Thomas Hardy’s Ale
The story of Thomas Hardy’s Ale is a rich one. It is reportedly the world’s most famous vintage beer, and the scarcity of the beer seems to be half (or more) of the allure. It is bottle conditioned to mature in the bottle like wine and is actually classified as a barley wine. It is reported it improves with age (like wine) for at least 26 years. After our taste, we kind of hope that’s true, because the 2006 vintage, though good, wasn’t anything earth shattering for us. We read elsewhere that it is considered the beer enthusiast’s equivalent of rare cognac – with time that may be the case but with the one year old bottle I’d be a tad disappointed if this is what I had waited all that time for. After our tasting we did concur that we would like to try a 5 or 10 year old bottle to see how much the flavor mellowed and improved.
It’s a tiny bottle – 8.5 oz at 11.7% ABV. The bottle itself is great – non-traditional with an exceptional label. It feels like a special beer before you even open it. They say packaging is the great differentiator and they are correct. Our bottle is a 2006, No. P 29211. This was a rare treat in that we got to do this review together as John was home on an emergency trip. We got it at the Cellar for $5.99 on May 31 so it’s a tad pricey. After reading up on this on Rate Beer we let it warm up a lot.
John: The initial pour has absolutely no head and very little carbonation. Initially I said no carbonation but there is a hint of it.
Dad: Used a Poco Grande glass. Beer temp. 63 F., not much head.
John: The color is orange/dark amber and fairly clear with some sediment.
Dad: The color is dark amber and clear.
John: The smell is very distinctive. I get notes of alcohol, caramel, honey, toffee and believe it or not, tomato juice, almost like a V-8. There’s also a bit of a burnt smell to it.
Dad: The first aroma present was alcohol with caramel and honey.
John: The taste is very complex – there’s an overall smokiness to it with butterscotch, caramel, toffee and molasses also vying for attention. The mouth feel is solid and heavy, almost syrupy and coats the tongue very well. Initially the taste is sweet but it get a little bitter to balance it out. The aftertaste is very smooth, a lot like drinking a good scotch. It hangs around for a while on the roof of the mouth. It is very warming.
Dad: First taste gave bittersweet caramel, butterscotch and burnt malts. It had an incredibly rich mouth feel almost like butter, on the roof of the mouth and center of the tongue. The sweet hit initially and the bitterness remains long afterward. There is a smokiness buried deep inside the complex flavors with maybe a touch of molasses.
John: I would call this a dessert beer. It’s actually well balanced and VERY unique and I will admit it’s more complex in retrospect than I initially thought on the first taste. I good solid 6 on it’s own, but the character brings it up to a 7.
Dad: This reminded me of the Black Sheep ale that I had a while back but on steroids. After finishing this I pulled a Red Stripe for it’s lightness and could taste it all the way through it. It’s almost like having another one although a much weaker version. Should have used a really cheap beer instead.
Thomas Hardy’s Ale Rating: 7 out of 10 (?)
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