The vintages of Thomas Hardy's Ale explained.

 

The original Thomas Hardy's Ale from 1968 was produced in three sizes; pint, half-pint and 6 fl oz (nip). Each bottle was individually numbered and carried a suffix letter. "A" for the pints, "B" for half-pints and "C" for the nips. The two larger sized bottles were cork driven with red velvet sashes. Later vintages of Thomas Hardy's Ale continued the suffix letter as a year identifier:

1974 prefix "D"

1975 prefix "E"

1977 prefix "F"

1978 prefix "G"

1979 prefix "H" and "J"

 

 

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.

 

 

1991 prefix "S"

1992 no prefix

1993 prefix "T"

1994 to 1999 no prefix

 

 
The rarest Thomas Hardy's Ale?
I believe that The Glenair (piss) Artistes bottling of 1985 for a brewery employee consisted of about a dozen bottles only. A photo will appear here soon.

Back from the dead.
Only time will tell if the revived Thomas Hardy's Ale, produced by O'Hanlons
since 2003 will obtain the same mystique as the fondly remembered original.
 
STOP PRESS!
July 2009: O'Hanlon's announce that production is to cease due to the time and expense of production and to free up brewing capacity for other products.