• One beer, two styles?

    A barley wine, or an old ale? This is not as pedantic a question as it may appear. Thomas Hardy’s Ale is such an important beer that it can actually be classified in two different categories.

    If the barley wine definition is perhaps the more common and widely-acknowledged, quite a few English experts put this beer in the old ale class. Foremost among these is celebrated beer writer Michael Jackson.

    The distinction is one for the specialists, because the two categories do in fact have many points in common: neither, for example, could be described as a “mass” beer; moreover, both are characterised by a fairly high alcohol content, higher in barley wine than in old ale, and both have a pronounced malty flavour.

    Both types, again, are of British origin and both have long histories. In fact, although the first recorded mention of barley wine dates to the early 20th century, we know for certain that this type of beer had already been produced in Great Britain for centuries. Old ales have an equally long story.

    Both types, finally, are beers which develop and mature for years in the bottle, and so they can be aged in the cellar after purchase. This is why, with a beer like Thomas Hardy’s Ale, we can enjoy amazing “vertical” tasting of various vintages, discovering the differences in the beer’s flavour and aroma in each individual year.

    A feature which has added to the reputation of the beers in question: buying barley wine or old ale is seen as an investment whose only reward is pleasure. On your own or shared with friends.

    On condition, of course, that they know how to appreciate a Thomas Hardy’s Ale.

  • The historic vintages

    When talking of a beer so extraordinary as Thomas Hardy’s Ale the reference to memorable vintages is never an exaggeration. Each vintage, every year if you prefer, is actually characterised by different shades. In addition, the fascinating “miracle” of ageing in the cellar allows to enjoy, as long as you succeed in leaving a Thomas Hardy’s “helpless” for long, the evolution of the aromas and taste that gradually becomes more complex, structured, deep.
    However, authoritative experts have identified, in a number of occasions, some really legendary vintages, the result of exclusive and much envied tastings. If you happen to have any bottle of these legendary vintages in your cellar, well, be aware that you are guarding a treasure. And if you happen to taste an “old” bottle of Thomas Hardy’s Ale … well, please share with us your feelings. We would love it!

    The silver anniversary year, that is twenty-five years from first production, a beer not impossible to find and even at the peak of its potential. Deep amber coloured, with complex and structured aromas that reveal the sweet notes of fruit, almonds and caramel. The palate again reveals sweet notes of caramel that, combined with toasted hints, give rise to an alcoholic accent that is at the same time warm, pleasant and persistent.

    A beer that seems to improve from year to year, according to those who had the good fortune to taste it several times and on different occasions over time. It results darker than that dated 1993, with a greater aromatic complexity that even includes spicy notes. The nose offers hints of smoke, vanilla, apple and cinnamon. The palate is well balanced, rich in malt sweetness but not cloying. The finish leaves aromatic hints of coffee, roasted malt and creamy toffee.

    Despite the many years passed, the taste of the vintage 1987 revealed a beer still extremely enjoyable. The amber colour turns to brown, the bouquet offers notes reminiscent of brandy, chocolate and caramel impressions, hints of dried flowers. The palate is simply sumptuous and complex with clear notes of figs and dates, up to a soft finish that leaves flavours of chocolate and caramel.

    The first vintage ever of Thomas Hardy’s is a kind of Holy Grail. Idealized and highly sought after. Those who have had the good fortune to taste it report, with understandable emotion, notes of crème brûlée, an articulated fruity flavour ranging from nuances of apples, apricots and currants, the vinous finish hint reminiscent of a good quality Port. The first sip is able to amaze with its silkiness, as well as with the warm notes of toffee, apricot liqueur and, again, Porto. A beer yet elegant, complex but balanced and able to ensure a truly memorable taste experience.

  • Thomas Hardy’s Ale

    Thomas Hardy was one of the greatest English novelists and poets of the late 19th and early 20th century. He was born in 1840 in the small village of Upper Bockhampton, Dorset. Not so far from the small city of Dorchester, where the Eldridge Pope Brewery opened its doors in 1881. Following a period spent in London, where he intended to put to use his studies as an architect, Hardy returned to his home county and devoted himself to literature.

    A socially committed writer, often gloomy and pessimistic, his fortunes fluctuated in both life and work, with noteworthy success often followed by vociferous public rejection. After an early series of short stories came what may be considered Hardy’s greatest novel: Far from the Madding Crowd. The success of this book, published in 1874, allowed Hardy to devote himself exclusively to writing, and, at the same time, to become increasingly isolated in the rural life of the Dorset countryside.

    1891 saw the publication of the novel which is universally seen as his most famous:Tess of the d’Urbervilles. In a dramatic criticism of social mores, Tess, a young country girl, finds herself cast into a social setting superior to her own. Four years after the success of Tess came the publication of Jude the Obscure, which nevertheless did not receive critical acclaim. The disappointed Hardy vowed to write only poetry from that moment. A promise he kept until his death in Dorchester in 1928.

     * * *

    Thomas Hardy loved beer. Especially from the Eldridge Pope Brewery. He was frequently seen in Dorchester pubs, and in one of his stories, The Trumpet Major, he describes the beer of Casterbridge (aka Dorchester) in these words: “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. People adored it, and the well-to-do loved it better than wine…”

    Years after the writer’s death, some empty Victorian bottles were found at Eldridge Pope. The decision was taken to pay homage to the great author, and in 1968, on the fortieth anniversary of his death, a special beer was produced for the first time, in limited edition. It was called, obviously, Thomas Hardy’s Ale.

  • The grounds of a comeback

    Basically, Thomas Hardy’s Ale’s return has a single reason.

    It is a beer that we have loved since the very first time we tasted it. So, basically, that’s all there is to it! Simple.

    We haven’t kept records over the years of the ups and downs of this exceptional barley wine, a truly unique example of style. We enjoyed gently sipping it with pleasure every time we had the chance, like all its devotees around the world. We all had small stocks in our private cellars and used to open a bottle on special occasions, enjoying it sitting comfortably by the fireplace.

    Just like all the others, we have received the news that Thomas Hardy’s will no longer be produced with a mix of sadness and nostalgia. The feelings we’ve felt, the deep and lasting pleasure we have always found in every glass, were destined to become just a memory.

    And then, all of a sudden, we had the chance of bringing this fantastic beer back to life, an opportunity that we really couldn’t miss. As they say, a once in a lifetime’s chance. Thomas Hardy’s Ale is our chance and we have taken it without a second thought. With love, respect, the desire and willingness to return Thomas Hardy’s to its passionate admirers, as it always has been. A large family to which we have always belonged to, belong to and will always belong to.

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