Over the course of a quick two-day road trip from Detroit to Philadelphia, I was able drink at Great Lakes Brewing Company (Cleveland, OH), Grist House Craft Brewery (Pittsburgh, PA), Drai Laag Brewing Co (Pittsburgh, PA), Tröegs Independent Brewing (Hershey, PA), and Monk’s Cafe (Philadelphia, PA).
I was thrilled with my experiences at Great Lakes and Monk’s Cafe, as I well expected to be. Great Lakes’ Midnight Moses, a dark wheat ale, truly blew me away with its yeasty Belgian warmth. Monk’s Café had a to-die-for beer list that could keep me busy drinking for months. But it was Grist House in Pittsburgh that surprised me! Their Hazadelic Juice Grenade, a New England style IPA, was a lovely introduction to this style, and their Kolsch on the Run was a bright, clean Kolsch brewed with Saaz hops.
At Tröegs, I seized on the opportunity to compare their Mad Elf 2015 to the current Mad Elf 2016, both on draft. These two beers would be presented under the most ideal conditions, having never left the brewery, as the Tröegs production brewery is attached to their spacious tasting room.
Mad Elf is a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, with both vintages listed as 11% ABV and 15 IBUs. It features chocolate, Munich, and pilsner malts, Hallertau and Saaz hops, and a Belgian yeast strain. The ABV and ingredients fit well within the BJCP description for this style, though the IBUs fall a bit below the traditional range of 20-35. Other well-respected examples of this style include Chimay Grand Réserve (Blue), Rochefort 8, and Boulevard’s The Sixth Glass.
Mad Elf 2016 was a toasty amber color, with no visible head. I could barely smell any nose on it, though this was likely due to the raucous tasting environment. The taste was spicy, with a hint of orange zest. This drinks like a much lighter beer; I could easily imagine downing a few chalices of this and not noticing how… happy I was getting.
Mad Elf 2015 was the same toasty amber color, also with no visible head. There was a distinct yeasty smell on this one, with hints of cherry. The cherry was not present in the taste, but the booziness was much more pronounced. All around, this felt like a bigger beer, with the taste of alcohol being the dominant lingering impression. The 4.5 oz pour was a delight, but a whole chalice would have been overwhelming.
The aging of Mad Elf brought the fruity character to the front of the drinking experience and strengthened the presence of the alcohol. The 2015 Mad Elf left me with a sharper aftertaste in my mouth. This is my first (very short) “vertical” tasting, but from some light google research, this seems to fit with the typical pattern of how aging affects Belgian beers. Overall, I preferred the Mad Elf 2016. So if you can get your hands on this tasty wintry beer, I suggest drinking it right up!