Monday, August 11, 2014

O'Hanlon's Thomas Hardy's Ale Review

Name: O'Hanlon Thomas Hardy's Ale
Style: English Barleywine
ABV: 11.7%

Every once in a while, I'll dip into my reserve of stronger beers (Barleywine, Imperial Stouts, etc.) after I've let them age for a while just to try them out to see any changes in flavor. I will usually let it sit for a year before I decide to crack it open and nothing else. In fact, the oldest beer I've ever had was a 3 year old bottle of Three Floyds Behemoth Blonde Barleywine a couple years ago over at a friend's house back when I lived in Chicago.

Then last weekend at my wedding, I received a bottle of Thomas Hardy's Ale, brewed by the Hanlons Brewing Company (formally known as O'Hanlon's), which is based out of Great Britain. When I did my research on this beer, I found out that this was actually brewed originally by Eldridge Pope Brewing from 1968 to 2002, at which point O'Hanlon continued to make this up until 2008 when production was halted altogether and it has not been made since then. Although it's worth noting that I have read rumors that this may be brought back in the near future but everything is speculation at this point.

Taking it's name from renowned British poet Thomas Hardy, Eldridge Pope decided to commemorate his memory in a beer back in 1968 thanks in part to his novel "The Trumpet Major". In the novel he describes the beer from Dorchester (the city which Eldridge Pope was based):

"It was of 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 streakiness of taste, but, finally, rather heady"

Looking into the reputation of this beer, I found out that it is one of the most highly sought after beers in all of England and is meant to be aged for a long time. In fact, Draft Magazine posted an article a couple years ago that featured 3 bottles of Thomas Hardy Ale from 1968, 1987, and 2008. It's absolutely worth reading if you have a minute to spare.

This brings me to the bottle in my possession, which is from 2005, making it 9 years old and the oldest beer I've had to date. Now on Beer Advocate it's classified as an Old Ale but everywhere else seems to refer to this as an English Barleywine. With this information in mind, I will be referring to this as the latter.

Thomas Hardy's Ale pours a very cloudy brown color that is devoid of any visible carbonation or lacing. The head is also non-existent save for a couple of bubble clusters which fade away almost instantaneously.

The aroma is very caramel malt and boozy forward. These scents are backed up by some very strong molasses and chocolate notes which are just trying to undermine the front of the nose but is still secondary, a term which I use very loosely.

Flavor-wise, it is very caramel malt forward but I'm very shocked to see some apple fruitness in here, which form caramel apple flavor that one would experience from actually eating one. The molasses is also very prominent in the flavor, particularly on the back of the palate along with some dark chocolate notes. The booziness does encompass the flavor, but it's masked much better here so it doesn't hinder the overall drinking experience.

The palate is not as heavy as I expected, falling into the moderately weighted range but it's still on the thick side thanks in part to the molasses aspect. As expected, there is no carbonation to speak of, but that's just fine because it allows one to enjoy the flavors that this beer has to offer without having any interuptions.

Given that this has been bottled up for 9 years, the flavor has held up remarkably well and still managed to be robust and flavorful. It's too bad that this is no longer made because considering the growth of public interest in craft beer these past few years, I have no doubt in my mind that this would be a crowd pleaser. If you so happen to come across this by whatever means, I would highly recommend trying this out.

A special thanks to Jim & Marie for hooking me up with this awesome wedding gift, I'm glad that I got the opportunity to try out a truly wonderful beer!

O'Hanlon's Thomas Hardy's Ale - 9.5/10

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