Perhaps the most famous name in barleywine belongs to an English poet and novelist: Thomas Hardy. The beer named after him was originally brewed by the Eldridge Pope brewery in the late ’60s in Dorchester, England, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Hardy’s death.
The sweet, rich and potent brew became a popular annual release, representing a gold standard for English-style barleywines until Eldridge Pope ceased production in 1999. Since then, several reboots of the beer have been brewed by various breweries around the world.
St. Petersburg’s Green Bench Brewing and American Solera from Tulsa, Okla., teamed up for a collaboration barleywine that continues the legacy by adding Thomas Hardy’s barleywine yeast culture to Jamaican rum barrels, filling the balance with fresh barleywine and aging the beer for 20 months before blending and bottling.
The result is The Obscure, a terrific barleywine that all lovers of strong ale should now seek out.
The Obscure pours a deep brown, nearly black, with low carbonation. The nose is rum-heavy, with notes of molasses and raisins. It’s rich and sweet, but not cloying, presenting dense flavors of fig, plum, cocoa and caramel. Despite its hefty 10.2 percent alcohol by volume, The Obscure drinks extremely smooth, like a nice port.
The Obscure is available for purchase in Green Bench’s tasting room for $15. If you go, buy two: one to enjoy now, and one to cellar for later (it will age very well). A barrel-aged barleywine is an uncharacteristic release for Green Bench, but this one would make Thomas Hardy himself proud.
— Justin Grant
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