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,
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.
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!
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.