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Home > Thomas Hardy Ale - Brewed from 1968 to 2008. RIP

Thomas Hardy Ale - Brewed from 1968 to 2008. RIP

Thomas Hardy Ale from 1968-2008
The label reads "In 'The Trumpet Major' Hardy wrote of Dorchester strong beer 'It was of the most beautiful color 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".

The refurbishment of the Trumpet Major pub in Dorchester was the catalyst for the fledgling Thomas Hardy's Ale. 1968 was the 40th anniversary of the authors' death and what better way to commemorate it than by attempting to bring fiction to life and creating the brew that Hardy imagined.


Thomas Hardy Ale - Strongest Beer in BritainThomas Hardy Ale 1968

This beer was to be no ordinary ale. Matured in oak sherry casks for nine months and corked in decorative pint and half pint bottles. The strength was a whopping 12% and it was bottle conditioned. Thus the legend began and bottles were laid down with the expectation of improvement as the beer matured.

Most of the production did not consist of the larger corked bottles with their beautiful velvet neck ribbons but small nip size crown corked bottles with a black and gold neck medallion. This depicted a silhouette of Thomas Hardy on one side and the brewery address on the reverse. This was to become a distinctive feature of Hardy's Ale bottles, but it was only the 1968 edition that displayed the date on the medallions.

Hardy's Ale was not produced again until 1974 but with the exception of 1976 appeared annually after that until the final vintage of 1999. Word of mouth spread the tale amongst connoisseurs about this wonderful strong ale, the one that extolled us not to drink it for 5 or 10 years and proclaimed that it would keep for 25 years!
Thomas Hardy Ale 1968,  1974, 1999, 2003, 2008Thomas Hardy Ale 1968 Bottle

All production during the 1970's was of nip size bottles. Note that vintages were not released in 1969, 1970, 1971 ,1972 , 1973 or 1976. The labels were essentially the same as the 1968 vintages although the contents were now imperial/metric - 180ml/6.34fl oz. Two bottlings were brewed in 1979 dated 1st January and 1st September. Things started to change at the dawn of the 1980's. Most of the bottles released in 1980 to 1982 were in a larger 25ml. size aimed at an increasing export market.

In 1983 came the 1st special edition. The brew was inaugurated on 15th September 1982 to mark the completion of the Centenary development of Dorchester Brewery. The beer was made available on 7th November 1983 exactly 150 years after Charles Eldridge held his inaugural dinner in Dorchester. To mark the visit of the Duke of Kent to the brewery all production was made available as Royal Hardy Ale in 33cl bottles. The bottles were numbered but without the usual year prefix.

When production of nips re-commenced in 1984 there was a new label in place. The old parchment style was replaced by a more functional style with an image of Thomas Hardy at the top of the label. 1987 saw the brewing of 150th Anniversary Thomas Hardy's Ale. Sarah Eldridge had commenced brewing at the Green Dragon brewery in 1837. The commemorative brew was matured in oak, rolled daily, hand bottled with a full long cork. The bottles sported a red velvet sash and "A" prefix just like the original 1968 pints and half-pints. Only 2700 bottles were issued so surviving examples are rare. 1980 prefix "K", 1981 prefix "K", 1982 prefix "L", 1983 no prefix, 1984 prefix "M", 1985 prefix "M", 1986 prefix "N", 1987 prefix "P" (prefix "A" for 150th Anniversary), 1988 prefix "Q", 1989 prefix "R", 1990 prefix "R"

During the second half of the 1980's the lettering and numbering became very messy. The U.S. was importing a large share of the production and a different prefix letter was used on nips for export. A larger 355 ml size was also produced and these were numbered without a prefix letter.

As the 1990's were ushered in changes were again made to the bottles, presumably as cost cutting measures. The famous neck medallion was scrapped during 1991 and a new label was introduced with the Thomas Hardy image on the neck foil instead. Both the old and new style labels exist for 1991 vintages. From here on the prefix letter and number were omitted except for the final special edition bottling of 1993. This was the Silver Anniversary brew commemorating 25 years since the first Thomas Hardy's Ale. The 33cl bottles was now the dominant size as production was increasingly exported to the U.S. The final nips were produced in 1994. Sadly, Thomas Hardy's Ale was not to reach the millennium as the final Vintage was released in 1999.

Thomas Hardy Ale(2003-2008)
The O’Hanlon’s brewery, which had "re-created" the Thomas Hardy Ale over the past six ’vintages’ of 2003-2008, but decided to quit brewing this classic ale.

The brewer is citing too-great expense due to the slowness, pain and expense of making this relatively rare beer which many beer lovers have called ’the best in the world’. The O’Hanlon’s operation is small and it is too impractical for them to continue making Thomas Hardy, so they wish to focus on their main business. 

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