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J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale - J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd

Not Rated.
J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest AleJ.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale

Educational use only; do not reuse.

821 Reviews

(Read More)
Reviews: 821
Hads: 1,387
Avg: 4.25
pDev: 18.12%
Wants: 253
Gots: 200 | FT: 15
Brewed by:
J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd visit their website
United Kingdom (England)

Style | ABV
English Barleywine |  11.50% ABV

Availability: Year-round

Notes & Commercial Description:
Beer added by: Todd on 12-18-2000

No notes at this time.
View: Beers (21) | Events
Beer: Reviews & Ratings
Sort by:  Recent | High | Low | Top Raters | Read the Alström Bros Beer Reviews and Beer Ratings of J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale Alström Bros
Reviews: 821 | Hads: 1,387
Photo of Zadok
3.75/5  rDev -11.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Vintage 2000

Poured a deep hazy amber with no head or lacing to speak of.

Smell is unbelievable, strong aroma of many dark fruits to include raisins, dates, figs, and cherries. Faint malts and hops in the background with alcohol mixed ever so slightly.

Wow, dark fruits abound in a syrupy mix of caramel and sweet malts. Raisins, cherries and figs are on the border of overpowering but still slight enough to make an unbelievable elixir. Alcohol definitely has a warming presence and only increases as it warms.

Very smooth and syrupy with low carbonation.

Although the quality and time invested is evident, the high ABV and insane amount of sweetness make this a once in a year brew for me personally. Even with the small (9.4 I believe) I could only really see splitting with someone else if I ever happened across another. Maybe a different year would have a little less sweetness...time will tell.

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Photo of throwitallaway
3.76/5  rDev -11.5%
look: 3 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 2.5

Thanks to roymunson for this brew! This is the from the 2001 vintage. Decanted from the bottle into a snifter. Pours a quite dark amber color with zero head as expected. Smells of huge malts, cherries, toffee, and alcohol. I've had very few barleywines, so this aroma is quite unique and interesting. The taste is sweet, with raisins, cherries, toffee, and booze all making an appearance. This is so sweet I should have definitely waited to try it later in the day, like after dinner, as opposed to 2 pm. Mouthfeel is quite thick. Drinkability is extremely low as it would take me forever to even finish one of these. I'm conflicted with this beer. It's obviously an excellent beer, but it's so far out of any style I enjoy, that it's hard for me to get too into it.

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Photo of marvin213
3.77/5  rDev -11.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 2.5

2001 Vintage

It looks like it should be served with a spoon. It smells like a thick, malty, toffee ball of caramel solid. It actually SMELLS like those things! As if i were alive in the sixties, I can smell in this beer "thick and chewy." It's potent and caloric. Again, you can smell it. It will for me define Engiish Barleywine.

It tastes like sweet, raw sugar toffee with chocolate...mixed with yodels of yeast that ate sugar without oxygen...for 10+ years. It's thick and chewy, and it feels like it'll put hair on your nuts. It makes black coffee a bitch's brew. I'm definitely affected by the "World Class" bro and other reviews, as I'll score it high with no plans to revisit. It's just too big for me.

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Photo of megahurts4
3.77/5  rDev -11.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

JW Lees Harvest Ale 2009

Appearance: reddish, small head, and a little lacing.

Smell: malty caramel and toffee.

Taste: malty caramel-honey, spices, some fruit, and an earthy-wood flavor.

Mouthfeel: malty and heavy.

This is a very malty and flavorful brew. It starts with a thick spicy caramel blast. There is an odd earthy-wood flavor at the end.

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Photo of ThisWangsChung
3.77/5  rDev -11.3%
look: 1.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.75

9.3 oz bottle into a snifter. 2009 vintage.

A: Pours a rather murky dark brown color. Very little head is featured here, just a thin collar that's white with big bubbles. Not to mention, further examination reveals some huge white-colored chunks of sediment. This is what we in the business call "ass-ugly".

S: Wow. This is hugely sweet - almost like a barleywine that's been distilled even further. Huge dark fruit and caramel sweetness abounds, with plenty of underlying chocolate. I also detect some toffee and some mellow earthiness. Fascinatingly rich, if perhaps a touch too sweet.

T: Indeed, this is one sweet bitch. It opens with plenty of caramel maltiness and dark fruit esters. After the midpoint, the focus switches more to toffee, vanilla, tobacco, and chocolate. Alcohol is mildly prevalent on the back end, but takes on an excellent character, more similar to rum than vodka. After about 3 oz, it does transcend into the realm of "too sweet", with its strong toffee notes ultimately becoming the dominant flavor. There's good depth and complexity to compensate somewhat.

M: The body does a decent job of keeping the sugary sweetness in check by slightly drying out on the finish, which has a side effect of intruding on the softness of the texture somewhat. Even with that, it's a heavy, smack-your-lips sweet brew, with almost no carbonation.

O: Well, it's everything a dessert barleywine should be - big, rich, complex, and decadent. However, even at 9.3 oz, this is best split between two people due to how cloying it is. Compare that to, say, Sucaba, which I can finish a 750ml bottle of with little trouble. Absolutely worth trying...just don't drink it before dinner.

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Photo of dar482
3.78/5  rDev -11.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.75

(Review of a 1999 vintage).

The beer comes in a dark copper color.

The aroma has tons of caramel, brown sugar, toffee sweetness. There's a bit of sweet dark raisin there as well.

The flavor follows with just a rush of caramel and brown sugar. I have never had a beer that is so sweet and caramel forward. It literally tastes like drinking watered down caramel.

In the end, the beer lacked a bit of complexity for me. I really enjoyed the sweetness and it would be a great dessert beer. I just wish there was maybe more carbonation, or drying, or something to separate from simply sweetness. It still surely hits its alcohol though.

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Photo of MrBendo
3.78/5  rDev -11.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2000 vintage. Clear red/copper color with a large head. Little retention. Fair lacing. Dark fruit, salty balsamic vinegar and attic-stored book aroma. Taste bring in a cloying sweetness, with brown sugar, raisins, toffee and rum. Alcohol is well hidden. Harshly sweet and moderately sour flavor.
A complex beer that you wouldn't want every day.

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Photo of callmemickey
3.79/5  rDev -10.8%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

2002 bottle into a tulip

A: Muddy brown body... one finger light head... little lacing.. quick recession ... lots of floating shit

S: Caramel... dark fruits.. candied sugar.. honey.. floral notes

T: Much of the same... decently complex... high malt content, notably dark fruits.. figs, raisins etc... caramel and candied sugar sweetness.. floral bitterness

M: Medium-full bodied... thick and chewy.. the damn floating shit didn't help here

D: Notsure how well this one was cared for ... the flavor and smell was pretty solid, but the other factors were not impressive

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Photo of bennetj17
3.79/5  rDev -10.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

2004 Vintage...
Pours looking flat, a deep brown color with amber hues. Smell is strong like wine grapes and cherry, and when you get your nose in further becomes very brown sugary and malty. Intense sugary malt present in the taste, with notes of fig and other dark fruit. On the first taste i get a hint of meaty flavor in the finish with just a hint of smoke, and later this disappears as the syrupy malt taste dominates. Mouthfeel is not very thick, but there is an oilyness present. Virtually no carbonation, only a slight tingle. I had trouble drinking this brew as it is too incredibly rich for my tastes. I would say the alcohol is masked very well. Some of you may love this beer but I prefer more balance...

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Photo of Hagbard
3.8/5  rDev -10.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

Vintage: 1997
Serving type: Bottle

The bottle suggested drinking this by the end of 2002...I got to it before the end of 2003 and I don't think it suffered. I received some very good news today so decided it would be a great time to crack it open and also to make my first review for BA (so bear with me!).

This beer poured a deep brown, which was very pleasing to the eye. There was no head to speak of and no lacing...I blame the glassware I chose. Perhaps it was a little dirty or had some soap residue. The beer captured the ambient light very nicely and created a wonderful image that would have beeen even more pleasing with a 3 finger head.

The smell was malt, malt, malt, malt, and a little bit of must. I think I detect some molasses, but I may just be guessing!

The taste is what gets you! So sweet! Almost candy-like. The malt jumps out and grabs you and takes you prisoner. I haven't developed into a hop-head yet, but even I was looking for a little hop flavor to balance the sweetness. Perhaps if I drank this prior to '02 as suggested, the hops would still be there? I definitely taste a bit of molasses. Towards the finish, I pick up definite traces of butter.

I gave this a 3 for drinkability, because at 11.5% ABV it is definitely a sippin beer. Although, they were able to hide the alcohol quite well behind the sweetness, more than 1 of these in a sitting would be too much.

A great beer. One I'll definitely on the lookout for other vintages.

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Photo of Hophead717
3.8/5  rDev -10.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

1999 vintage bottle, 275ml, poured into my CBS snifter.

A: Halfway between deep brown and ruby red. Small cap of foam sits atop the beer after the head fizzes away.

S: Sherry, dark fruits, light raisin. Very sweet and malty, dominated by the fruity sherry scent.

T: This is rich! Deep, sweet intoxicating fruits. There sherry notes present in the nose are also easy to pick out. I am unsure to what degree this sherry taste is from oxidation. Sweet and malty, overall, but it's a bit too sherry-heavy, probably from great oxidation.

M: Light to medium bodied, lower in carbonation, semi-slick. Works for the style.

O: It's fun to have such a vintage beer (the oldest I've been lucky enough to sample). The beer is a bit over the hill, in my opinion. It's enjoyable to sample, but not a vintage I'll see out in the future.

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Photo of cooler4life
3.81/5  rDev -10.4%
look: 3.25 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

'10 Edition given by a wonderful brother.

A: Poured a syrupy zero finger head that disperses what little foam present as a thin ring around the edges of my NB chalice. Lots of floaties. Fallen soldiers of the yeast brigade.

S: Sun kissed raisons, prune juice, burnt sugar, caramel. Fairly one dimensional, but after 5 years the aromas have settled.

T: This is where it shines. Dark fruits up front mixed with maple syrup and fresh tobacco. Sweet like a port wine but different in the fact you get some grassy notes (faded hops?). Finishes with a surge of grassy moss funk and smoke.

F: Limited. Carbonation is very fine, to the point of almost being non-existent.

O: This was a real treat, lots of different dimensions. Age has masked the ABV well- you don't see it coming until you start barking orders to family members like General Lee. Salute!

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Photo of EPseja
3.82/5  rDev -10.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Served from a 12oz bottle at cellar temperature in a Duvel tulip. Vintage 2002... aging for 5 years.

A - Ruby amber with some sediment cloudiness. Tight knit, meringue head that isn't very large, but has decent staying power. No lacing, and nothing on top once the head subsides.

S - Immediately while pouring (nose about a foot away), I got notes of aged Scotch Whisky and hints of fresh baked cinnamon raisin bread. Getting right in the glass, I find that the raisins are soaked in spiced rum... pralines and figs. Very sweet.

T - Immensely sweet to the point of being on the verge of overbearing. Fresh baked fruitcake and sherry. Caramel candy. Mellows out a bit towards the back, but the alcohol is noticeable, although not biting. Nothing much in the way of hops. The finish is a tad cloying but the aftertaste is pleasant.

M - Slight foam, slight tingle. Very syrupy. Heavy. Smooth swallow.

D - As with most J.W. Lees ales I've had, this one follows suit in it's overwhelming sweetness. Sure it's nice for the first few sips, but over the course of a whole beer, it becomes a bit much. Would like to have seen some more (or any) real hop profile shining through. Good, but not great.

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Photo of Normrdz
3.83/5  rDev -9.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Opened a 06' and poured it into a stemmed glass, Nice honey brown color with little to no head. Found the scents of brown sugar and molasses, Very sweet yet not to strong. First taste brought a smile to my face, Raisons, brown sugar, a little bit of plum, and a smooth molasses release.
It has a very thick, syruply feel to the pallet with little carbonation. Sure has a taste that no other compares too of its kind. Not my first one and won't be my last! I've compared different years and found that the older vintages are much darker in appearence with less sweetness and much more drinkability. Not a beer you can drink all night, but I enjoyed it like a dessert after a nice meal.
I recommend trying it, but take it slow, enjoy the taste like you would a good brandy. I keep it in stock and will continue to do so.

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Photo of glazeman
3.84/5  rDev -9.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

2002 edition, poured into a snifter

A: Dark, dark amber in color with a small ½ finger white head that quickly fades into a crown. There is minimal lacing and modest retention.

S: The smell is definitely the best aspect of this beer for me. Truly a celebration of malts, there is caramel, toffee, syrup, and brown sugar on the nose.

T: This is a very sweet beer. There is root beer, caramel, and brown sugar as the dominant flavors with a tad of alcohol burn. To me though this is overly sweet and lacks balance.

M: Pretty good feel, although for an 11.5% beer this one is a little thin for my liking.

D: For the ABV the drinkability is pretty good, but is limited by the near cloying sweetness of this beer.

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Photo of BillyB
3.85/5  rDev -9.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

2002 Vintage in a 9.3 oz. bottle.

Pours a clear orange/copper color with a slight tan head. A little bit of sediment left in the bottle.

Very sweet dark fruit smell of plums, raisins, black cherry and a woody, port type smell.

Intense malt flavor with strong caramel sweetness. A bit dry after the swallow. Slightly bitter aftertaste and a very strong alcohol warming effect.

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Photo of cbl2
3.85/5  rDev -9.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

1997 Vintage


Crystal clear deep amber brown with quite a bit of carbonation for a 7 year old beer.


Scotch malts hit you square in the face, carrying a burst of alcohol along for the ride.


This has aged superbly. The high ABV is masked by a super sweet slightly smoky malt presence. Finishes with almost a port-like flavor. After a few sips I'm reeling from the alcohol. This is good, but deadly.

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Photo of Gueuzedude
3.85/5  rDev -9.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

2003 vintage edition, sampled March 2005
Pours a orange copper color that is brilliantly clear and topped by a thin pale tan head. The aroma is richly malty with notes of sugar, toffee, alcohol, and already a bit of oxidation notes that add a richness to the aroma. The taste is sweet up front, with a candied toffee-like concentrated maltiness. This beer is fairly simplistic, with a hint of hoppiness that rounds out this beer a bit. Despite its simple nature this beer is still enjoyable on this night.

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Photo of woosterbill
3.85/5  rDev -9.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

275ml bottle of the 1999 vintage into a Duvel tulip.

A: A slow, steady pour produces a lovely finger of tight off-white head atop a dark, slightly murky reddish-brown body. The head is particularly impressive for such an old, strong beer, displaying great retention and even leaving a decent amount of fine lace. Anyone who claims that decade-old beers are supposed to be flat and ugly obviously hasn't had a 1999 Lees. Excellent.

S: Hugely sweet, with sherry, raisins, brown sugar, treacle, and toffee. Wave after wave of sugary malts wafts out of the tulip, followed by some faint hints of leather, spice, and alcohol. There's a touch of oxidation for sure, but not to the point of being dirty and cardboardy. Excellent, if a bit over the top with sweetness.

T: Not nearly as complex as nose: this is just a straight sugar explosion. Brown sugar and toffee are the only flavors at first, and a sizable dose of oxidation and ethanol finishes things off. It's enjoyable in a decadent, desert-like way, but lacks the depth of the aroma.

M: Syrupy and smooth at first, with some soft carbonation showing up upon agitation. Pretty solid for the style, if almost unbearably sticky.

D: While I fully expected this beer to deliver an unadulterated barrage of malty sweetness, I guess I wasn't quite prepared for just how cloying that could become. The small bottle is more than appropriate.

Notes: This was delicious, and I fully intend to sample a more recent vintage to compare, I really found it to be too one-dimensional in its flavor profile. I've had the 06 Port and Lagavulin versions of this brew, and they were both far superior to this. This was totally worth the steep per-ounce price tag, but it's not something I'll be stockpiling in large amounts.


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Photo of mynie
3.86/5  rDev -9.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3


Pours dark red and hazy like blood or a Fruit Roll Up.

Smells like very, very intense sweet yeast fruit, molasses, and hops. Good god, this has been aged for five years?

Tastes grainy, very sweet. Candy sweet. Belgian yeast sweet, only sweeter. Brown sugar molasses white can sugar sunshine sweet. Intense, to say the least...a bit too overwhelming to describe.

Too intense to enjoy it as you would a normal beer, but the pure splendor of the whole thing makes this beer more than worthwhile.

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Photo of kylehay2004
3.87/5  rDev -8.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

1999 version

A: murky and muddy brown body. No head.

S: sherry and cabernet dominate. some dark fruit, ofee, chocolate and caramel malts. forbodes a strong boozy flavor.

T: wow. This one is strong and not just in the boozy way but also in the tart, sweet and sour way. sherry, tons of dark fruit mostly raisin. The finish has an oak, smokey and cake batter character.

M: so sweet its hard to tell. medium body and light carbonation. oily and thick.

Overall: almost got a headache right away from the sweetness. This one is definitely unique and somehow complex in the finish despite the overwhelming tart and sweetness. I couldnt finish this one.

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Photo of kpantz
3.88/5  rDev -8.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

Review is for the 2000 edition.

Executive Summary: Took a chance on this one, and while it's not all I had hoped for, it's still worth it. This has aged very well. Makes me want to hold on to the 2004 bottle I just grabbed.

Appearance: Pours a deep, murky mahogany into my snifter with a thin off-white head that reduces to little more than a film. Lacing is moderate.

Smell: Would be fantastic if it weren't for this hint of staleness I'm sensing. Wish I could tie it to something. Perhaps musty is the best way I can describe it. Otherwise, raisins and dates are evident.

Taste: Wow. Just wow. I thought I had tasted barleywines before. This is incredible. Sticky-sweet, but not cloying up front and finishes clean, with only a slight alcoholic twinge to it. A very well balanced experience.

Mouthfeel: Candy. My teeth are squeaking. Nice for the style.

Drinkability: Price, intensity of flavor and ABV make this a one-time sipper. Doesn't mean I won't go back and grab a couple more, though ;)

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Photo of hoser
3.88/5  rDev -8.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

A 1999 Harvest Ale was sacrificed this evening. It is really hard to rate a beer this old and be fair to the brewers intentions.
Huge vino and port notes and this fucker could have used another ten years in the cellar. One of the few times I wish I had more patience with some older bottles.

Always love the JW Lees stuff.

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Photo of cbutova
3.88/5  rDev -8.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

1999 vintage, reviewed from notes.

A- Dark ruby red with a pretty big head for an 11 year old beer. A cloud sticks around for a bit but lace doesn't wanna happen.

S- Fumes of alcohol and an almost permanent marker smell come off at first. Some dark fruit and even a bit sour, dusty and old like cardboard almost.

T- Improves with every sip. Hard to get around the insane sweetness at first. Tons of dark fruit and caramel. Like a good old ale but dustier and older, pretty close to what I had imagined this tasting like.

MF- Very oily and syrup textured. Low but good carbonation level for an aged barleywine. Coat of old malt and fruit coat a fairly warm palate.

DB- Expensive but definitely ages pretty well, good qualities remain and I can even see it going a bit longer but personally would probably prefer a 3-5 year one. Would love to do a 5 or 6 bottle vertical some day.

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Photo of meechum
3.88/5  rDev -8.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured this into an oversized wine glass, don't have a decanter. Poured thick and dark with a one finger tan head that quickly fell into a layer above the drink. Smelling this I noticed some fruity smells and a hint of smoke and hops aroma but the alcohol smell was overpowering all of it

I personally didn't care too much for this but I'm pretty sure the brewer achieved what they were after with this as I am new to this style, but reading other reviews it seems that what I smelled and tasted was in line with what the objective was..

I rated this probably higher than my personal preference but that's because it achieved what it was supposed to be..just because my palate wasn't ready for it the beer shouldn't take the blame for that.

I thought that the beer had a nice fruity taste up front that quickly moved to a more complex malt and hops taste but once again the alcohol was just overpowering the entire thing so it was hard for me to get past that smell and taste. The mouthfeel was the one thing I did enjoy..this was thick and smooth and it demanded that you pay attention to it...I did like that

Overall I'm not too keen on trying another one of these soon...but I'm glad I got the experience and the chance..who knows in a year this could be the greatest thing since a nice porter

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J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
94 out of 100 based on 821 ratings.