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Tom, Thomas and Tomme

July 10, 2004

It’s a scorching July day and we’ve gathered at O’Briens American Pub in Clairemont Mesa (San Diego) for what promises to be an epic tasting. My good friend Tom Nickel (proprietar of said pub) and Dr. Bill Sysak have scoured the earth and collected one bottle of each vintage Thomas Hardy’s Strong Ale that has been produced up until now. This also includes the most recent 2003 Vintage that was moved to the O’Hanlon Brewery.

Joining me at this tasting are Jeff Bagby, Peter Zien of Alesmith, Steve Steinbergs and our good friend Eric “Grumpy” Rose. The 6 of us settle down as Tom and Bill scurry to get things ready. We grab a warm up beer (something with hops damnit!)

A little bit after two o’clock we start this tasting. Not knowing what to expect, we dive right in. Now, I can’t recall some of the details of the tasting. For example, I don’t remember if we tasted them in order of their respective ages or not. My hazy memory says we didn’t as we felt piling layers of caramel malt on newer caramel malt wouldn’t help. So, I believe we jumped around vintages even though my notes go in acsending order based on age.

We learned quite a bit about Thomas Hardy’s from the tasting. First, it became apparent to us that there is more than one way to brew Thomas Hardy’s. It seems that many of the vintages have been darker examples with pronounced caramel notes. This is classic Hardy’s for most enthusiasts. We also found that numerous bottles had a leaner quality and almost seemed to emphasize a hoppy finish.

In honor of the Blogging Day, I am going to post my notes from the entire tasting. It was a smashing good day with some bottles of beer that I am likely to never taste again. I am thankful that I was even able to find my notes from this. Without further ado, here are my notes from that Saturday afternoon with Tom, Thomas and Tomme.

1968- Was the first year that they bottled Hardy’s. There were three separate bottlings and the series begins with the A Bottle.

1968 A (The Pint Bottle)- A cork finished bottle with noticeable signs of evaporation. Perhaps they trapped a few thirsty angel’s in the bottle when it was packaged? The beer reveals a large Soy Sauce nose with Cidery, Vinegar and Lactic qualities all duking it out in a battle Royale. It finishes smokier than a bar in Chicago with flacid carbonation at best. Color wise, this one leans towards the dark to medium dark spectrum.

1968 “B” Bottling- Upon inspection, this one holds little promise. An incredible (ridiculous) amount of beer is missing. The cork crumbles upon insertion of the cork screw. Not a good sign! The beer embraces this cork situation to the max and I’m soon wondering if can send back a beer I haven’t even paid for? For some reason, this vintage has a Tobasco(tm) like flavors. It’s beyond bizarre. How do you do that in beer? Without a doubt not as good as the “A” bottle.

1968 “C” Bottling Capped Bottle- Now this is classic Hardy’s! We’re greeted by Vinegar, Oxidation and winey notes that wreak of musty cellars in wine country. It’s quite dry and light bodied. Tawny and Orangey in a way that the other two 68’s aren’t. The beer finishes with a clarity of purpose that exhudes world class and demands that we hand the tag of red headed step child to its lesser brother- bottling “B.” The 1968 Hardy’s Capped bottle was an all timer for me this afternoon.

1968 Hardy’s is the Holy Grail for some enthusiast and most definitely the “C” packaging was worth the effort. The other two….I’ll pass in the future.

1974 “D” Bottling- The pours reveal a turbid beer which is flatter than my sister in high school. It sports a fake bake off cocoa orange color like those tans strutted all over South Beach. The first sip is HOT! My eyes are burning. It’s a thicker sample and it shows large notes of Autolysis. The finish is tart and spicey which is far too Kung Pow Chicken for me.

1975 “E” Bottling- Smells Great! Huge Malt aromas. This is seemingly one of the reasons this beer has become so desirable with age on it. The finish is inspired with dark cocoa and chocolate candied raisins doing the backstroke in a sea of booze. For a 29 year old bottle of beer, it has held up very well.

1977 “F” Bottling- Uh Oh…From the first pour, it’s apparent that this one has issues. Yeasty, sour and tart like a candy I used to like. This turned out to be one of my least favorite beers. It was just too far removed from what I imagined the brewers were aiming for (Wider left than Scott Norwood?) It finished with some off sour chocolate flavors that had me running for the 1/2 finished pint of Pure Hoppiness I had in front of me.

1978 “G” Bottling- BUTTER BOMB. In the Arthur, Bagby and Rose world of bad brewing, there are delightul, delicious and divine descriptors applied to beers with varying levels of Diacytel. This one set the bar one notch higher and probably landed in some new stratosphere known hence forth as Delectable. What an AWFUL beer. Thanks Bill and Tom! We needed that one… NOT

1979 “H” This bottle caught a cab and headed toward Tijuana around 1982. There is a tartness present that enhances the citric notes in the beer. At this point, it is the lightest colored version we have had and is completely uninteresting to me. Even with the tart flavors, it reminds all of us like failed homebrew.

1979 “J” A second bottling. Chocolately and FLAT as hell. The dusty cocoa baking powder notes are back. It is medium bodied and incredibly sweet without being “Oh my GOD sweet!” It’s passable given that it’s 25 years old but isn’t on my list of need to finds.

1980 “K” Bottling- Huge Rummy notes. There are also some curious sour cherry notes jumping in. At this point we have identified three types of Hardy’s. The first is the Paradigm thick dark bomb. We also have a leaner version that has lighter crystal malt flavors and seems more well attenuated. The last version seems to pick up this sour cherry note and isn’t as malt driven due to the lactic qualities. The “K” bottling was one of the most interesting and least “Hardy’s like” that we tasted.

1981 “???” Bottling Initial impression reveals SOY SAUCE. Although, this is restrained Soy with a caramel backer. It is moderatley turbid like the incoming tide. Here is another orangey sample good integration of flavors. A nicer beer than many of the others we have sampled.

1982 “L” Bottling- Great Carbonation for a corked bottle. We’ve gone back to sour Hardy land. It shows Sour Pucker kids like acidity and some strawberries as well. It is thinner in the body most likely due to the acetic fermentation. I actually LOVE the flavors of this beer and it commands my attention in a yearning for a whole bottle sort of way this afternoon.

1983 “???” Michael Jackson Bottle from the Brickskeller in DC. Thanks DAVE! It’s flat but this seemingly doesn’t detract from it. It was aged in wood and there is a ton of interest created from this finishing of the beer. A drier finish (tannis) really sets this one apart from its bretheren. I am thankful I didn’t have to part with my bottle for this tasting.

1984 “M” Bottling- Darker orange with huge carbonation relative to the others. An amazing amount of lacing pervades our glasses. There seems to be a “Brett” presence at work here. It makes me lust for more but not in “a I have sinned sort of way.” The flavors all showcase the Brett and reminds me of our Cuvee with Oak, Brett and Cherries at work.

1985 “???” Bottling- It’s still but this doesn’t seem to matter. An exquisite beer that is smokey, sweet, smooth, Fucking Brilliant! I really am lusting in “a I NEED TO SIN” sort of way. At this moment, it is the so perfect. STOOPID (sometimes you get beers that demand you write less and drink more= This bottle being Exhibit A).

1986 “N” Bottling- Darkish and flat. There is a nice Dark Chocolate and Big Caramel Malt balance at work here. A Classic bottle of Hardy’s according to expectations of this brand.

1987 “150th Anniversary Ale”- Yeasty with the essence of Fontina cheese in the nose. Lots of oak going on here and some sour notes. It’s interesting as the sourness does not manifest in a lactic way. It’s full bodied and quite winey. The yeast flavors overwhelm and I am left wondering if they carried too much to the barrels? We’ve gone back to Orangey lighter colored land.

1987 “P” Bottling- Bright colors with more Brown than Red tints. Cuidado! Don’t light a match! This thing is hotter than paint thinner on fire. Seriously though, no problems in the beer. Not sweet, not tart, not cloying. The finish is held up by a drier finish. A nice beer indeed. Matches be damned!

1988 “Q” Bottling- Darker Color and flattish sample. Initial impression is that of thick chocolate covered cocoa beans. It’s boozy. There is no singular definining character other than the chocolate. There is no denying the English Barleywine pedigree with Rummy notes in the finish.

1989 “???” Bottling- The Darkest Sample possible. WOW! Boozy. I used to have nose hairs. The chocolate malts are duking it out with the ethanol and there is no doubt ethanol owns this fight. The aroma also reveals some “Chex Mix” like properties of Salt, Soy and Worchestire sauce. Oh yeah, I enjoyed it in spite of all this.

1990 “R” Bottling- Twany Orange and perhaps the lightest sample of the day. Very light bodied with high CO2 content and diminshed cloying notes. Does not taste 14 years old. Seemingly belies its age with brightness and levity if that is possible for Barleywine.

1991 “S” Bottling- FLAT! Soy Bomb with low carbonation and some toffee flavor. It’s typical Hardy’s but less than interesting without the CO2. There is a tobacco flavor that reminds me of my uncles smoking cherry leaf on Thanksgivings after dinner.

1992 “T” Bottling- Pale orange with bracing CO2 content. It’s back to sweet and hoppy with a long warming finish. Tons of orange qualities that seemingly are harmoniously playing well with the malts and alcohols.

1993 “25th Anniversary” Smells Decadent! Damn fine aromas. Ripe fruit, toasted pecans and malt malt and more malt. Smoking Smooth and without a doubt the best sample we have opened.

1993 “U” Bottling- Pedestrian? See above!

1994- Big Brown Sugar. Another Dark flat sample although it is quite smooth, fruity and leans towards some nice Vanilla flavors. We’re back on the wagon with booze drawing us in and letting up only enough for some more sour cherries to flirt with our inhibitions.

1995- Dark, Flat and smooth cocoa notes. Unispiring yet classic Hardy’s in the bottle

1996- WAY different than the others! Very noticeable upon first pour. Lighter in the flavor and body. It’s an odd color that reminds us of the water inside a jockey box after last call.

1997- Hoppy (is that possible?) How is this even a Hardy’s? Where’s the crystal Malt? Strange but good.

1998- Spicey Hop Aroma (they must have hired some hop heads). A very vibrant sample. It drinks great right now and is seemingly way more American than British. Not terribly thick and overwhelmingly spicey.

1999- Brown sugar with lively carbonation. Huge sweetness and all the goodness that we’ve come to expect in Thomas Hardy’s. A nice libation but one that absolutely has room to improve in the future.

2003-Buttery with citric hop qualities in the front and finish of the beer. It’s way leaner than you would expect. It’s warm without making me look like a tourist after 6 hours on our beaches. Quite pedestrian comparitively speaking. Most likely would not have considered this as “English Barleywine.”

As the 2003 was the first attempt after moving the brand for O’Hanlon, we expected some issues. Also, after doing this tasting, we were all left wondering, just which recipe did they get?

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