Back here I mentioned that I'd set aside a box of beers for a year or so, just to see what happened to them with a bit of aging. In fact, the box has spent two years in my oubliette, though hasn't survived completely intact. The strong Belgian ale that Barry and Kieron brewed didn't survive last winter (and was delicious); likewise the 2007 Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, so I've started that process again by cellaring the 2008 and 2009 editions.
But the Old Engine Oil which prompted the experiment remains, and last week I nipped in to DrinkStore to grab a fresh bottle for comparison. The young one had the same rather subtle dark fruit flavours as I recall from two years ago: quality drinking, but with nothing really jumping out of it. And the older one was along very similar lines, but there was a noticeable difference. The fruity sourness had rounded out and become somewhat more pungent -- reminiscent of that almost solvent-like flavour you get with super-strength barrel-aged imperial strength stouts, only with half the impact and allowing all the gentle chocolate and coffee shine through as well. This extra complexity means that aging is definitely the way to treat this beer. It won't turn into the world's greatest strong dark ale, but it definitely adds to the enjoyment.
The last Rip Van Winklebrouw is a Thomas Hardy's Ale, purchased from Redmond's in 2007, though dating from the 2003 vintage. The nip bottle does its best to justify a €5 price tag with a unique number, gold foil and some neck bling. It'll have to do better than that, I thought, taking the cap off. The aroma asserted itself immediately -- that rich sweet pudding scent which I got from the fabulous Samuel Adams Triple Bock. With a slightly murky dark ruby colour, the texture is thick and heavy, but there's definitely a light sparkle there, and no syrup or unpleasant stickiness. The flavour has the sweet, yet bitter, yet dry character of crumbly high-cocoa dark chocolate. It's also nicely spirituous, which all adds up to a wonderful cherry liqueur chocolate effect. End-to-end quality and not a single bum note anywhere.
Apart from the question I ask all beers -- "I wonder what that stuff's like" -- the only other question I had for Thomas Hardy's was "Should I buy some more?", especially now that O'Hanlon's have stopped brewing it so there's only a limited supply floating about in Dublin. That'll be a yes.