Thomas Hardy, 1999

Thomas Hardy
Grade: C

Ok, I know I said I wouldn’t do reviews on insanely rare and difficult to get beers, but this one literally fell into my lap. A friend of mine spotted a few of these in the back of some run-down backwoods liquor store and nabbed them. By stroke of luck he happened to grab the 1999 vintage, which was the last to be produced by the original English brewery.

Thomas Hardy was probably the first beer to break the $5 per bottle mark in American markets. Now the likes of Brewdog and Dogfish Head regularly put out uber-expensive, 12 oz beers, usually ridiculously high in alcohol. These beers are sometimes referred to as “hype” beers, designed to stir up interest, but not lead sales. Both Dogfish Head and Brewdog have regular production beers, so they’re not relying on the sales of these hype beers.

But Hardy is of a different ilk. Beer connoisseurs treat this beer like a rare port or cognac, trading different “vintages” that reach back to the sixties. It’s worth noting that this is absolutely the exception to the rule. If you stick a Bud Light in a cellar for a couple decades don’t expect it to come out tasting great. This is one of the few beers in the world that was not only expected to be aged, but was designed for it.

Pours a deep, dark red with little to no head. Despite being bottle conditioned and most likely mis-handled, it is actually quite clear. The aroma is full of toffee, sweetness from the malts, some bread, and a little bit of caramel/butterscotch. There is a definite level of oxidation going on here, there’s a wet-cardboard nose mixed with damp cellar. The flavor is very sweet, but complex. Some raisin and prune are there, mixed with brown sugar and a toffee flavor. The bitterness is very subdued, in fact it’s hard to find at all. Alcohol is present as well, which is to be expected at about 11% alcohol by volume. The very low level of carbonation makes this beer feel very thick on the tongue.

My colleagues were not impressed by this beer, and while I wasn’t completely disappointed I wasn’t going to jump on the Thomas Hardy bandwagon just yet. I think there are two types of beer appreciation, the first is that of an enthusiast, sitting around with friends, enjoying a few good pints, and relaxing at the end of a hard day. The other is that of a connoisseur, sipping at very rare, expensive, and hard to get beers and pondering every drop. Which do I fall into? I think it all comes down to what makes you happy. Does geeking-out and analyzing a beer to death do it for you? Then more power to you. Personally I like to sit back, share an interesting (and drinkable) beer with friends, and not worry too much about it. After all, it’s just beer guys. :)


Ilya Feynberg said...

Talk about RARE! I've NEVER heard of this beer, nor have I even seen it anywhere before! Totally cool bottle though, and great looking color. Not so shocked though to see a low take on it though. That's usually the case with a lot of aged over hyped beers. Strange huh?


Mike R Lynch said...

Sometimes beers can be really nice after a few years of age, but I have a feeling there is a bell curve. Thanks for the comment, nice blog you got there!

Roger said...

Mike, great review. I thank you for planting the Old Ale seed in my brain; I am now craving some Hardy's Ale.

Keep in touch with my friends at Sonoma as we can gather in December to enjoy a 1997 Samichlaus (from my stash, pictured in Beer-dulgence).

Like food, there are enjoyable qualities stratified through the beer universe (and other universes like wine, Scotch, Port, cigars, etc). Thomas Hardy's is the Ruth's Chris of the beer world (if it were a steak)... uber expensive and not as satisfying as a fast-food cheeseburger (admittingly true, to some).


Mike R Lynch said...

"not as satisfying as a fast-food cheeseburger"

Ha! Well said! And I absolutely will keep in touch, I'm in there at least once a week :)