Style: Belgian Strong Ale / Fruit Beer
I might as well admit upfront that I've never really been a fan of any beer I've had with cherry. And I like cherries, as a fruit. I'm sure there are great beers out there with cherry in them (certainly if they're tart and sour, which probably is what it would take to really win me over.) But in my experience, popular cherry-added beers are a go-to for brewers trying to appeal to the masses. There's something about the flavor that — even if it came from totally natural, local, good-quality fruit — still comes across tasting artificial and medicinal. So there, you know my biases.
Mad Elf is one of the best fruit beers I've had, but that's not saying much. It does dodge a lot of the worst qualities similar beers succumb too, but instead of being overly-sweet and cloying, it's just not very exciting. Cherry is the dominant flavor, followed by a mix of honey, spices and the Belgian beer backing it. As for that base beer, well, it's only really evident here and there, and it's nothing to get excited about. There's a hint of Belgian yeast at first, but mostly Mad Elf comes across like a sweet cherry wine. As it warms, it begins to shed even more of its beer-character, and the sweetness becomes borderline unpleasant. Mad Elf is syrupy and rich, with very low carbonation, yet somehow feels kind of thin at the same time, which is odd. I think this beer just lacks anything to make it 'pop.' It's both boring and too-fruity/sweet, at the same time. The more I drink, the less complex it feels. I guess I'd ideally just like the Belgian aspects of the beer to shine through a bit more, with the cherry hitting as one sharp striking flavor and not just a mouth-filling sameness.
This goes down about as easy as any rich fruit beer, so the fact that it's 11% is one of the most impressive aspects. It is at least one the better non-sour fruit beers out there, and if you like cherry, or think this sounds great just from the description, you'll probably like it a lot. It's a pretty wildly popular beer around Christmas, and I guess I can see why some people get excited about it. It sort of works as a wine substitute, maybe something to sip on after dinner. Personally, I'd rather just have an Anchor Christmas 2011. Mad Elf is a solid accomplishment for Tröegs, but nothing I'm likely to return to often.
Availability: Seasonal release for the Christmas season. Relatively easy to find until it sells out. Sold in both sixpacks and bombers.