Bad Elf Winter's Ale


Review Date 2/19/2007   Last Updated 12/31/2020  By John Staradumsky

Have you seen the movie Bad Santa? If you have, you know that the Santa featured in the film seemed to be pretty fond of his beer. Perhaps he’d enjoy a bottle of Bad Elf then. The name is certainly in keeping with the film, at any rate, though the beer is probably a bit more hoppy than old Bad Santa might appreciate.

Bad Elf Winter’s Ale is a specialty beer brewed for the holiday season by Ridgeway Brewing in Oxfordshire, England. I picked up a bottle in Asheville, North Carolina, not long back at the Weinhaus downtown. If you’re in the city, this is a great place to pick up some microbrews and imports.

Bad Elf comes packaged in 500ml brown glass bottles. I picked mine up for $3.99, a bit more than I’m used to paying for this size package, but only a bit more. The label features a particularly malevolent looking Elf and admonishes the prospective drinker thusly:

’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. And it’s conditioned right in the bottle, so please pour gently into your best flagon, leaving that wee bit of natural yeast behind. ‘Ere’s to your Elf!

The beer sounded too good to resist, and when the shopkeeper told me it was one of his favorite brews, I was sold, as was the beer. In my experience, really hoppy bottled English ales are not as common as American ones are. Bad Elf is the exception to that rule, however.

The beer is well-hopped during the brew and dry-hopped to boot, or aged on hops. This process will add hop aroma to the finished beer (though not bitterness). Bottle conditioned with yeast, my sample was a bit overly carbonated, and gushed from the mouth of the bottle as soon as I popped the cap.

Bad Elf pours to a cloudy orange amber color with a thick rocky head and a pronounced resiny, piney hop nose. A generous film of Brussels lace clings to the side of my glass. The palate is thick and chewy and rich with caramel malt, imparting a smooth mouthfeel.

Despite all the malt, the hops predominate, first with a floral, tea-like aspect and then gradually building in bitterness into the finish. There, the resiny, piney notes intensify and the bitterness lingers on the tongue well after sipping.

When I sipped my beer, the first thing that came to mind was Cascade hops, and amazingly, Bad Elf is made with them. Cascades are an American varietal and are not common in English ales. They serve to give Bad Elf a decidedly American flavor. Want more good news? The 2006 release is even bigger, with more hops and malt added for good measure.

This is a nice little IPA that would be even nicer with a touch more alcohol (it weighs in at 6% by volume). Still, I enjoyed it very, very much. It has a big brother called Very Bad Elf, a bigger one called Seriously Bad Elf, and an even bigger one called Criminally Bad Elf that all just went to the top of my beer hunting list.

Update 12/31/2020: That poor Bad Elf. He's just not as bad as he used to be. Recently, I picked up a 4-pack of Ridgeway holiday Ales with a bottle of Bad Elf included, and noticed that the alcohol content has been reduced to 4.5% by volume. That's 25% less bad than it used to be. The beer, is, however, a sheer delight to drink. It's super flinty with a hint of butter and sinful herbal grassy bitter notes. The Cascades did not come through so much but the beer seems more herbal. It is pricier than ever as well. I got my bottle in A Rather Curious Collection of Holiday Ales that I picked up at World Market for $29.95. That's about $7.50 a bottle, and that is more than I think the beer should go for, especially when you're buying four. Obviously, it did not deter me from purchasing. The beers in this collection will vary, but along with my bottle of Bad Elf my box included Very Bad Elf, Warm Welcome Nut Browned Ale, and Reindeer's Revolt.


And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.

*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.