THE BEER CLINIC :: Holiday Warning! Beware The Mad Elf!

by Dr. Carol Westbrook on December 10, 2014

1 HersheyWhen you hear “Hershey” you may think “chocolate” but I think “beer.” Tröegs beer, that is.

I found myself in Hershey PA a couple of months ago for a meeting, and as soon as I had a chance I made a beeline for Tröegs Brewery, conveniently within a mile or two of Hershey Park. I was anxious to taste what’s on draft, get some dinner, and share a pleasant, relaxing evening with other craft beer lovers.

I usually feel rather awkward as an unaccompanied woman in a bar, but that’s not the case in a craft brewpub. I may walk in alone, but when I leave I’ve made friends with whomever I happen to be sitting next to at the bar. We may have nothing else in common, but we all have a love of craft beer– enough love to make us go out of our way to a find the brewery’s home base, so we can try the drafts that may only be available on site, or for limited time. On my left, a biker who did construction work and rode 20 miles to get here; on my right, an IT guy from even farther afield. We talked, tasted, and compared, while each enjoyed a snack or dinner.

2 Food TroegsFirst, a word about dinner. Pennsylvania laws require bars to offer food as well as spirits, so you can always get a good meal at pub. Most brewpubs take as much pride in their menu as in their drafts, and Tröegs was outstanding in this regard. Their snack bar covers the range from small snacks to large platters and dessert, and they even have a good kids’ menu. What I liked is their insistence on fresh, local meat, and produce from independent farms, all of which are listed on the menu. And you can’t go wrong in the middle of Pennsylvania Dutch country. This posed a problem for me, as there were too many choices and I over-ordered so I would have a chance to try some of the superb craft cheese with designer pickles, as well as the beef marrow bones with house-made fermented horseradish. Not shown is the salad with fall greens, figs, pistachio & blue cheese, dressed with barrel-aged Mad Elf vinaigrette. All of which paired extremely well with my selection of hoppy beers.

3 TroegsAs with the food at Tröegs, there were too many choices on draft beer, too, so I settled for a selection of small pour samplers. Tröegs is well known for a couple of its year round beers, most of which are available in bottles in my local deli; their HopBack Amber Ale, and Perpetual IPA are two favorites, both on draft that evening. But I was interested in their “scratch beers,” or experimental single batches that may or may not go on to become standards. The theme appeared to be fresh hops and new hops.

There were two fresh hop ales. Scratch #162 was brewed with wet whole flower Mosaic hops from the Yakima Valley; at 7.6% ABV and 62 IBU, with that wonderful Mosaic pine-citrus flavor really coming through. Very similar was Scratch #161, brewed with wet whole flower Cascade and Chinook hops from Maryland, with added local PA honey. At 8.1% ABV and 79 IBU it was a delightful drink, similar to #162, hoppier, but perhaps a bit smoother due to the honey, though honestly I didn’t taste honey at all. Perpetual IPA, 7.5% ABV and 85 IBU, is the hoppiest of the Tröegs beers, while their Sunshine Pils, at 4.5% ABV and 45 IBU was a bit unbalanced to me–too hoppy for this low alcohol.

There were two beers featuring a new hop, designated as “871” by the American Dwarf Hop Association, ADHA. The ADHA is an organization of hop growers in the northwest committed to improving new hop production techniques that are more environmental friendly, including being easier to harvest. Dwarf hops are varieties that grow on low trellis systems, unlike the standard 18-foot high vines, which require specialized equipment and high labor to harvest, as I described in At the Hop (Harvest), YBN October 28, 2014. Since these are new varieties, they don’t always taste like the old standards, but every so often they hit a winner, as when “369” was christened “Mosaic” and really took off.   Since 871 is mellower and not as piney as the classic IPA hops, but carries a lot of bittering, the brewers chose to use it in a pale ale, Scratch #163. It was a nice, rather bland IPA, at 4.5% ABV and 54 IBU, a very good session beer which paired well with food. The real knockout for me was Scratch #160, a Belgian Style Saison: a farmhouse ale brewed with rye, wheat, French saison yeast, and ADHA 871. It was about as good a Belgian saison as I have ever had (6.7% ABV and 20 IBU). ADHA 871 may have found its niche.

4 mad-elf-picNow to The Mad Elf. I was disappointed The Mad Elf was not available on draft at the brewpub when I visited; it was still in production and was scheduled to be released later in the month. I was looking forward to trying this beer, which is a holiday tradition with Tröegs. It is a Belgian Strong Ale, brewed with PA honey and West Coast cherries. It is brewed with traditional noble hops, Saaz and Hallertau, using a grain mix that combines with the cherry, producing rich red color, just right for the holidays.

I finally had a chance to try The Mad Elf on draft at a local bar in Wilkes-Barre, where the bartender poured me a standard 16 oz. draft. (Most bartenders would have poured this in a smaller tulip-shaped glass). I hadn’t done my homework, and didn’t realize that the ABV of Mad Elf is 11%.   Needless to say, it was the ONLY beer I had that night. For an 11% beer, one draft = two drafts of 5.5% beer. Get the picture?

So enjoy a draft of Tröegs during the holiday season, but beware The Mad Elf!

imagesAlso available from Dr. Westbrook: 

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