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Mad Elves and Bad Elves

I happened to be on the North Pole Express today, an old steam engine on the New Hope and Ivyland Railroad line in New Hope, Pennsylvania. The train was filled with beautiful children, anticipating the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus. The elves were there, too – handing out chocolate chip cookies and hot chocolate, collecting tickets, and strumming the guitar while working the passengers in each coach into a rollicking Ho-ho-ho spirit as the train rocked rhythmically along the tracks.

Thankfully, these elves weren’t anything like the elves of Ridgeway Brewing of South Stoke, England; nor were they like the elves at Tröegs Brewing Company of Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA. The Little Brewing Company of Port Macquarie, Australia has infused the season with its own wild elves; and a few have snuck in from Columbia River Brewing of Portland, Oregon; Stickman Brewery and Skewery of Lake Oswego, Oregon, and Dark Horse Brewing of Marshall, Michigan.

Then there is the Missing Elf of Rinkuškiai Alaus Darykloje, Biržai, Lithuania, a doppelbock of 9.5% ABV that is pale, sweet, and should, perhaps, remain on the missing list this winter. But the other elves – those from the “wrong side of the tracks” – have something to brag about. Santa would never mind having any of these mischievous elves waiting for him, alongside the cookie plate on Christmas Eve.

Of these elves, Tröegs slides in to the season as the strong horse, strutting its stuff with Mad Elf and the milder sibling, Naked Elf. Mad Elf Belgian Strong Dark Ale gleams notoriously red, burning your eyes with a lucid glow, as if hot embers filled the glass. Spicy and earthy, its flavor is plumped-up with the sumptuous aromas of Pennsylvania Honey and West Coast Cherries. Cinnamon rises to the foreground, while the 11% ABV rises in the finish, heating up the chest with every subsequent swallow.

Naked Elf comes in a little milder, with 8.5% alcohol and a cotton candy sweetness hiding beneath flavors of chocolate, honey, roasty malt, plums, and juicy cherries. A yeasty, fruitcake character spices up every glass.

Ridgeway is quite famous for its own lineup of bad boys: Bad Elf, Very Bad Elf, Seriously Bad Elf, Criminally Bad Elf and Insanely Bad Elf. They follow-up with Reindeer Droppings, Lump of Coal, and Pickled Santa.

In the elf series, nearly every elf is a different style from the others on deck, with each subsequent beer in the series having a little higher alcoholic warmth. Bad Elf is an English India Pale Ale of 6% ABV and a floral, herbal finish. Very Bad Elf English Pale Ale shows off a biscuit-like herbal-touched softness with 7.5% alcohol by volume; then Seriously Bad Elf English Strong Ale moves in with caramelly malts, apples, grapes, and a scotch-like finish of 9%. Criminally Bad Elf English Barleywine is the cool brother in Santa’s sleigh, with sweet toffee and caramel flavors, French oak, spiced Christmas candy, and a screaming crash of 10.5% alcoholic warmth. You may even go nuts with Insanely Bad Elf English Strong Ale, a robust winner with flavors of caramel, chestnut and fruit liqueur, a heavyweight at 11.2% ABV.

Reindeer Droppings pale by comparison at a gentle 6% ABV. Lump of Coal carries more weight as a Foreign/ Export Stout of 8% ABV; but Pickled Santa backs down again with his Winter Warmer in a lighter 6% alcohol.

Drunken Elf of Columbia River Brewing will have you screaming with its 9% ABV. This American Imperial Stout announces coffee in the primary flavors, with an underlying maltiness of roasted malt and fresh bakery bread, while bittersweet chocolate holds on to a touch of molasses and brown sugar.

The Twerking Elf of Stickman Brewery rolls into the glass, gleaming like deep walnut, with 7.2% ABV. Rich with nuttiness and crisp, clean malt breadiness, this specimen cuddles up to Santa with a softer edge.

Dark Horse 4 Elf Winter Warmer kicks up a few heels with 8.75% ABV and lots of holiday spices, fruitcake sweetness, pepper and licorice as black as the midnight sky. A full mouthfeel swells with the boozy warmth, while sticky lace clings to the glass like a Christmas ice storm.

The Wicked Elf series from The Little Brewing Company presents a style for every taste: Wicked Elf Kölsch, Wicked Elf Pale Ale, Wicked Elf Pilsner, Wicked Elf Porter, and Wicked Elf Witbier. These lower alcohol beers range from 4.9% ABV to 6% ABV.

Choose your elves wisely this season, but don’t miss Rude Elf’s Reserve from Fegley’s Brew Works of Allentown and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. With 10.5% ABV and a spicy ginger and brown sugar base, you’ll turn up the festivities a notch with this bonus slathering of holiday cheer.

Cheers!


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