Mad Elf | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Perhaps the simple "joys" of the season -- family togetherness, insane malls and a consumerist orgy -- have you yearning for stronger stuff than mulled cider. If you act quickly, there's a Pennsylvania-brewed holiday beer that packs a very tasty, satisfying punch.

Mad Elf is a spicy, boozy, limited-edition seasonal beer from Troeg's, brewed in Harrisburg and sold only to those lucky enough to reside in the greater Mid-Atlantic region: Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Ohio, New York and Washington, D.C.

"It really does move," says Ed Yashinsky, brewery manager for Troeg's. "We work hard at making as much as we can humanly make without affecting our other beers. It is a balancing act, for sure. We are always amazed -- we make it, we think, 'Oh, this might be too much,' and it continues to sell," Yashinsky explains. He figures that people feel a little more extravagant about specialty beer-buying during the holidays. Mad Elf is wholesaled locally at Vecenie Distributing Co., in Millvale, and is available on tap at select area bars.

The beer packs a walloping 11 percent alcohol content. "You know, it is a festive time of the year," says Yashinsky of the by-design potency. "Christmas beers tend to be higher in alcohol -- it's the coldest time of the year. It's not unusual for Christmas beers to end up at seven percent [alcohol] or higher."

Mad Elf takes a long time to make, because the yeast has a lot of sugar to work through. Brewing begins in late July. "The clove-y, peppery flavor is from the yeast," he says.

It's a festive, bright red beer along the lines of a Belgian trippel, but, says Yashinsky, the brewery steers clear of hewing too closely to a specific style. It's the addition of cherries, both sweet and sour, that make for such a pretty brew --600 gallons of cherry puree are poured into every brewing tank. "It's not such an effect on the taste as of the aroma," Yashinsky says. "It's a bisensory experience."

The brewery doesn't advertise the beer, instead relying on word-of-mouth to generate buzz. At $50 a case, it's not a guzzling beer, but it does well.

Says Yashinsky: "I think the beer speaks for itself."