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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Thomas Hardy’s Ale 1978

I was barely conceived when
 this beer was bottled
The road to this beer started several years ago when I first got heavily into beer. I can’t remember when I first learned of its existence but I right away knew I wanted one for my 35th birthday, which at the time was three plus years out.  I know a couple of guys who have acquired them for their 40ths but at the time it seemed like too much of a stretch, now however I would consider another bottle just for that occation.

Over the years I’d throw out an occasional ISO:FT but only got crickets.  I even tried eBay off and on when you could still find beer on it, but I never caught a 1978 when it was available and was outbid on some close vintages (I thought I might be able to trade a 77 or a 79 for a 78).

So after years of searching and with the 35th deadline quickly approaching I was finally able to set up a trade for one in exchange for a bottle of the recent release of Duck Duck Gueuze.  The only hang up was that the bottle was all the way in Australia of all places. He asked if I’d be willing to wait till December as his friend would be in California around that time and could bring the bottle over with him. Considering it was the closest I’d been I agreed and started the wait.   A lot happened to me in the interim time: I started a new job, got banned from BA despite never violating their terms of service (where the trade started), ate a lot of reubens, ordered a brewsystem, went on an incredible vacation with my wife to Maui, had the best Halloween ever with my daughter and drank hundreds of new beers.  In the end we met up at Noble for a pint and exchanged a beer I’d been waiting years to get my hands on.

From the label – 
Thomas Hardy’s Ale – In “The Trumpet – Major” Hardy wrote of Dorchester’s strong beer “It was 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 the streakiness of taste but finally, rather heady”
There is also a label on the back of the bottle not quite as eloquent as the one on the front.  It states that this beer will last for 25 year and should not be consumed for at least 10 as stated by “Do Not Open Before 1988”

The oldest beer I've ever had
Appearance: Poured very carefully from a 180 ml 6.34 fl oz bottle numbered G 8745 and dated 1 May 1978. Pours near flat into a Thomas Hardy’s Ale Snifter glass sent to me by my friend Dan Cowell.  Tiny little bubbles form on the surface of the beer some linger but most quickly vanish. Peering inside the bottle reveals that a black tarry sediment remains on the bottom.  All is to be expected from a beer older than I am.  It is crystal clear with a brilliant amber-garnet color.

Aroma: Wow, talk about sensory overload.  It smells hot (fusel), old and very musty probably from oxidation.  Very reminiscent of port with leather and aged stone fruit accompaniment.  There is some faint residual sweetness on the nose when I deeply inhaul.  Bonnie swore it was barrel aged when she first smelled it and I can agree it has the presence that it could have been aged in port barrels with some type of fruit.

Mouthfeel: Thin and very slippery with no carbonation detected, but I’m in no way surprised by this.  The slickness coats my entire mouth.

Taste:  Very odd, nothing like I've ever tasted before.  I get hints of port but it also has a very metallic taste to it like over ripe plums.  There is a distinct tartness to it.  There is so many things going on that I have never tasted before I have no frame of reference to compare it to.  It is nearly impossible to distinguish what’s going on in my mouth.  It gets crazy good as it warms and opens up you get used to what you’re experiencing.

Overall: You really have to approach a beer like this with a completely open mind.  It was like nothing I have ever smelled or tasted before. Some beers get top marks due to taste alone while for others it is the experience that make them unforgettable.  For this beer it is truly an experience I will not soon forget and a great way to toast my first 35 years on this planet.  I would love to try another in 5 more years and possible with a 1978 Westvleteren 12.



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