12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS #4: Tröegs Mad Elf 2017 and 2018. Hershey, Pa
Date: December 28, 2018
A reason to be thankful to live in the Mid-Atlantic region is access to Tröegs’s whimsical yet brilliant brewery in Hershey, Pa. There’s lots to do — drop off the (older) kids at Hershey Park just up the road and settle in for a fabulous tasting. The brewery is designed for tours — the guided tour leads you safely through the heart of the brewery and the quicker and easier self-guided tour shows you many of the highlights while you sip on your beer.
Tröegs brews a wide range of beers that include one of the country’s best pilsners, but also range to remarkable powerhouses. Mad Elf is an 11% spiced ale that fans eagerly await each year. It can sell out quickly in the area near the brewery, but it’s not hard to find in good beers stores elsewhere in the Mid-Atlantic. The brewery sells a wide range of their beers — including the Mad Elf– in their gift shop, but you can find them at lower prices in nearby super markets and distributors.
The recipe remains the same, but the beer still shows some variation – hops and malt do vary from year to year in much the same way that grapes can vary. the brewery doesn’t make a big deal about vintages, but they’re clearly marked on the neck label — the release year is one year earlier than the “best before.” I’ve enjoyed the Mad Elf more each year over the past half decade. This year’s version is the best yet. If my favorite beer of the year weren’t a Munich lager, I’d guess my palate is getting older and eager for excitement, but I suspect they really have found ways of nudging a very good beer into a great beer.
The Beer— The 2018 version has magnificently blended rich malt. Cherries and honey can’t begin to be the cause of the breadth of flavors; the yeast suggests some traditional Christmas spices. The fruit is so integral I had to recheck the label to see if it really was added rather than a natural result of the malt and hops. In short it’s a masterpiece where the non traditional ingredients softly supplement rather than kneecap the depth of the malt and yeast.
Remarkably, the 2017 version was even better. Redder, deeper and with more staying power, it was chewy, fruity and even slightly husky with some herbal notes developing. Honey has stepped back a bit and the cherry notes are deeper. We rate “ageability” on a 1 to 5 scale, where 3 doesn’t hurt, 4 shows some improvement and 5 is “don’t drink it, save it!”. This one got a 4.5. If you can get a six pack, drink some now, but definitely find a cool dark place to lay this down for a year or two.
Value —good to very good. They know what they’ve got and don’t give it away, but it’s a special beer and worth the outlay.
Values: “fair” is a good beer at an above market price, “good” is worth the money, “very good” is a bargain, and “excellent” is a steal.