O’Hanlon’s Thomas Hardy Ale 2004 Vintage

Tasting: July 28, 2012
Style: Barley Wine
ABV: 11.7%

2004 Thomas Hardy Ale

Thomas Hardy Ale 1994

I worked with a man who was an employee of the Ballantine brewery in Newark back in the 1950’s. He worked in the lab, which means he drank beer for a living. He was my hero. I recall showing him an article about a special beer made during that same time period by Ballantine brewmaster, Otto Badenhausen. Apparently, it was made as a holiday gift to distributors and retailers. It seems that a single specimen of this holiday brew surfaced and had auctioned off for about $6,000. My co-worker nearly passed out at that bit of information. He remembered pulling buckets of this beer off the bottling line and how his own refrigerator was packed with this particular beer.

I never thought that beer could age for what was then thirty years. A few years later, I learned about a barley wine called Thomas Hardy Ale. It was made to age like a fine cognac and reportedly could age gracefully for at least twenty five years. I bought four bottles of the 2004 vintage for the outrageous price of $8 each. Right there on the label age it said that it would age up to twenty five years. I recall drinking one right away and not really thinking much of it. I had completely forgot about the other three bottles until I moved a small wine refrigerator a couple of weeks ago. I really thought it empty but I heard a weird rattle inside. Wow, I really may have struck my own gold. A quick ebay check and I see only one example of the same vintage that sold for $30.

From my glossary: Barleywine: Barleywine is an odd name for a style of beer – it’s made from grains (hence – barley) and is typically high in alcohol to be comparable to the alcohol content of wine. Its roots are in England

Eight year-old ale, I don’t know. I did some quick reading and people are still drinking this barley wine, as recently as last week. They report that it’s mellow with raisin/prune notes. Most of the reviews I read were giving it nearly perfect scores. I guess if I get past the first sip…well here goes nothing. Pours a very dark brown with really no carbonation at all. First sip (yikes) – wow, this is absolutely incredible. It’s rich with a thick mouthfeel that coats the palate and clings. It’s a blast of warming alcohol with a wave of dark fruit, raisins, prunes and dates with a nice underlying molasses. Certainly more sherry/port like than a beer. I’m thankful that I was ignorantly patient with this one. Truly a classic. I’ll put it at 96 points. I’ll cherish the other two bottles… as long as I remember I have them.

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