Home Our Cellar Uncapped: 44-, 25- and 4-year-old Thomas Hardy’s Ale

Uncapped: 44-, 25- and 4-year-old Thomas Hardy’s Ale

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CATEGORIES: Our Cellar  

Lindsay Dawson

Editor’s note: The following guest post comes to you from cellar enthusiast, forthcoming author and North Denver Tribune beer columnist Patrick Dawson. We’d love to hear about your own aged beer tastings; contact us at cellar@draftmag.com.

If any beer was ever made for the cellar, it’s English barleywine. Its combination of fruity esters, mellow English hops, intense (initially harsh) fusel alcohols and kettle-caramelized malts write the perfect script for cellar success. And if the English barleywine is the granddaddy of vintage beers, Thomas Hardy’s Ale is the grand Poobah of them all. Introduced by Eldridge Pope Brewery in 1968, it was named in honor of the great British novelist/poet in return for his ode to the brewery’s beer in the novel “The Trumpet Major.”

Hardy’s Ale was brewed off and on until 1999 when poor sales and high costs halted production of this treasure. When Eldridge Pope ceased brewing altogether in 2002, O’Hanlons Brewery carried the torch and brewed the ale from 2003 to 2008.

Unique from many English barleywines sold today, Hardy’s ale was bottle-conditioned with live yeast, allowing the beer to further develop. The label actually promotes aging the beer, stating, “…will mature in the bottle for at least 25 years…”  To test this claim, I recently popped open a 25-year-old bottle with some friends and, for perspective, also opened a 1968 and a 2008.  Here are the tasting notes from one of the best aging beers I’ve ever drank:

2008: As fresh as you can get anymore. A deep, garnet pour and thin, quickly dissipating head. Still surprisingly boozy, yet the fusel alcohols trend more toward fruity than harsh, with notes of grape candy and dried apricots. Thick with toffeelike sweetness, but the ample carbonation cuts through well. Quite enjoyable, with harbingers of good things to come.

1987: After the brewery-recommended 25 years, time has definitely altered the appearance. Opens with nary a hiss and pours an intense mahogany hue with no head. The aroma has taken on a slight mustiness and is now powerfully sweet and treaclelike with hints of Fig Newton. Lots of sherry and tawny flavors, a sugary dried fruit layer, and a salty twang all come together for a mounting complexity. Still quite thick and, being carbonation-less, borders on cloying. A truly contemplative beer, but it makes you wonder if it could still use more time in cellar to thin a bit.

1968: The vintage that started it all. Incredibly, the bottle opens with a hiss and pours near-black with a few wispy bubbles. Fantastic nose of molasses, figs, cellar must, and the slightest touch of teriyaki sauce. One drink transports you to a cozy English parlor with aspects like tobacco, leather and wood all mingling with dried fruit, molasses and sherry flavors; you can almost hear Churchill orating in the distance. The ale has thinned considerably which makes the lack of carbonation a non-issue. It’s one of those brews you wish would never end: a masterpiece, with each sip being a delicious, new experience.

Verdict: Eldridge Pope didn’t give itself enough credit with only 25 years. This baby can go for the long haul—and then some.



Your cellar: Tart wild ales

The tartness of bottled wild ales tends to follow a pattern, rising in the first few years and slowly ebbing as time wears on. With some creative cellaring, you can become a master of acidity.

CATEGORIES: Beer   Midwest Breweries   Our Cellar  


Cellar this: beers brewed with raisins

Malt-focused beers often develop a raisiny character after a few years; fuse this age-derived flavor with one gleaned from actual raisin additions for an extra scoop of sun-dried scrumptiousness.

CATEGORIES: Beer   Our Cellar  


  • RanD says:

    I’m jealous!

  • me says:

    Wow! Nice write-up!

  • Judi & Glenn says:

    As fans of Patrick Dawson, Thomas Hardy and fine beer, we have to say, EXCELLENT REVIEW! Fine Photograph too. You two should write a book about beer!

  • nr8209 says:

    Decisions, decisions??? I have two bottles remaining – a 1979 and a 1981. To open or not to open?

  • drew57 says:

    I still have one I bought in England (a 1987 vintage)

  • Barry W says:

    bought 6 in Canterbury at The Cross Keys when my daughter was born in ’88, still have one in the fridge, she’s 25 now, both of them…….

  • P Wilson says:

    I have 2 bottles of Eldridge Pope Thomas Hardy’s Ale 1979 bottle numbers J219 & J221 both dated 1st September 1979 180ml. What to do with them, drink them, keep them or sell them? All seals and labels intact, have been kept at the back of the sideboard since purchased from the local off license.

  • Steve Bosch says:

    I have 14 bottles of 1987 Thomas Hardy’s Ale that I bought new. I am considering selling them. What are they worth? They have been kept in the dark, all seals and labels are intact.

  • Jesse Lara says:

    Awesome article. Well written!

    @Steve Bosch, are you really selling? I’d be interested depending on cost and shipping. Email me? jesselara (at) gmail (dot) com

  • Chuck Plum says:

    I have three 4 packs 1991 vintage Thomas Hardy’s Ale. I purchased new here in New Hampshire back in the day. I am interested in selling. I’m not sure of what would be a fair price. Any help would be appreciated.

  • And says:

    I have come across two bottles of limited edition Thomas Hardy’s Ale Both still sealed, and with consecutive numbering. I’m trying to see if anyone would be interested in buying them. Do you have any ideas?


  • Laura says:

    I’m about to open a bottle from 1984…any suggestions / warnings?

  • Steve B says:

    I have 2 bottles from 1968 and after reading the review i am considering opening one of them. And maybe a younger one to compare their differences.

  • dave wiseman says:

    For sale as one lot (Private collector based in UK)

    Eldridge Pope – all nips in good condition with labels which may have damage top the edges (similar condition to the Sherborne Abbey on your web site)

    Sherborne Abbey Ale
    nos 30186 30180
    Thomas Hardy’s ale
    May 78 no 24965
    July 77 no 3623
    December 75 no 8949
    Coronation Brew June 1977

    Devenish Regal Ale 1952-1977 1977

    1/2 pt

    George Gale Prize Old Ale corked bottle

    Traquair House
    Brew no 1 Bottle 969 – front label missing
    100th Brew

    Selby Brewery Selby Ale no 3 (real ale)

    Penhros Special

    Robin Hood Brewery Old Fart (Best before August 1992)

    And then


    Delirium Tremens – 9% proof
    La Guillotine – 9.1% proof
    Satan Gold (best before 1992) 8% proof

    and finally 25cl Samichchlaus Bier – claimed join the back to be the strongest beer in the world from the Guinness book of records – 14% proof

  • David says:

    I have a bottle from ’99, aging safely in the dark corners of the cellar, bout ten more years and I’m opening that fricker, can’t wait !!! ( mouth salivating for that liquid grain )

  • Andrews says:

    I have a bottle of Thomas HARDY’S ALE..July 1968. Bottle No. A 1196. Labels still in tact but old..original red velvet trimmed collar. I think it has had some leakage over the years as it is not quite full! I want to sell this if I can…Anybody know collectors…or value please?

  • Oogie Wa Wa says:

    I bought a case of the ’98 vintage and have been slowly drinking them with friends on special occasions. Just had one with some fellow homebrewers that have recently gone pro. Still wonderful, and I still have seven left. They’ll go for another 15 years if my plans work out. Those young fellows were totally blown away!

    Oh. If you find an older version like that. First. LEAVE IT SIT UNDISTURBED for at least a month, pour VERY GENTLY, and DO NOT pour out any of the lees, very nasty stuff. I suggest going to a decanter first and spot the last ounce to the beer gods.

  • wendy carley says:

    we have 4 bottles in good condition a collection of Thomas Hardy ales from 1968 1979 1982 + 1987 Vintage ales need to know what they are worth + where would be the best sold

  • Paul Zocco says:

    I need a 2004 Thomas Hardy to complete my collection. And nips also in the years that made them.

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