Currently in Pennsylvania, we’re in the initial stages of Mad Elf madness. The potent, 11% ABV ale, brewed by local favorite Troegs, comes out in mid-October and is available primarily by the case (remember, we have some weird liquor laws in the Keystone State) until bars join in on the fun around Thanksgiving with drafts.
Seeing beer with a crazy, festive elf on the bottle invade stores before Halloween in Pa. is the most welcomed Christmas creep ever.
Since the mid-2000s, the honey and cherry-infused beer has caused quite a stir in my hometown of Harrisburg and beyond. I’ve had a front-row seat to the movement, too, working most holidays at my family’s beer distributor. What I learned is this: The smart people buy cases of Mad Elf early. They’re not going to drink that powerful nectar anytime soon though. They’re going to wait. They’re going to savor it. After Turkey Day, cases will start to disappear from distributors until there’s nothing left, making most holiday parties a little less jolly. By Christmas Eve, beer stores have to turn fans away like parents who waited until the last minute to shop for a Furby in ‘98.
The night before Christmas was my favorite day to work at the beer store. People are merrier, they tend to tip more and you have access to countless numbers of cases before you head to a holiday gathering. But there are always a few people who come in looking for Mad Elf who leave disappointed. We’ve called other stores for customers to see if the holiday brew was still around. I’ve sold half barrels to people just looking for a case of 24 bottles. One year in anticipation, my mother, who managed the store, called other distributors to buy more because the brewery only allotted vendors so many cases. In recent years, I even tried peddling some stuff called Fegley’s Rude Elf, which Troegs actually got into a trademark dispute with saying that beer drinkers would be confused by having two, high-alcohol elves to chose from, but to no avail.
Mad Elf has no substitute, at least at 5:55 p.m. on Xmas Eve.
Troegs has expanded its operations and brand immensely since opening its doors in 1997 in Harrisburg. When my family entered the beer racket in December 2003, there were three cases of Mad Elf in the store. The following year, we got 14, which was the number for other stores since Troegs had limited space and the holiday beer needed to ferment longer (with preorders, though, those cases were spoken for before they even arrived). Troegs moved their operations to Hershey in 2011, choosing a location less than three miles away from Hersheypark, Chocolate World and weary tourists looking for a place to unwind after a long day of amusement park rides.
Last year was our final Christmas at the distributor. We ordered 70 cases of Mad Elf initially and an additional 30 when the first batch was gone. Troegs’ reach has even expanded past Pa. – they currently distribute to eight other states and Washington, D.C.
I won’t have VIP access to Mad Elf this year, but that’s fine by me. I’ll watch the madness unfold from a barstool. Besides, my older brother manages a beer store and said he could give me a discount on the Elf.
I may just have to take him up on that…for tradition’s sake.