Friday, October 5, 2007

And while we are talking about the greatest beer on earth...

Named after the writer and poet, Thomas Hardy’s Ale is one of the most striking beers on earth. Originally brewed by Eldridge Pope to celebrate the refurbishment of the Trumpet Major pub in Dorchester in 1968, it also happened to be the 40th anniversary of the writers’ death. The beer bore the lines from the book The Trumpet Major “It was of the most beautiful colour that the eye of an artist in beer could desire; full in body, yet brisk as a volcano; piquant, yet without a twang; luminous as an autumn sunset; free from streakiness of taste, but, finally, rather heady".

Eldridge Pope set out to brew a beer that would match Hardy’s description. The beer was matured in sherry casks for 9 months and presented in corked pint, ½ pint, and nip bottles. The demand and interest in the beer that was meant to be a one off meant that from 1974 it was brewed regularly, with a one year absence in 1976, vintages being produced yearly until 1999. Production ceased after several years of brewing to a significantly altered recipe (The 100% Maris Otter grist of old was replaced with a 50/50 mix of pale ale and pilsner malt, an ale yeast was substituted for a bohemian lager yeast) . Eldridge Pope closed as so many English Family brewers have and the American importer, fittingly named Phoenix, who had been shipping the beer into the States since the very first vintage bought the rights to the brand.

O’Hanlons gained the contract to brew the new Thomas Hardy’s ale. Again the recipe has changed this time to include crystal malt. I have only ever tasted O’Hanlon’s version and I am utterly in love with it, filling my cellar with bottles when ever I can.

One of the absolute genius elements to the recipe is that no matter where in its maturation you drink it Hardy’s is always in balance. When its young you are struck by the huge rich malty layers of flavour which are nearly over powering but also by the massive bitterness which acts
to balance the malt and prevent it from becoming a syrupy mess, as the beer ages it gains complexity, fortified wine flavours and its bitterness mellows. Heres some tasting notes I wrote after sampling a 2005 vintage from my cellar recently:

Thomas Hardy’s Ale 2005 11.7%abv

Pours a dark reddish amber with little wispy white head that disappears quickly. Aroma features big dark toffee, a vinous character (mainly port, a touch of brandy) and nutty malt. On the palate there is a big sweet malt, a nutty water biscuit note, toffee as is on the nose, fortified wine notes, port, tangy earthy hops, and a firm bitter finish. this vintage is starting to soften. Over all impression is of a mellow warming incredibly complex ale.

1 comment:

Greig McGill said...

I concur. An awesome beer. I have 11 of the 2003 vintage in my cellar, but should really seek out some other years.