HOLIDAY BEER: Seriously Bad Elf is an English triple, with a blend of three malts.
HOLIDAY BEER: Seriously Bad Elf is an English triple, with a blend of three malts.
WHERE do you draw the line between ribald and disgusting? Personally, I thought I'd hit my limit last week when importer Dan Shelton e-mailed me some info about four new English beers he's marketing in a four-pack for Christmas.

I'd heard about three of them: Bad Elf, Seriously Bad Elf and Rudolph's Revenge. They created a media storm in England and in the Eastern U.S. last year. But the fourth was new and, well, I was underwhelmed.

What do you think about Santa's Warm Welcome? The label shows ol' Santa stuck in a chimney, his ample rear suspended over a roaring fire. There's more, but let's save it for my blogs. In my humble opinion, it belongs in a forgotten folder along with Nude Beer, Blonde Beer and Gay Beer. Mess with elves and Rudolph? Why not? But Santa?

Then, I sat down at The City Beer Store in San Francisco with the distributor, Dave Manzo of Manzo Beer & Ale of Mountain View, and tried the four. Santa's Warm Welcome was pretty good, good enough to ignore the label and enjoy the beer.

But the treat of the four-pack is Seriously Bad Elf+. This one's a holiday delight and it's our Beer of the Week. This is a hefty 9 percent alcohol by volume, made in the style of a Belgian triple.

Seriously Bad Elf is made by Ridgeway Brewing Co., founded by Peter Scholey, who was the brewer at Brakspear in nearby Henley-on-Thames, which closed to make room for a hotel. Fortunately, Scholey set up his own brewery. His wicked-looking elves, no doubt, are casting a jaundiced eye on the hotel and the former brewery owners.

It's a light copper-colored beer with a malty nose and a silky, toffee malt taste with a bit of warming from the alcohol at the end and a slight, spicy bite from the hops.

Scholey calls it an English triple. It's a blend of pale ale malt, North German-style pilsner malt and malted wheat, which produces a sizeable head of foam. He says most of the bitterness and all of the hop flavor come from Saaz hops. Admiral, a UK hop, was also used.

He used a lager yeast — which produces a clean flavor, but fermented the beer at warmer ale temperatures. The beer is bottle conditioned, using the old Brakspear ale strain. Adding the fresh yeast allows the beer to ferment slowly in the bottle, over time producing a much drier taste.

The Christmas pack of four 500 milliliter (16.9-ounce) bottles is sold as a unit. List price is about $20, still not bad for four large bottles of very good beer. And hey — keep the labels. No doubt they'll become collectors' items. To see all the labels in the four-pack, check out my blogs: http://www.beernewsletter.com and http://www.insidebayarea.com/beer.

-Can't find this beer? E-mail whatsontap@sbcglobal.net or call me (510) 915-1180 and ask for our 2006 Bay Area Retail Beer Store list.

Beer ratings are based on a star system. — world classic; — outstanding; — excellent; — good; — average.

Staff writer William Brand publishes What's On Tap, a consumer craft beer and hard cider newsletter. He can be reached at (510) 915-1180. Fax: (510) 841-6023. E-mail: whatsontap@sbcglobal.net.