That is because it is actually a quote from “The Dynasts” a hefty tome by English novelist Thomas Hardy who is hailed by literary critic Wikipedia as “well regarded”. 

Having been forced to study his equally bulky “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” in Fifth Form (Year 11 in the New Math) I would respectfully disagree, instead characterising his work as “turgid” and “downright baffling”.  The only lasting impression I took from his 3,000-odd pages of dense text was that the weather would always become foggy if a character was confused and there would always be a storm when something sad was about to happen.  Many modern movie directors appear to have taken this lesson to heart.

My book report on said “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” was almost my most spectacular academic failure. [1] Primarily this was because I finished the report before I finished reading thebook.  Running out of time and having read the first 2,800 pages [2], I decided to write the report guessing that the eponymous Tess – unlucky in love and even more unlucky to be stuck in a depressing novel Hardy wrote mainly to subsidise his even worse poetry – resigns herself to a loveless marriage with some fop called Alec.

Well-educated readers will of course know that Tess actually stabbed Alec to death and, after a brazenly expositional scene at Stonehenge, was arrested and then executed. 

Fortunately, my English teacher was sick on the due date and the substitute did not bother to collect our essays.  Out of morbid fascination I finished the book that night and hastily re-wrote the central thesis of my report. [3] I got an A naturally but have never read even another line from Hardy since.

For me, Thomas Hardy’s singular redeeming feature is that one of the world’s most famous and legitimately well-regarded beers was named in his honour.  In 1968 a Dorchester pub called the Trumpet Major was being refurbished.  It was also the 40th anniversary of Hardy’s death.

 Local brewery Eldridge Pope made a special strong ale to honour the occasion.  The label included a interesting [4] quote about a Dorchester Strong Ale from Hardy’s undoubtedly lengthy novel “The Trumpet Major”:

“It was of the most beautiful colour 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 Ale did not appear again until 1974 but then was made annually as a vintage.  Unusually,the brewers suggested it be cellared for an extensive period of time before drinking. 

Legendary beer writer the late Michael Jackson tried all of the early versions and wrote: 

“When released, it is decidedly thick and yeasty, almost meaty and Marmite-like; after about five years, it tastes like sherry-dunked fruitcake.”  After the beer had 18 years in the bottle he said “I found it extremely complex, with a faintly smoky aroma, reminiscent of a fire made from logs of fruit wood.  The palate was extremely fruity, soft and powerful.”

Despite its fame and numerous accolades, the simple economic fact was that Thomas Hardy Ale was expensive and time-consuming to make and people did not actually buy very much of it. 

In 1999, Eldridge Pope announced they were ending production of the iconic beer. 

For several years, it lay dormant until O’Hanlon’s Brewery in America acquired the rights to brew the ale which had always enjoyed a strong following in the States.  O’Hanlon’s produced annual vintages from 2003 to 2008 before ending production for pretty much exactly the same reasons as Eldridge Pope.  It was a decision which left the beloved bearded patriarch of New Zealand beer writing and serious Thomas Hardy Ale fan Geoff Griggs “devastated.”

The good news is that Malthouse has a reasonably extensive cellar of Thomas Hardy Ales covering all the vintages from 2004 to 2008.  These will be nicely aged by now and a vertical tasting will demonstrate the distinct changes from year to year.  This 11.7% beer is best enjoyed in brandy snifters with friends.  The only potential downside is that you might write an overly long novel where the weather acts as a rather obvious simile.

I have three bottles of Thomas Hardy Ale in my beer cellar – 1984, 1986 and 1999. I obtained the first two in somewhat unusual circumstances.  A regular at one of my beer tastings – I shall call him Nic Gibbens because that is his name – approached me in 2008 seeking counsel on a beer related issue.  His story was short and interesting – ironically the exact opposite of Thomas Hardy’s writing style.

A far younger Nic had attended a very posh school in England.  One evening, his friend, possibly under the influence of alcohol, broke into the school cafeteria and procured a box of the teacher’s ales.  Nic assured me that he was busy doing his Latin homework at the time.  However, he did later get to sample those very ales and, like his other fourteen year old chums, could not stand the stuff.  The majority of the beers were left untouched in a box which ended up in Nic’s cupboard at home and remained there long after he migrated to New Zealand.

On the day of the beer tasting his mother had called asking if she could throw out the dusty old beers in the hall cupboard.  Nic just wanted to check with me before giving her the OK. 

The conversation went something like this:

Me: “How old are the beers?”
Nic: “They must go back to the mid-eighties.”
Me: “Well, most beers will be well gone by now.  Do you remember the name of the beer?”
Nic: “It was that old writer – Thomas Hardy.”
Me: “I see.  Call your mother immediately and tell her to keep them all.  They are worth a small fortune.” [5]

In gratitude, Mr Gibbens gave me the 1984 and 1986 vintages which are the highlights of my cellar.  Every serious beer drinker should try a Thomas Hardy Ale.  It is not like they are making any more.

[1] Outside all subjects involving maths, science, colours and/or cutting up frogs obviously.
[2] Well, it seemed that way.
[3] This was so long ago that I actually wrote it.  You know, using a pen.
[4] Almost certainly by accident.
[5] US$30 a bottle is not uncommon…


Neil Miller
Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine


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