09 February 2010

Vintage Notes: 1999 Thomas Hardy's Ale

Well, we're in the process of being snowed in, and we're not going anywhere tomorrow. Heck, I may have to walk to Max's on Friday morning, at the rate things are going. So let's do it.

I trust Thomas Hardy's Ale needs no introduction for most readers of this blog. If I'm wrong, you can find more here, and here, and here. Harshly dissenting view here.

This bottle is one of a large stash--22 bottles--of mixed 1998 and 1999 bottles I uncovered in one of three liquor stores just over the Wisconsin border from Iron Mountain, Michigan (you saw all three stores before you saw the "Welcome to Wisconsin" sign, and at least two of the stores also stocked live bait) two days before my wedding in September 2004. The bottles on the shelves had price stickers of $3.79 a bottle--and "sale" stickers priced $2.29! With that, I had the unmitigated audacity to approach the stockists and ask, "If I take all of them, can I get a little bit better?" After conferring with the managers, he came back and said "if we find a case, he'll give you $2 a bottle". I grabbed one of the two cardboard Thomas Hardy's boxes and filled it with every bottle from the shelves as the stockists cleaned out the back. All in all, we found 22 bottles. He said, "Well, he said a case, but....." I saw, and grabbed, two lonely bottles of Sinebrychoff Porter that looked abandoned and glanced at the stockist; he shrugged and said, "Okay, yeah."

I rushed the case to the checkout, paid the $48 plus tax, and locked it up in my car before anyone could change their mind. Then I returned to purchase more stuff, primarily New Glarus Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart.

Reiterate: I had Thomas Hardy's at my wedding for $2 a bottle. The last two vintages by the Eldridge Pope Brewery, no less. (I also had, for the less adventuresome, a five-liter "mini-keg" of Unibroue Blanche de Chambly, which I found to be a perfect substitute for those expecting something akin to champagne at a wedding.)

Sipping notes: This needs a fireplace. As I open it, the aroma of woody toffee hits my nose before I can pour it. In spite of mishandling the bottle, it pours bright as a bell, a lovely deep red color of fine sherry. Carbonation is very thin, just right for the style but a disappointment to anyone expecting to measure head retention. The nose is oak, malt, sweet hot caramel/toffee/butterscotch, with a bit of saddle leather and maybe pipe tobacco. The flavor is nowhere near as sweet and cloying as the nose seems to promise; instead it's dry in flavor but full of sweet and buttery--very buttery--mouthfeel. For those who truly know their malt, this has that classic nuttiness of Maris Otter malt, and little wonder--the recipe for this beer supposedly is 100% Maris Otter, boiled and boiled like heck. The flavor is chewy, nutty Maris Otter malt with sweet oak, orange peel, raisins, peat smoke, and buttery toffee; the finish is wispy, almost vapory like incense, of citrus, Earl Grey tea/bergamont, dry sherry. Alcohol is prominent, like a watered-down spirit. Say, a liqueur made from heavily oaked Constant Comment tea (the orange-peel-and-cloves product from Bigelow). The tannic flavors hearken to both cloves and oak-aged beers, with a bit of tea-leaf bitterness as well.

This is the kind of tasting experience best shared with others. Other tasters sipping the same drink will proffer suggestions of flavors that you won't come up with--smoked prunes? maple and whiskey? Dalwhinnie? --and the multitude of suggestions gets argued down to a consensus.

Should you get what's left? Not everyone will love this--this beer can be as polarizing in reaction as, say, politicians or musicians. (I tell people my first sip of Dogfish Head 120-Minute IPA was sprayed over an adjacent wall, in part because I apparently anticipated something more like a cross between their 90-Minute IPA and Thomas Hardy's.)

Oh, and how does one chill beer like this in this weather?  One guess.


Brad said...

Sounds like THE perfect beer. So jealous.

And wow, what a story!

Unknown said...

I have one bottle of vintage 1998 left. I have hidden it in my beer/vine cellar, afraid the someone my drink it without knowing what it is. I had another 1998 which I drank with friends a year ago. Unbelievable! Had it in a brandy sniffer. I can't describe the deep beautiful taste.
Do you know anywhere that I may find some ? Any where? David