When it comes to the history of beer, there are many legendary brews – some still available on the shelves of your discerning retailer, others long gone. But fortunately, in most cases, when a world-class beer is no longer commercially brewed, it is not lost to us like the dinosaurs or saber-toothed tigers. While reconstruction of extinct species may remain “Jurassic Park”-type science fiction, the same is not true for retired beers. As long as a recipe still exists, so does the potential for bringing back that historic ale or lager. And, if there were ever a more revered beer from the past century than Thomas Hardy’s Ale, I’m not sure what it would be.
Fairly recently retired and regarded by many as one of the greatest vintage beers ever created, Thomas Hardy’s Ale was, as beer writer Patrick Dawson notes, designed with aging in mind. After 10 years or more this big 11.7 percent, amber barleywine takes on characteristics closer to a Madeira or port with a flavor profile boasting fig, apricot, tobacco, leather, umami and molasses. If that doesn’t generate a little bit of palate intrigue, I don’t know what will.
According to Roger Protz of “All About Beer,” this British barleywine was first brewed by the Eldridge Pope brewery in 1968 to commemorate the passing of famed novelist Thomas Hardy; the brewery continued brewing the beer until it went out of business in 1999. In 2003, the rights and recipe to the beer were purchased by the American importer Phoenix – which distributed Hardy in the States – and then contracted out the brewing to O’Hanlon’s Brewery in Devon, England. In 2009, they too stopped brewing the beer, citing the high costs of production due to inputs, a long boil, and maturation time.
Now, after a few years of this rich barleywine not offering up any new vintages for purchase – and myself and plenty of others clinging to remaining bottles knowing they would probably be our last – there is good news! Thanks to some ambitious beer aficionados with a love for Thomas Hardy’s Ale, the Italian company Interbrau bought the rights in 2012 and contracted the brewing to Meantime Brewing Company in London.
Protz describes the latest incarnation of Hardy as having ”... a palate of black currant fruit, toasted grain, and peppery hops.” And on select shelves across America you may now encounter the illustrious Thomas Hardy’s Ale yet again.
And frankly, the timing couldn’t be better.
This week’s recommendation: Thomas Hardy’s Ale, a robust English barleywine with dark fruit notes, tobacco, chocolate, alcohol warmth. 11.7 percent ABV. Meantime Brewing/Interbrau. Devon, England
— Colin Hubbell is co-owner of the Green Onion Pub and The Beer Hub in South Utica, New York.