got to try #258, which they call an American-Style Sour Ale. This particular sour was brewed using cherries, making it pretty much 100% up my alley. This sour pours a pretty pink color, rates at 5.5% ABV and a mere 9 IBU, but it packs a puckering tart punch. The flavor profile is straight forward, with loads of tart cherry and berry notes. The sour is highly carbonated, with a crisp finish. I found it to be a truly outstanding sour.

Beers in Review: Lost and Mad

In today's BiR, I'll be discussing a Flemish Red from a small California-based brewery, as well as TWO years' varieties of a Christmas beer from a Hershey, PA brewery.

Starting, though, with Lost Abbey, a contract Belgian/Abbey-style brewery that works with San Marcos, California's Port Brewing Company. I had Red Poppy, a Flanders-style Red Ale that is based in their Brown ale that is then aged in oak barrels with sour cherries. The cherries come through as the primary piece of the flavor profile, which also includes just a bit of funkiness at the very end of the drinking experience. Red Poppy comes heavily carbonated, resulting in an effervescent mouthfeel. To me, this was an enjoyable Flanders Red, though not the best I've had.

While in Pennsylvania over the holidays, I had the opportunity to revisit Troegs Independent Brewing for the first time in a few year. For this review, I'll be discussing their Christmas seasonal Mad Elf, which they had in both the current 2016 and year-old 2015 varieties in their tasting room.

The 2016 Mad Elf is a mighty ale brewed with honey and cherries, and it has a massive 11% ABV. Many standard fall and winter spices, including cinnamon, clove, and all spice, are used in this beer along with the honey and cherries, and there's even a little bit of cocoa used in the recipe. You'll find all of those flavors in an intense, boozy, spicy ale that pours a ruby-to-copper color. It is truly a terrific ale, though that boozy note can get a bit overwhelming.

In the 2015 Mad Elf, that boozy note has been cut down significantly (though kicks back up a bit as it warms), turning this into a magnificent tasting experience. The 2015 still brings plenty of cherries, but the cocoa that was used but not that present in the 2016 really comes forward. The fall and winter spices are still present, especially the clove and all spice notes. But that spiciness has also cut down a significant amount. In fact, as great as the 2016 vintage is, the overall mellowness of the 2015 made for a much greater drinking experience for me. I expect that if you are used to a lot of high-gravity, high alcohol beers, the 2016 will be just as terrific.

Both are truly great offerings from Troegs.

Video: Reflections of Southcentral Pennsylvania

Happy New Year!

I'm slowly getting back on track, and that includes the video release schedule. I don't have a review today, exactly, but I do discuss some of the places I checked out while I was up in Pennsylvania for the holidays, including Collusion Tap Works in York, PA and Troegs Independent Brewing in Hershey, PA. Check out my thoughts!

I'll see you soon with a Beers in Review blog post, and I'll resume video beer reviews on Tuesday, as scheduled. See you then!