He didn't get where he is today by stealing somebody else's catchphrase.


A little while back I turned forty, a milestone age that I celebrated in a relatively low-key fashion. We spent a quiet weekend in Wales and I was lucky enough to have been given enough money to buy my first proper DSLR. Those who know me would probably agree that this is the way I’d rather celebrate being an oldie. Ostentatious parties and gatherings have never really been my thing, namely because I’m an unsociable bugger. When faced with the choice, being able to disappear to a remote corner of Pembrokeshire with a pint and good company seems infinitely more preferable.

I should now ramble on about age, mortality, false teeth and zimmer-frames - but I won’t. Instead I’m going to tell you a story about something else that’s close to my heart - beer.

Good, wholesome, tasty beer.

Back in my early twenties, I went to the pub with my Dad. I was going through a barley wine phase at the time, drinking the likes of Gold Label and Prince’s Ale, which isn’t really quick-drinking stuff because it’s about 12%, with the added benefit of being able to clean paintbrushes. The pub in question didn’t have any Gold Label, but the barman suggested I try another barley-wine, Thomas Hardy.

I took note of the dust on the bottles. Just in case it didn’t go down well, I bought a bag of chilli crisps to mask the taste.

“I’m glad I’m not going to be able to smell you in the morning”, said Dad.

Thomas Hardy’s Ale has a serial number upon it, as well as the year of bottling. It’s sold as a bottle-conditioned ale, so it keeps fermenting for up to twenty-five years. I bought two bottles - one was three years old, one five. After drinking the three-year old bottle, I continued to ferment well into the morning. Nonetheless, I kept the five-year bottle, vowing to drink it when I turned forty.

In the last twenty years, I’ve moved house approximately twelve times, but the bottle’s been well looked after. I’ve kept it in a cardboard box with a whole pile of other teenage nostalgia. It’s sat in dark lofts, the cupboard under the sink and in storage units - but the time to store it has now come to an end. It’s time to drink it.

My bottle of Thomas Hardy is a “Q” bottle from 1988 which has just about reached maturity. Whilst I could flog it on eBay for a good price, that would be chickening out. I’ll be drinking it tonight - although I might have another bag of chilli crisps on standby. I’ll put some tasting notes and pictures on here tonight once I’ve downed it. Hopefully it’s matured as well as I have.


One bottle later….

…and so it’s been consumed - I can honestly say I’ve had nothing like it.

Luckily, I managed to pour it right. After twenty-four years, you can understand that there’d be a fair bit of sediment in the bottle - which luckily I managed to keep seperate. There wasn’t a head. Unsurprisingly it was pretty flat.

And the smell?

A long time ago, when I drank a very young bottle, you could distinctly smell the yeastiness. That had completely gone in this bottle. The smell (and taste) was of liquorice and treacle. The consistency was similar too - very thick and syrupy. As you can see from the centre picture, the colour was a very deep ruby. The picture probably doesn’t do the colour justice, as it was really pretty dark.

Luckily, the after effects weren’t so bad as the first time. I didn’t ferment - although after drinking it I felt like I’d been hit in the face with a frying pan. Whilst I didn’t have my hydrometer handy to check, I’d make a guess that the alcohol content was probably 13%+.

So there you go, that’s it. It’s consumption was certainly memorable - and that’s a good thing because if it had been a bland drink it would have been majorly disappointing. I doubt I’ll ever drink another one, though. Why? Eldridge Pope haven’t produced it for years and bottles are far and few between. That said, I might try and hunt down another. Perhaps I can drink it when I turn 65.
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