This one is a bit of an unfair fight. Occasionally you get to sample some things that are almost other worldly. Back on the 8th of December, we held our own mini beer festival featuring a selection of bottled dark ales. And in amongst this selection there were two editions of Thomas Hardy’s Ale.
In ‘The Trumpet Major’, Thomas Hardy writes about Dorchester strong beer:-
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.
The refurbishment of the Trumpet Major pub in Dorchester was the catalyst for Thomas Hardy’s Ale. 1968 saw the 40th anniversary of the author’s death and what better way to commemorate it than by attempting to bring fiction to life and creating this ale that Hardy had imagined.
This was to be no ordinary beer. Matured in oak sherry casks for nine months and corked in decorative pint and half pint bottles. It was brewed to 12% and bottle conditioned. A new legend began, and bottles were laid down with the expectation of improvement as the beer matured.
Hardy’s Ale was not produced again until 1974 but with the exception of 1976 appeared annually after that until the final vintage of 1999. Then Hanlon’s took on production from 2003 to 2009 but stopped because it was too expensive and time consuming.
Luckily, fellow imbiber Bruce had managed to source a few bottles of this almost mythical beer. And tonight was the night for sampling…
First up the 2008 vintage:-
A whiff of Marmite on the nose, this is dark and delicious and pretty special.
Next up, further back in time to the 1979 vintage:-
Another wow moment. Still that whiff of Marmite on the nose, and hints of coffee and port. This was clearly the outstanding beer of the month, and the year. But definitely an unfair fight. How can you beat something that’s been bobbing around for 25 years?
So, in the interests of balance, and as this is a special case, the beer that would have won otherwise was another dark slice of deliciousness, a Black Ops Imperial Stout by Salopian Brewery. Big coffee flavours, big chocolate flavours, big hop flavours and black, black, black. In any other month this would have been a clear winner, but Thomas took the prize.