1. The wait is over! Download the BeerAdvocate app on iTunes or Google Play now.
  2. Get 12 issues / year of BeerAdvocate magazine for only $9.99!

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

Displayed for educational use only; do not reuse.
BA SCORE
95
world-class

1,284 Ratings
THE BROS
100
world-class

(view ratings)
Ratings: 1,284
Reviews: 798
rAvg: 4.25
pDev: 14.12%
Wants: 221
Gots: 184 | FT: 11
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:
No notes at this time.

(Beer added by: Todd on 12-18-2000)
Beer: Ratings & Reviews
Sort by:  Recent | Likes | High | Low | Top Raters | Read the Alström Bros Beer Reviews and Beer Ratings of J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale Alström Bros
Ratings: 1,284 | Reviews: 798 | Display Reviews Only:
Photo of cubedbee
4.45/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

1998 vintage. Pours a deep dark red with a thin cap of beige head that quickly reduces to a ring. Smell is sweet and dark--raisins, figs, port, and some very earthy aromas. Taste is sugary sweet upfront, with a fruity winelike complexity. Raisins, figs, pineapples, toffee, maple syrup. Just a bare note of hops on the finish to balance the sweetness, which lingers long after a sip. Alcohol is barely detectable, amazing considering the 11.5%. Mouthfeel is full and silky, absolutely suberb. Overall this is a little sweeter than I expected, but it's an absolutely shining example of a barleywine, and I would try another vintage in a second.

Photo of stephendr
4.45/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

smell 4.5 taste 4.5 app 3.5 mouth 4.5 drink 4.5
1998 vintage 9.6 oz. glass bottle sample cellared at least 11 years- opened 10/28/07- color of murky brown, with a super thin off white colored head - nose of sweet brown sugar, over ripe tropical fruit, stale sourdough bread, and hint of cappuccino – taste of sweet malt, caramel, very full, chewy prunes, raisins, and syrup- body is thick, and round, and with no carbonation – aftertaste of raisins, toasted, rock candy sweet, and lingering

Photo of Zraly
4.45/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Harvest '10 on-tap at The Birch. Served in a snifter.

Pours a deep copper-gold with no head to speak of. Semi-interesting notes of alcohol and honey in the nose.

Really heady flavor of honey and cognac. A touch of bread and toasted nuts. World-class flavor wise. Sweet and smooth, the alcohol is slow to burn. Heavy but well-balanced between malt and hops. Finishes nicely with little cloying.

I had mine as my night cap with crackers, honey, and chunks of stilton -- it was sublime. I can't wait to try the bottles of '08 and the '10 in port casks that I recently picked up.

Photo of AtLagerHeads
4.45/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Vintage 2000 consumed 2004. A vvery marvelous brew with an incredible aroma that is very fruity and very full. The primary scent that I noticed was a cross between coconut and prunes with coconut winning the battle. The flavor is truly fruit with big dark fruit predominating, primarily prune flavors.

The eye is filled with a nice ruby to garnet look and topped with a very nice bit of foam that laces with sticky clumps. heavy, cloying feel, and the drinkability is interrupted by this and the ABV.

Photo of FarmerTed
4.45/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Just had a bottle of the 2001 Limited Edition Harvest Ale that I picked up today at a local store. It was in the cooler, but I have no idea how it was stored over the last 10 years. It cost $8.60.

On opening, there was a nice pop from the CO2 pressure. On pouring, there was some fizzing, but no head. The beer looks like root beer (dark brown), and has a big, caramel-like aroma. There was some yeast floating around in the beer; it probably would've settled out if I'd let it sit a few days, but it was jostled a bit after purchase, and I didn't feel like waiting.

The taste is like a combination of a port with a big caramel or toffee finish (it's amazing that grapes weren't used to make it, to be honest). There is some carbonation or fizz to it that gives it a bit of a bite. I really, really enjoyed it. It was sweet; I'm glad the bottle is only 9.3 oz. I'm not sure I could've drunk much more. I needed to eat a bit afterwards, due to the sweetness.

Overall, it was an excellent beer. I'd probably like to try some of the more recent vintages next, to see how they compare.

Photo of tony223366
4.45/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

2008 Vintage

A: Deep amber red color. Decent clarity but most of the problem was my bad pour. A thin layer of very light tan foam that dissipates into an island.

S: Really rich almost syrupy butterscotch and caramel. Honey. Tons of rich dark fruitiness. Alcohol is present too. Very port-like.

T: Wow, so fruity. Tons of buttery/caramel flavors. So much complexity in a great port-like way. Huge finish with some light, warming alcohol. Some roasted malt flavors and oaky almost vanilla tastes. Finish is very long. Tons of residual sugars. Molasses and a touch of acidity.

M: Unbelievably smooth and full bodied. Carbonation is light but present.

O: I know I throw this word around a lot but this beer is so decadent. As rich as it is though you can tell it could still use another two years or so. I think 5 years may be the sweet spot for this beer. Would love to have it over some ice cream! Not something you want too early but practically a perfect way to end a cold rainy night. Can't imagine a more model English Barleywine.

Photo of Urbancaver
4.45/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

1986 and 1999 side by side for beerandbourbon's birthday.

Both pours a nice reddish brown. Both are a bit murky with almost no head to speak of. The 1986 is darker slightly. Rest of the review is for 1999 as i liked it just a touch better. Smells so sweet and malty. Lots of dark fruits and a nice raisiny on the nose and the tongue. Some subtle vanilla and almost woody. Some nice earthy tones. No real hops to speak of. Super smooth and a nice solid mouthfeel. Thick, boozy still. Very very good

Photo of FLima
4.45/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Vintage 2006, finally! I could not wait more, but anyway it should be excellent by now. Let's see if it holds true against my expectations...
Brown ochre color with an almost inexistent head, so far no sediments. Almost showing some lacrima effect falling down the glass.
Wonderful aroma of Port wine, lots of high grade cocoa chocolate, licorice, molasses, oak, dry fruits, a hint of cinnamon and plums. I could mistake this by a chocolate panettone. I cannot get tire of sniffing this.
Surprisingly, flavor doesn’t entirely follow nose. Some new slightly smoked notes of charred wood or even tobacco. Also, molasses, very subtle earthy English hops, Port Wine, walnut, coconut, figs, cinnamon, prunes, apple juice, pears, licorice and maple syrup. Maybe some pleasant musty. Dry and sticky aftertaste with residual notes that mutates a bit.
Liquorish body with a very low carbonation, but it is still there. Alcohol of 11.5% abv is much better hidden than a bottle of wine given its malty body.
Extraordinaire beer, a sweet malty sipper with great complexity. Bold but still mellow. Highly recommended if you are into Barley Wines. This was in perfect condition after roughly eight years, I can’t wait trying one much younger and another one older.

Photo of sisuspeed
4.45/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Picked up a bottle of the 1999 vintage a couple of weeks ago. The Fall season is slowly creeping in out here in New Hampshire, so I thought a J.W. Lees Harvest Ale would be a nice way to enjoy the beginning of the season.

Poured this into a snifter. A strong pour produces a decent off-white head that sits on top of a dark autumn amber. The head thins out quite a bit, but leaves a nice foamy ring around the sides of the glass. Some lacing follows.

The aroma is at first a mixture of burnt malts and sweet fruits. Plums, figs and grapes are the strongest notes that come out, followed by some honey sweetness and a bit of estery alcohol. A complex nose that is very enjoyable. I still haven't even taken a sip yet, really enjoying this.

The taste is, well... amazing. Delicious! Thick, syrupy, sugary fruits intertwined with a very hefty amount of malt. Some wood flavors are also coming through, not very strong, but adding to the robustness of the flavor. Hops are there as well, adding a little bit of floral aroma and bitterness, but mostly washed out by the honey laden fruits. Very sweet most of the time, but interrupted occasionally by roasty/burnt malts, keeping it interesting and drawing me back for more.

The mouthfeel is much like I was describing in the taste. Thick, syrupy, creamy. Very filling. A bit of alcohol sharpness here or there, but for the most part the 11.5% ABV is hidden well. Drinkability is good, but with the high ABV, the sugary sweetness and the price, you'll only want one of these for the night. But drinkability is good for what it is.

All in all I am very impressed with this beer. It looks beautiful, the aroma is complex and pleasing and the flavor is delicious. I will be picking up more of this for special occasions and hunting down the other vintages. J.W. Lees 1999 Vintage Harvest Ale is truly a great English barleywine.

Photo of ShogoKawada
4.45/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Another from augustgarage. Thanks! I was tempted to sit on this one, but screw it, 9 years is enough!

A- Fizzy on the pour, cap gave a little 'pfft'. 12oz into flute, by the way. Appearance... zero head, but active carbonation. Thin, tiny bubbles are cropping up on the sides. Beer is a ruby/chestnut color, almost a zesty pumpkin when held up to the light.

S- Honey, maple sugar (??) or brown sugar and a very fruity, berry-juice sweetness. Pretty inviting.

T- Whoa. A big rush of flavors... floral, almost. Caramelized sugar. Candied plums. Overpowering, oppressing (in a good way) malt. Rasins, dried cranberries. Hints of chocolate, coffee bean, and sweet cream.

M- Smooth as all hell, no sign of ABV... so this is what a good aged beer tastes like. Fantastic mouthfeel, incredible flavor, yet so smooth and mellow. Wow.

D- Surprisingly high for +11%. Prob. the smoothest beer I've ever had... incredible. I would say this is drinking pretty damn good 9 years in. I'll have to see if I can pick up some other vintages. A wonderful beer.

Photo of Jimmys
4.45/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 2 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 3 | overall: 4.5

had on cask at the brewpub for the 2nd Annual Barleywine Festival. review from Sunday, 2/12. 2010 vintage.

A: flat, rich orange hue. virtually no carbonation can be seen in the glass. no head. i thought cask beers were supposed to have a nice frothy head....?
S: honey. lots of honey. toffee. a little bit of smoke? sugar in the raw. brown sugar. not a hop in sight.
T: honey, molasses. sesame seeds linger from start to finish and then after that. really unique. maybe even some burnt popcorn.
M: fine bubbles. full bodied.
D: almost drinks like a mead. very sweet, but super complex. great range with sweet, nutty, slightly roasted aromas and flavors. my favorite beer of the evening. #1 of the 4 tried.

Photo of Jason
4.47/5  rDev +5.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

Alcohol is still a bit boisterous as well as the forceful fruitiness. Jam packed with flavour with a similarity to a port or sherry minus the carbonation. I preferred this year over 1997 due to it being a bit more robust and over the top for a barley wine.

Photo of MuenchenerKindl
4.47/5  rDev +5.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

poured from a smaller bottle to a snifter, the liquid is a walnut brown, with very good carbonation for a 2002 brew. The head was small, one finger but had great saying power, small bubbles and left great lace.

The smell was heavy of nutty malt and alcohol.

The taste followed, wow what a great tasting brew. I love the nutty flavor with out the crap getting stuck in my theeth. Big alcohol is present and works well.

The mouthfeel is full and the arbonation is in the body even if it has a hard time escaping to the head.

The drinkability is great for a sipping beer.

prosit, MK

Photo of Tolnik
4.47/5  rDev +5.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Poured this dark muddy brown beer into a pint glass. Little to no head came when poured. Faint wisps of lacing remain on the top as it sits awaiting to be drank. The aroma of ripe fruit greet the nose. The taste of this beer is that of light molasses, fruit, and slight caramel aftertaste. Overall a great beer.

Photo of smakawhat
4.47/5  rDev +5.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Poured from the cask into a medium sized snifter at ChurchKey DC. Vintage 2010.

No head presented but filled to the brim nearly, giving off a dull dark slightly opaque red rust color, and maintaining just a faint tan collar. Shaking it up or bumping produces some more carbonation, giving a slight fizzy faint body.

Nose is stupidly butter rich and apple jam. But not of the diacetyl variety. Rich rum soaking spirits seem to come out in abundance. Smells fantastic.

Taste is just soft an luscious on the palate, bringing in that warm apple butter richness. Some faint licorice that is chewy on the aftertaste too.

Great drink right out of the cask just wonderful.

Photo of Cizauskas
4.47/5  rDev +5.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

Ah! Sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you...

J. W. Lees Harvest Ale: vintage 2001, rich, full-bodied, potent, racked into a wooden pin whose prior resident had been Lagavulin's peaty, salty whisky, and allowed to slumber since then.

All the longing, striving, seeking, waiting, yearning...

The folks at Sean Bolan's Pub in Federal Hill, Baltimore, MD purchased a wooden pin (5.4 gallon cask) of this elixir in 2002. They aged it undisturbed in their cellar for one year. They tapped it for us unworthy ruck last evening, Thursday, 6 March 2003.

The burning hopes, the joys and idle tears that fall!...

Here was a worthy successor to the late lamented Eldridge Pope Brewery's Thomas Hardy barley wine: a lusty 11.5% alcohol level yet still a beer, nearly still but with a whisper of spritzig, revealing itself with peel after peel of complexity.

In appearance, J. W. was burnished brown and copper, the age in wood having contributed several degrees of shade to that of the bottled version. No sparkler was used so the beer tumbled nearly headless from the wood. The carbonation was mere points over nil, but that seemed appropriate for quiet sipping and contemplation.

The aroma, in order of appearance: a quick whiff of pencil graphite, then waves of dark rum, raisins, dried plums, peat, sea air, Scotch whisky, vanilla, shortbread biscuits, malted milk candy, and the pungent aroma of a roaring fireplace. The body was all soft shoulders and dangerous curves, the aromas reappearing as flavors in teasing combinations, different with each sip.

Smokiness of the Lagavulin-soaked wood lounged blissfully in the finish, a counterweight to J.W.'s voluptuous maltiness and potency.

Sean Bolan's served the ale at a temperature of 55 or so degrees. One's afterglow was several degrees more ardent.

'Tis the answer, 'tis the end and all...

Early in the evening, a gentlemen walked into Sean Bolan's looking for a mainstream 'lite' beer. Failing that, he settled for a Sam Adams Light.
Looking around, he noticed several of us sniffing our goblets. "Why do you keep smelling your beer," he asked? "Try one," we suggested. He did. And Mikey, he liked it! "Never had anything like this before!" He grinned broadly as he drank the glass empty.

I believe that cask beer shines best for lower alcohol bitters and milds. J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale is a wonderful exception.

Photo of KAP1356
4.47/5  rDev +5.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Back from a reviewing hiatus! Vintage 2002 bottle poured into a snifter at my local bar...

A - Pours a lovely amber-copper color that really lights up in the right light. Small tan foamy head forms and quickly disappears. Bit of sediment in there, but nothing much.

S - Tons of dark fruits right up front. Raisins, figs, dates, some dried plum. Brown sugar and some maple syrup also make themselves apparent. Really quite nice.

T - Sweet maple sryup and dark fruits right up front. Carmal, toffee, some slight vanilla, brown sugar, and dark fruits right in the middle. The back end is almost entirely rum soaked raisin and makes me want to keep going back for more. Very well balanced flavors and one of the best tastes I have come across in a while.

M - Full bodied with a thick, slick feel to it. Medium carbonation makes the mouthfeel almost perfect.

O - I have had several vintages of this beer, and this one stands out to me. Taste and smell all made this experience one I would love to recreate.

Photo of marksto
4.47/5  rDev +5.2%
look: 3 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

2001 vintage. Pours a deep amber color with garnet highlights and a thin head that falls quickly. Aroma is big and vinous, with lots of fruit - apricot, cherry, and raisins. Very sweet smelling, with alcohol noticible. Flavor shows lots of depth. Mouthfeel has major body and thickness. Very sweet with lots of fruitness mixed in with carmel and a hint of brown sugar. Very rum-like, with alcohol warmth noticible at finish.

All the samples I've had of this one before were the ones aged in various barrels - sherry, calvados, etc.. I prefer this one much better. The complexity shows much more when there's not all that barrel/liquor essence to hide it behind. This is one to enjoy on a cold evening by the fire, or after a good meal. Recommended.

Photo of beergod1
4.47/5  rDev +5.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

A treat my friend D. Kurtz brought over. Wow, the smell is a treat in itself. Smells like England. Aroma is sweet and an alcohol bouquet. Color is a dark reddish brown, no head, small foam ring around the edge. Flavor is sweet with heavy Dark fruit / malty notes. Strong alcohol presence, but in a nice warming finish. I even noticed a touch of saltiness in the flavor. This is a very big beer, the only down fall is it is thick, I'm not a "Big " barley Wine fan, but this was an amazing beer.1988 vintage.

Photo of Wasatch
4.47/5  rDev +5.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Thanks goes out to Bitterbill for this one.

12oz. Bottle
11.5% ABV
1997 Vintage

Poured into a chalice a dark mahongy color, thick, syrupy, some carbonation, no head, some oil slicks hanging around. The nose is malty, oakey, roasty, some licorice, and caramel. The taste is pretty sweet at first, syrupy. Then the oakey/licorice tones come to play. Nice balance of malt/caramel. Nice warming effect going down, alcohol is hidden pretty well. Full body. Very drinkable, this is a delicious brew. This is also the oldest brew I've had to date. Highly recommended. Thanks again buddy.

Thanks to Bitterbill for this brew.

Vintage 1998

Poured into a chalice a dark brown color, nice carbonation, little fizzy off-white head, basically no sticky lacing, but some oil slicks. The nose is malty, slight licorice/toffee/vanilla, slight dark fruits, and caramel. The taste is sweet, malty, some dark fruit, and caramel. The alcohol is hidden pretty well. Medium body, a complex brew. Very drinkable, another awesome brew, highly recommended.

Thanks to Bitterbill for this brew.

Vintage 2000

Poured into a chalice a dark brown color, nice carbonation, little fizzy off-white head, basically no sticky lacing, but some oil slicks. The nose is malty, slight licorice/toffee/vanilla, slight dark fruits, and caramel. The taste is sweet, malty, some dark fruit, and caramel. The alcohol is hidden pretty well. Medium body, a complex brew. Very drinkable, another awesome brew, highly recommended.

Photo of UncleJimbo
4.47/5  rDev +5.2%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Sampled at The Moan and Dove in Amherst, MA. This was 1996 vintage, aged in a 100 year old wooden port wine barrel.

This ale poured a clear, golden amber color with no foam or carbonation apparent. The smell was wonderful: smooth caramel, figs, raisins, alcohol. The taste was moderately sweet malt with figs, raisin, molasses, alcohol and a hint of butter. A very complex and exquisite flavor. The mouthfeel was warming. It was light on the tongue but left a residual thick, sweet taste. The body was medium and the carbonation was nonexistent. This was an incredibly awesome barley wine, but due to the strength and fullness, I really cannot say that I want to drink many at one sitting.

Photo of kbutler1
4.47/5  rDev +5.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

J.W Lees Harvest Ale 2001 275 ml bottle. Served at 45 degrees.
A: Pours a Apple cider like dark brown color. Some sediment present in the bottle
S: Raisins off the bat followed by molasses and alcohol
T: Very sweet raisin taste with a slight bitterness like sweetened coffee or tea. Reminds me almost of a port wine of sorts.
M: Thick but smooth
D: Hmmm, yes, it is. For an 11.5% alc/vol drink it hides the alcohol quite well. It would be too sweet to drink for the whole day but it is quite good!

Photo of vladtheimpaler
4.47/5  rDev +5.2%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

2002 bottle. Pours an awesome crystal clear orange with a nice orangish white head. Aroma is a mix of alcohol and maple-raisin. Flavor is similar, with a dominant maple-alcohol warming flavor, with hints of raisin. Goes great with Irish soda bread. Sweetness of maple syrup lingers on the palate. Delicious!.

Photo of mcann2pu
4.47/5  rDev +5.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

1999 Vintage bottle. My 40th review!

Appearance: Poured into my DFH Signature glass a luscious dark rust color, almost brown at first glance, clear looking brew no detectable sediment or "floaties" although a small amount of compact sediment did remain in the bottom of the bottle when I poured, not much in the way of head, but had an impressively strong lace forming a ring around the inside of the glass.

Smell: First on the nose is an appealing heavy dark fruit aroma, with a detectable toffee-like malt smell as well.

Taste: Rich, delicious, the first taste I get is a malty dark fruit taste, like an aged fig or a prune, this is followed by a sweet molasses-like caramel flavor that gives way to a vanilla / wood finish. Great taste, seems like this one cellared quite well.

Mouthfeel: Great, very appropriate for this type of beer, it's a little syrupy, but I think that is to be expected in an aged beer of this style.

Drinkability: The sweetness of the brew might effect the drinkability for some, but I think that it's a good sipping ale with a lot of fairly complex flavors, I can't wait to see how this one continues to age.

Photo of ark57
4.47/5  rDev +5.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

1989 Vintage sampled in 2004 - The color is dark orange to brown. The oily body gives rise to tastes of vanilla, wood accents, and citrus notes. This beer is very complex and mellow. It is earthy and slight minty with port/madiera oxidation. The body is lean and smooth, yet it still has some carbonation. Best drank from a snifter.

Just sampled the 1986 Vintage and it was amazing. It was pretty much as expected, but I was surprised that it had quite a bit of carbonation.

J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
95 out of 100 based on 1,284 ratings.