Ridgeway Brewing was established in 2003 by ex-Brakspear head brewer Peter Scholey just 30 miles west of downtown London. Brakspear brewed a world famous English Bitter since 1779 but was being sold off in 2002 to make way for a fancy-schmancy new hotel. Determined to keep his craft alive, Peter decided to set out on his own and founded Ridgeway, a short distance from Brakspear. The Ridgeway Brewery is named for the ancient road, passable now only on foot, that meanders through the southwest of England. Ridgeway specializes in bottle-conditioned beers but equivalent cask beers are also available (usually only available in South Oxfordshire). I had the opportunity to sample 4 beers in the Bad Elf series reviewed below.
From the brewer:
‘Tis a heavy hand what adds the hops to this festive golden ale. Truth be told, there’s near to three pounds of fresh hops goes in every barrel of this treasured brew. Pull up a sturdy chair, let’s fill up yer best flagon with the season’s finest natural ale, and I’ll tell you a dark tale of elf and woe. ‘Ere’s to your elf!
Bad Elf is an English IPA clocking in at a respectable 6%abv, and is one of the top commercial examples of the style in the BJCP 2008 style guidelines. Personally, I either got a poorly stored bottle, or have lost my sense of taste. Certainly an English style ale with strong malt notes of biscuit and bread, but they overpower the hops entirely. I got some bitterness but could barely discern any hop aroma or flavor in the rolling sea of malt. The finish is especially long and lingers more than I care for. At $7.95 for a half liter bottle, it’s a little pricey for what you get.
Very Bad Elf
“Is it just my imagination,” queried old Santa, surveying the scene, “or is my Elf only getting worse and worse every year? What’s next? Seriously Bad Elf, I’ll wager. Mark my words.” This Very Bad Elf is one fine ale, rich, hardy, and flavorful, brewed to an original 1795 Thames Valley recipe, with a very special pale amber malt that is rarely used nowadays, and balanced by a modest addition of English Fuggle aroma hops. ‘Ere’s to your elf!
Very Bad Elf is an English Pale Ale that is much more balanced than Bad Elf. The malt bill here is a little different and yields pleasant notes of toffee and caramel, with very little of the biscuit abundant in Bad Elf. Hops are more pronounced with a very nice earthy and floral nose with a hint of citrus. Higher alcohol of 7.5%abv also adds to the balance in this beer. $8.95 for a half liter but this one is worth it. Give it a try.
Seriously Bad Elf
“I suppose I should have seen it coming this time,” groaned old Claus. “Holiday ornaments mysteriously disappearing – turning up broken – reindeer falling from the sky inexplicably… and then of course, i discovered that tiny hands have been prying into that cask of wonderful new Double Ale I’ve got stashed down in the cellar. That’s when I called in a specialist from the Elf Department. He just confirmed what I already suspected. We’ve got a rather serious elf problem here at the Pole.
This is called an English Double Ale, but if I had to classify it I would put it as an Old Ale or English Barleywine Lite. It’s a sweet beer with lot’s of caramel, hearty bread, and rich toffee all overshadowing the finish and aroma hops… if any. Not being a huge fan of English barleywines, I was not overly excited with this beer, though I appreciate the warmth of the 9%abv. If you like barleywines with their cloying sweetness and full body, grab this $8.95 bottle.
Criminally Bad Elf
“It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, of-course – wrong place at the wrong time… but Claus was soon back on the street with the polite apologies of the authorities – no questions asked. All’s well that ends well, surely, but still, the reporters wanted to know… it takes its toll, doesn’t it? “Indeed,” sighed Claus, “my elf is going crazy, and I fear I shall soon go crazy as well.” And with that he hoisted a great flagon of his favorite barleywine-style ale, silently contemplating the future and straining to remember why he got into this particular line of work in the first place.
Criminally Bad Elf is an English Barleywine with a warming 10.5%abv. Very rich, very malty, plenty of caramel and dried fruit flavors devoid of any hop aromas. Like a glass of sherry, sweetened with molasses and spiked with vodka. Let me state again, not a huge fan of barley wines, but if you like them give this a try, though I suspect for $8.95 a bottle, you could find better examples.