Soaking Up the Suds
by James Crane
Criminally Bad Elf? Bring it.
I hope Christmas morning found you staring at a lot of bottle-shaped packages under the tree.
The celebrating certainly isn’t over yet with New Year’s right around the corner. With so many great winter and holiday brews out there, there’s certainly a goodly amount to choose from. If you didn’t find as many beers under the tree as you might have hoped, now would be the time to give yourself a little Christmas treat.
One beer style that will be around now and through the rest of winter is mythic barley wine. Barley wine is actually a beer, and not a wine. It’s referred to as such because of its high alcohol content, which often rivals that of a wine. It’s not uncommon to see them reach up into the double digits. Aside from being strong, they have a unique taste all their own. I certainly look forward to this time of year when they start appearing on shelves.
This week, to celebrate the passing of Christmas, I’m drinking a brew from a line of delightful brews, Criminally Bad Elf. Its made by Ridgeway Brewing in England, which also produce Bad Elf, Insanely Bad Elf, Lump of Coal, Pickled Santa, and a range of other holiday-themed brews.
It’s nice to see a brewery really capturing the spirit of the season. This bottle in particular pictures an elf stuck behind bars, looking dour. If that doesn’t say Christmas, what does?
The pour was an amberish shade, completely translucent. It looked much lighter than a beer of this caliber should be. The head was adequate, but didn’t stick around long. It did leave a little bit of lacing as the liquid in the glass went down. Enough bubbles rose through the liquid to promise some carbonation, but not an abundance of it.
The smell was that of sweetness and booze. Those two things hit you right off the bat. This beer lets you know exactly how strong it is from the get-go. Also in the air were the scents of cherries, yeast and spice. All of it was rather pleasant.
The taste was fantastically assertive. It made my first barley wine experience of the season quite enjoyable. The first thing that hit me was something reminiscent of cherries, followed closely by a spicy alcoholic burn. This one certainly tasted like alcohol in the best possible of ways. There are other fruity flavors involved as well and a nice backing of caramel and something a bit woody. Slightly intense, I found it enjoyable nonetheless. After each swallow, the sweetness of the cherry like flavor reared itself again for just a moment before giving way back to the hops.
Criminally Bad Elf clocks in at 10.5 percent ABV, which is incredibly respectable. That means the bottle, containing 1 pint and 9 oz., packed quite a kick to it. That’s a lot of booze in a small space. The body isn’t incredibly heavy, meaning that, aside from the alcoholic burn, it goes down pretty smoothly.
The sweetness is not out of control, as it dissipates quickly due to all the other flavors. It also doesn’t get at all cloying. If you can find this one, I’d say its worth picking up. Criminally Bad Elf is sufficiently good.