I came across this beer on one of the ‘rotating taps’ at a decent tap house I sometimes frequent.  I haven’t had much Mad River beer in the past, so I didn’t come in with any particular preconceived notions about the potential quality of the brew.  I have been somewhat going out of my way lately to sample a broad selection of Cascadian Dark Ales (or, if you prefer, American Black Ales or Black IPAs), as I think it’s a style that’s beginning to come into its own.  So obviously I couldn’t resist grabbing a pint to see what might be going on with this one.  Incidentally, I believe this used to be Mad River’s winter seasonal, but to the best of my knowledge it’s now in year-round production.




Mad River Serious Madness

NOTES: Pint on tap at Walt’s Pourhouse in Coos Bay, OR

STYLE: American Black Ale

ABV: 8.6%

APPEARANCE: A very dark black-brown, opaque unless held directly up to a light when it becomes just a smidge translucent.

HEAD: Half inch of khaki foam, fading quickly to a ring around the glass.

LACING: Significant, sticky lacing throughout.

NOSE: Sweet roasted malts dominate the nose of this beer.  There’s also a bit of espresso (distinctly more roasted than what I’d call a coffee aroma), and a small bitter hop presence.

TASTE: This beer is ALL about the dark roasted malt.  There’s some coffee and chocolate flavors present, and a minor hop bitterness with a somewhat astringent alcoholic finish, but the caramel/molasses/toffee malt flavors completely dominate. 

MOUTHFEEL: A somewhat thin mouth feel with a bit less carbonation than I was looking for.  The edge of the glass became tacky upon my first sip, and by the end I felt like I had an entire face full of sticky sugar residue.

DRINKABILITY: I somewhat enjoyed this beer.  I had no problem finishing it, and the flavors opened up some as it warmed, but I didn’t want another one.  Honestly, I have no idea why they decided to call this a black ale.  First of all, it’s bordering on imperial strength and comes in around 75 IBUs, so why not call it an imperial black ale?  Secondly, this beer tastes nothing like any CDA/American Black Ale/Black IPA I’ve ever sampled.  It’s a malty porter.  In fact, if they’d called it a porter I probably would have rated it higher.  But I expected a black ale and got something that just wasn’t.  2.5 hops for this misnomered confusion.





  1. I feel like I’ve never met a craft beer geek who drank a lot of Mad River beer or listed it among their favorite breweries. I wonder if that has any bearings at all on how successful the brewery actually is.

    Also: Their labels and stubby bottles are not my favorite.

  2. Seriously. What does lightning have to do with Serious Madness? I think the label design is fine, but I’m definitely not getting the connection. As to stubby bottles, I think I’ve only had Mad River on tap.

  3. I’ve had their Steelhead Extra Stout and DIPA- perfectly respectable offerings that I would happily drink again.

    The labels need work, but stubby bottles? Aren’t Founder’s bottles stubby? I have no issue with that.

  4. I don’t dislike stubbies in general, I think it’s just in conjunction with their labels or something. I don’t know! All I know is that there is some kind of reason why I’ve never picked up a six-pack of Mad River from a package store shelf.

    I’ve had both those beers too, the Steelhead and the DIPA, and you’re right, they’re both perfectly fine. They’re just never a brewery that comes to my mind. Have you ever heard someone raving about a particular Mad River beer?

  5. @The Captain what in God’s holy name are you blathering about? You’re from Florida.

    The style is generally credited (at least at production level) to Greg Noonan, founder of Vermont Brew Pub (VT) and Seven Barrel Brewery (NH) among others. The Cascade Range was not involved except for the hops grown in its valleys.

  6. Sure sure, that’s what the article I linked to above says. But we don’t call tissues ‘Kleenex’ because Kleenex made the first one. They just marketed their brand better than the competition. CDA FTW.

  7. I’m afraid the CDA terminology is being slowly, but inexorably phased out in favor of “American-style Black Ale” or the more pithy “American Black Ale”. BeerAdvocate recently added that category to their style list and whether or not you agree with their methods, BA tends to be the final word amongst a large portion of the beer-drinking cognoscenti.

    Personally, I’ve always found “Cascadian Dark Ale” to be a far more lyrical title…but it’s also a bit cryptic (particularly since Cascade is both a region AND a hop varietal). American Black Ale may be dull and workmanlike, but it just makes more sense. The term “American”, when added to a style name, has an almost universal connotation of a brasher, hoppier beer these days (think American IPA or American Pale Ale). When I hear the phrase “American Black Ale”, I instantly know what I’m getting myself in for…a black-hued, well-roasted, highly hopped brew.

    More importantly, when Beerford and the Captain are backing a horse, you know that horse is bound for the glue factory.

  8. As if this would be the first time I’ve deliberately chosen to fight a losing battle for absolutely no good reason other than that I’d already determined my position and damnit, I’m a stick-to-my-guns kinda guy! How else do you think the McBrewin’ family has survived all these generations in a mountain town with no law but our fists (or flippers, depending which branch of the family we’re talking about)?

  9. Yes, it’s amazing that the McBrewins managed to survive the one murder that took place in your hometown over the past 50 years.

    To be fair, it’s hard to hold a gun with flipper arms.

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