From The Cellar: Dark Horse 4 Elf 3 Year Vertical

In Cellared Beer Reviews by The Guys

Dark Horse says:

A spiced Winter Warmer brewed with nutmeg, clove, allspice and other holiday flavors.

Dark Horse 4 Elf
Spiced Beer, 11.5% ABV

Karl: As I glance through some of the reviews of the 4 Elf on Beer Advocate, they all seem to say the same thing: “Should age well.” “Probably better with age.” Well, they were right. We sat down with three years of 4 Elf and determined the same thing. At least I did.

The fresh ‘10 Elf was full of raisin flavor and a gushing wetness to it, like it was wetter than normal fluids. There’s a viscosity & physics problem in there somewhere but as I am not an engineer, I’ll defer to someone else to figure it out. I have beer to drink.

Onto the ‘09: I expected this to deepen significantly in flavor over a year’s time, and I didn’t get what I thought I would. The flavors were more distinct but quieter, almost muted. Raisins and spice poke through, but the notes only got so high.

And then, the ‘08: NOW we’re talking. Ginger, cinnamon, spice cookie, rich body and full flavors – either it takes a couple years for this beer to really get crackin’, or the ‘08 batch just kicked a little more ass. Either way, this Elf was clearly superior to the other two years.

Andrew: We’ve done Christmas in July, we’ve done Christmas at, well, Christmas, and now we are doing Christmas on Valentine’s Day. We’ve almost come full circle on the Christmas beers, and I say bring it on. Seems as though the characteristics we find in Christmas-y beers really lend well to aging – the spices and dark fruits just continue to work their magic as they hang out for a year, or two, or five.

This is probably a cheap move on my part, but I concur with everything Karl has said about the 4 Elf.

I was less than impressed by the fresh 4 Elf. Had it stood alone, I would have liked it just fine, but sitting next to the ‘08 and ‘09, it didn’t stand a chance. In addition to what Karl said, I found the fresh 4 Elf to be a tad too bready and had kind of a soapy taste to it. What in the world was that about?

Once I tasted the ‘09 I really knew that I liked where we were heading here. The spices, cinnamon, ginger and raisins were starting to emerge a bit more than the ‘10…so that must mean that…

The ‘08 was incredible. I could have been convinced to believe that someone took some ginger bread cookies and crumbled them up and used them to make a beer and what emerged was this beer. Loved this beer. Wonder what happens if it had even more time to age?

Ryan: When we sat down with a 2009 bottle during our Christmas in July tasting I told you the story of how 4 Elf and I first met.  It was a magical night, really.  Filled with warming spices, aromas of dark fruits and all things Christmas.  So to say I was jazzed about a three year vertical of this would be a serious understatement.

A freshly opened bottle of 4 Elf gives off hints of raisins, plums and dark fruits in the nose.  A sip reveals flavors of the aforementioned raisins, cloves, nutmeg and some cinnamon.  The flavors are very bright but none really stand out.  I mean that in a good way.  The 2010 Elf is very well-rounded and epitomizes a winter warmer.

Let one sit around for a year and what do you get?  The best way I can describe it is by referencing two others beers; either Great Lakes Christmas Ale or Thirsty Dog’s 12 Dogs of Christmas Ale.  Both can best be described as ginger-forward bringing back memories of Christmas cookies fresh from the oven.  The ’09 4 Elf was rather gingery too.  The cinnamon was much more pronounced as well.

Lose one in the back of your closet for two years and you get a remarkably awesome, ridiculously good winter warmer that would be perfect for a bone-chilling winters night.  Cinnamon is the real star in the ’08 bottle.  The nose gives off a burst of spicy cinnamon akin to opening a fresh pack of Big Red chewing gum.  Sip away (highly recommended, no need to rush) and you get blasts of cinnamon, burnt cinnamon, ginger and clove.  This bordered on an out-of-body experience.

I’d hate to rank them because I enjoyed all three on their own, so I won’t.  But if you put a gun to my head I’d tell you to buy a four pack and drink one and put the rest back.  Andrew brought up a good question too; what would happen if it had more time to age?  Well, boys and girls, I may just have to find that out.  I just passed through Dark Horse the other day and saw they still had some for sale.  I might have to pick up a four pack and forget about it for a few years.  You know, for the good of science.

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Written by many, compiled by one, this is a collaborative post with contributions from at least two writers at Guys Drinking Beer.

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