Commemorative Beers and Naming Rites

In 1968, the Eldridge Pope Brewery in Dorchester, Dorset, England, brewed a beer to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the death of local novelist and poet Thomas Hardy. In his book “The Trumpet Major”, Hardy had mentioned an ale tasted at a local inn, and Pope tailored their celebratory ale to match that description:

“It was of the most beautiful colour that the eye of an artist in beer could desire; full of 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.”

Thomas Hardy’s Ale was supposed to be a one-off, brewed only for the literary festival in Hardy’s honor, but it proved so popular that they began brewing it annually. It was vintage-dated, bottled in three or four different sized and styled bottles, with the recommendation on the label to put it away for a few years. This may have been a factor in its eventual demise, as beer drinkers wanted something more immediately drinkable. Pope ceased brewing it in 1999, having decided to get out of brewing altogether (they are in the hotel and pub supply and management business now). From 2003 to 2009, O’Hanlon’s Brewery of Exeter, Devonshire, brewed a revived Thomas Hardy’s Ale, but they also have ceased production. Often called “Britain’s Rarest Beer”, it was also for a time the strongest beer brewed in the UK.

This brew is also commemorative for me personally. 15 years ago this week I brewed my first all-grain beer, after several years using extracts and partial mash recipes. My first foray into all-grain? Dave Line’s clone recipe of Thomas Hardy’s Ale. I brewed a 2-gallon batch, a bit intimidated and not wanting to waste too much money and time on a brew that might not work. I bottled it mostly in small (8 oz.) bottles, thinking it would be too strong for a whole 12 or 16 oz. bottle at a time… Naturally, when it ran out in about a month, I wished I had brewed a full batch.

As if this were not already an interesting enough beer, another circumstance led to the naming of the brew. As I went about my Brew Day Eve preparations (milling the grains, feeding the yeast slurry, setting up the kettles and mash tun, etc.) I found a dead mouse in the sparge tun. He hadn’t been dead long, based on his condition, but somehow he had made quite a mess in the bottom of the cooler. I tossed him in the woods and, B-Brite, Iodophor and chlorine bleach treatments later, the vessel was as good as new. There will be no Mousaroma in this beer, but I did want to honor the memory of this valiant little warrior (who must have thought there was beer in the bucket). There had to be a prominent mention of a mouse somewhere in the works of Thomas Hardy. It was my friend Rick who found and sent me a link to the Hardy poem, “Channel Firing”, and thus was born Parson Thirdly’s Altar Crumb Ale.

Parson Thirdly’s Altar Crumb Ale
(clone of Eldridge Pope’s Thomas Hardy Ale)
4 gallons, all-grain

Ingredients:

  • 12 lbs. Maris Otter pale malt
  • 1 lb. toasted Maris Otter pale malt
  • 1 lb. Cara-Belge malt
  • 1 jar (11 oz.) Lyle’s Golden Syrup
  • 2 oz. Fuggles hop pellets (@4% aa)
  • 1 oz. Bramling Cross hop pellets (@5% aa)
  • 1/2 oz. Styrian Goldings hop pellets (@4.2% aa)
  • White Labs Super High Gravity ale yeast (WLP099)
  • 1/2 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure:
Crush grains. Heat 15 quarts water to 168°F. Mash in grains, hold at 158°F for 75 minutes. Heat another 13 quarts water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge. Collect 20 quarts sweet wort. Add golden syrup, stir well. Bring to boil. Add Fuggles hops, boil 15 minutes. Add Bramling Cross hops, boil another 40 minutes. Add Styrian Goldings, boil 5 more minutes (60 total), remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment 10 14 days at 70°F. Rack to secondary, condition warm (65 – 70°F) for three to four weeks. Prime, bottle and age at least two months.

OG: 1106 (a little weak!)
IBU’s: 54.5

Note on process: I chose to use a very thick mash (i.e. less water than standard) and a slightly higher mash temperature than usual, in an attempt to get a more dextrinous wort. This should lead to a sweeter, more full-bodied beer when finished. This size mash really pushes the limits of my brewing set-up. This much grain nearly fills my mash tun, and with the mash being so thick, runoff and sparge are very slow. In fact, the runoff was just about stopped at one point, stuck, so I gently swirled the mash for a few seconds, hoping I could loosen it up a little. I had put the kettle on the stove already to start the boil, and had a large measuring cup catching the last few ounces (I thought) of the runoff. I walked out of the room for a few minutes and came back to a small flood, about a quart of wort spreading golden across the floor…

Note on Golden Syrup: Many British brewers use some cane sugar in their brews, and it was long an absolute staple of British homebrewers (it may still be!). Golden syrup is also known as “light treacle”, and is made from evaporated cane sugar. Similar to invert sugar, the process reduces the size of the sugar crystals, making them more readily dissolved and fermented. It has a toasty caramel flavor, and a small amount in a brew like this will not produce any of the dreaded cidery/hot flavors regular cane sugar often does.

Note on yeast: According to several sources, the White Labs Super High Gravity yeast is in fact the Eldridge Pope strain used in the 70’s to brew Thomas Hardy’s Ale. In any event, it does have a considerably higher alcohol tolerance, making it a good choice for this big beer.

Note on aging and storage: The original Thomas Hardy labels instructed consumers to put the bottles away for a few years. I have participated on a couple occasions in “vertical flight tastings”, comparing as many as 6 or 7 different vintages. This brew will age well, will evolve in the bottle, but I wouldn’t keep it over five or six years. Try one after about three months, but be sure and keep some for longer storage.

4 Replies to “Commemorative Beers and Naming Rites”

  1. I just racked the TH clone after 10 days – gravity at this point is 1025, which translates to roughly 10.3% abv!!! Tastes a little grainy/husky at this point, which I attribute to the amount of stuff still suspended in the brew – as it clarifies, it should taste cleaner… lots of higher alcohol aroma and taste, so this one will age for a while…

  2. I am a Swedish amateur pianist. Together with Sarah, a singer, we are preparing for a performance next January of “Channel Firing” (music by Gerald Finzi). We would be very interested in buying a couple of bottles of “Parson Thirdly’s Altar Crumb Ale”, perhaps for display at the concert! Could you possibly advise whom we can address?

    Best regards,

    1. Best of luck with the performance, Lennart – unfortunately, this beer will not be for sale – US law prohibits sale of home brewed beers, for a variety of reasons. If you should bring your performance to the northeast of the US, let me know and I will try to find a way to get you a bottle or two, but it will not be possible to ship it to Sweden!

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