Thomas Hardy’s, 1999

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A very good friend with a knack for finding the weirdest and most wonderful things in seemingly derelict shops stumbled upon this unicorn of a beer. By stroke of luck he happened to grab the 1999 vintage, which was the last to be produced by the original English brewery.

Thomas Hardy’s was probably one of the first beers break the $5 per 12 ounce bottle price point in America. These days it’s not unusual to see beers with astronomical ABV percentages and insane ingredients being sold for ridiculous prices (I’m looking at you Brewdog), but to call Thomas Hardy’s a hype beer would be completely missing the point.

Hardy’s is of a different ilk. Beer connoisseurs treat this beer like a rare port or cognac, trading different “vintages” that reach back to the sixties. It’s worth noting that this is absolutely the exception to the rule. Too many burgeoning beer geeks hoping to grow their “cellar” (or as is most often the case, closet) think that keeping any old beer around for years will make it better. I cringe every time I hear of someone trying to “age” a double IPA. Thomas Hardy’s Ale is one of the few beers in the world that was not only expected to be aged, but was designed for it.

Pours a deep, dark red with little to no head. Despite being bottle conditioned and most likely mis-handled, it is actually quite clear. The aroma is full of toffee, sweetness from the malts, some bread, and a little bit of caramel/butterscotch. There is a definite level of oxidation going on here, there’s a wet-cardboard nose mixed with damp cellar. The flavor is very sweet, but complex. Some raisin and prune are there, mixed with brown sugar and a toffee flavor. The bitterness is very subdued, in fact it’s hard to find at all. Alcohol is present as well, which is to be expected at about 11% alcohol by volume. The very low level of carbonation makes this beer feel very thick on the tongue.

So, yeah. It’s an old beer. A really old beer. It didn’t go sour, which I was honestly surprised at, but it’s in no way a pleasure to drink. We split this 12 ounce bottle with four people and I still had some in the bottom of my glass at the end. I guess it comes down to what you’re looking for. I’m certainly not a fan, maybe others will have a different take. The novelty of getting to say “I drank a beer from 1999!” is probably the best part.

So anyway, here’s Prince

Grade: C

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