Limited Edition Beer Madness, 1968

Adapted from 'Thomas Hardy's Ale' by Bernt Rostad under Creative Commons, via Flickr.

In 1968, the Observer‘s wine critic Cyril Ray wrote about an exciting new limited edition beer, Eldridge Pope’s Thomas Hardy Ale.

The headline was A POUND A PINT, with an exclamation mark implied:

[Its] high strength caused loss from excessive frothing during fermentation, and this, together with the extra duty and long maturing in oak, is why it costs £1 a pint. I have bought some myself to put away — it will pay for keeping — and there may still be some left, in pints, half-pints or nips, at pubs and off-licences in the Hardy country…. Supplies, though, are limited, and I do not suppose that this remarkable beer will be brewed again — not yet awhile, anyway.

Along with the Coronation beers we wrote about here, this has to be one of the earliest examples of this phenomenon, and that’s certainly one of the earliest instances we’ve come across of a wince-inducingly high price (about £16 in today’s money) being justified by reference to the costs of manufacturing, the difficulties of a limited run, and so on.

It would be interesting to know whether the board at Eldridge Pope ever considered absorbing the costs and selling at a more reasonable price given that this was essentially a one-off marketing exercise.

In the same article, Mr Ray also made a recommendation for ‘amateurs of strong beer’ with less cash to splash: Tennant’s Gold Label, which he says is ‘lighter in colour and crisper in style’ but

one must not be deceived: the under-taste is rich and full, and the six-ounce nip packs the punch of two and a half whiskies.

The article appeared in the 14 July edition of the Observer if you want to read the whole thing, though it is only short.

Main image adapted from ‘Thomas Hardy’s Ale’ by Bernt Rostad from Flickr under Creative Commons.

6 thoughts on “Limited Edition Beer Madness, 1968”

  1. Useful background there about Cyril Ray, I always wondered about him. He was appreciative of Imperial Stout as well. Very few writers in the 1950’s-60’s, if any others, seemed ready to appreciate or at least express expression in print of the old-fashioned English malt drinks. The tradition did exist, tenuously, earlier. George Saintsbury is an avatar, and of course Alfred Barnard. It took independence of mind to stand up for these drinks, for reasons not hard to guess.

    There was a small school of literate drinks and food writers in the post-war era who need to be remembered. He is one.

    Gary

  2. and of course his son the drinks writer Jonathan used to be a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers and won an award 2008 or 9.
    Got loads of Complete Imbibers edited by Cyril Ray, fascinating insights into food and drink in the 50s and 60s

  3. Presumably, the original article is not referring to nip bottles of Hardy’s Ale which many people are familiar with and can be seen in the photo (those are from the 80’s), but the actual pint bottles produced for the original 1968 vintage.
    They were aged in oak, filled into heavy, embossed bottles, cork driven with a velvet neck sash and individually numbered parchment label. Considering the strength of 12%, a 2015 price of £16.00 would seem a bargain.
    BTW, the Head Brewer responsible for the beer, Dennis Halliday, is still going strong at the age of 96.
    More on this beer at my website:
    http://www.thomashardysale.org.uk

    1. Thanks for the additional info.

      Still not sure it equated a bargain, though: another useful number is how many pints of bottled strong ale in regular production a pound might have bought you at the time.

      Looking at Which? magazine for November 1967, our sums (rough) suggest you could have got something like 12 bottles of Thwaites’s Old Dan (OG 1068) @ 1s 8d each (£1.39 ITM) so about six pints; or 14 bottles (7 pints) of John Smith Magnet Old Ale (1070) at 1s 5½d (£1.20-ish ITM).

      (It’s early, some of those sums might be a bit out.)

      As today, though, I guess it’s all a matter of what value people put on the extra ABV, the packaging, the limited availability of the product and so on. And, of course, TH might well have tasted a lot more interesting than John Smith Magnet.

Comments are closed.