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

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J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest AleJ.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale

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821 Reviews

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Reviews: 821
Hads: 1,387
Avg: 4.25
pDev: 13.88%
Wants: 252
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.
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Beer: Reviews & Ratings
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Reviews: 821 | Hads: 1,387
Photo of edchicma
4.68/5  rDev +10.1%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

2000 Vintage broken open in honor of Red Sox as World champs. This is the type of beer for a special occasion. Pours a dark cherry amber with a light head that laces on the tulip glass I am drinking from. Smell is caramel, malt, acohol, cherry, molasses..very complex. Taste is equally complex. While high in abv, the alcohol is there but does not dominate. Molasses, caramel, burnt sugar, plums...probably a few more I will notice after a few more sips. Mouthfeel is exceptional. This is a strong brew, but the smooth quality is exceptional also. Extremely drinkable due to smoothness and understated alcohol presence. A must drink for real beer lovers. Go Sox!!!!

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Photo of merlin48
4.8/5  rDev +12.9%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Limited Edition, first bottling of December 1, 1999. Served at cellar temperature into a snifter on October 20, 2004. Bottle cap opens with a mild pop, indicating some carbonation. Indeed, a two finger tightlyknit, beige head forms atop a clear, ruby chestnut body that is effervescant with atomic sized, bubbles rushing to the surface. The attractive head is longlasting, eventually falling into film and collar lace that is tightknit and easily aroused into sheet lace on the sides of the snifter with a gentle twirl. The appearance is absolutely stunning.
The aroma is appropriately complex, and sinfully inviting. Molasses, toffee, burnt brown sugar, and some fresh fruitcake aromas are initially noted. Coffee, tobacco, rum, prunes, and a vinous note of port wine are also picked up. Some smoky, peat rounds out the exceptional nose. Wow! This is a serious undertaking.
Mouthfeel is effervescent, with a mild carbonation that is ideal. A presence of strong alcohol quickly appears and kickstarts a vinous character that reminds you that this has an abv of 11.5 %.
The taste yields an extraordinary, sweet malt character that is exceptionally complex, and complicated by a mild, alcohol burning sensation. Molasses, maple syrup, dark honey, tobacco, and freshly tanned leather comprise the dominant flavors. Pithy, dark fruits are also evident with essences of figs and raisins. This Harvest Ale becomes heavy and syrupy toward the finish, but is never cloying. The taste, overall, has a definite sherry character that compliments the malt complexities.
This is an exceptional example of British craftmanship at its best. At its current age of five years, I can't imagine how this can be better, but I'm definitely curious how this will age. I suggest buying as many bottles as you can afford, and laying down a few for aging. My only complaint is the size of the tiny, 9.6 oz bottle, but this is being greedy.

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Photo of ChrisBowers
4.6/5  rDev +8.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Sampled from a 1999 oak cask at the Brickskeller in Washington DC on October 7th, 2004. I've had several invarnations of this brew in bottles and in a calvados cask, but this one was by far the best. Aged in new oak I believe, not port or calvados casks, this allowed the beer to express more of its subtle characteristics. BeerGuyDave served this baby at just the right temperature for a smooth, silky but viscous experience. Notes of ripe fruits, port wine, brown sugar and finally some vanilla in the finish make this a wonderfully complex sipper. Its scary how drinkable this stuff was at 11.5%+ ABV. Has a certain sweetness though that would prevent me from downing too much however. Besides, all good things are best in moderation!

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Photo of hopoilcrazy
4.11/5  rDev -3.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

The bottle says 1987 so I thought I would trust it. I grab my bottle opener, and it opens with no sound, just metal tapping glass.
It pours a dark burgundy color and settles with a suspended sediment, even if you are careful during the pour.
With agitation, the barleywine emits a strong alcohol wave followed by a strong musty aroma that definitley cost it some points.
The taste makes up for any defeciency that might exist. The first 30 minutes (I drink slow, okay), the barleywine is very robust with figs, anchoes, slight banana, medium sweetness, lightly toasted malt, and no bitterness. Very akin to port. In the last thirty minutes of drinking notes of menthol, wood, smoke, and reduced sweetness, all together very dark.
The mouthfeel is very very syrupy and medium bodied.
At 11.5%, in theory this barleywine would be a chore to down, but it is very smooth.

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Photo of blitheringidiot
4.37/5  rDev +2.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

1998 Vintage Limited Edition.

Label lore: First brew from the 1998 harvest. 11.5 % ABV. 275 mL 9.6 oz. Marris Otter malted barley and East Kent Goldings. Bottled 12/1/1998.

Poured into me Flying Fish tulip with a furious cloudy brown no-light escaping hued ale under a razor thin ring of off white head collar and a foamy island in the middle of the surface. A few swirls erupt an ephemeral khaki tan coating that creeps into the corners of the glass.

Quad like dark fresh baked bundt cake malt muscle and plenty of awl-kee-hawl esters, even fresh out of a chilled bottle. Cigarette ash scents and woodiness meets prunes. This smells like a spicy dessert drink. Some yeasty esters become more pronounced as warmed.

First swigs: Big mad props to GeoffFromSJ for this treat. A thick syrup cake batter smoked port wine that contains doughy enigmatic flavors. Each sip reveals a different taste. Smoked peat, foamy feel and brown spiced wafer flavor. Surprising, the awl-kee-hawl esters are under the radar. Slight smokiness keeps the fire smoldering. Spices range from cinnamon to nutmeg and ginger. Karo syrup sweet.

Thick fullness - I mean as full bodied gets! Sticks to your lips sticky.

Last swigs: The oak wood characteristics bring this to the doorstep of Sam Adams Triple Bock. Barley Wine Style Ale prescence is what this sipper is all about. My only frownie face: 9.6 oz. Boo hoo! 1998 is probably not going to get any better. This is liquid bundt cake batter.

Beer is good. Happy strong beering.

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Photo of JohnnyDuvel
4.42/5  rDev +4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

1997 edition. Pours a dark ruby color, very little head - disappears fast. Dark, fruity smell and taste. Full mouthfeel, good balance (though more towards the malt). Very wine-like (in a good way). Reminded me a lot of a really good Baltic porter in taste (like Stepan Razin?), only fuller in body. Alcohol not overwhelming, this one is enjoyable all the way through. A high quality ale that I will try again.

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Photo of crookedhalo
4.14/5  rDev -2.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Pours a dark chestnut with a fizzy, tan head that dies quickly. Very hoppy and caramelly malty. Lots of old ale/barley wine qualities about the aroma. Very malty and syrupy, but higher alcohol levels work to cut it as not to be so cloying. Medium carbonation bite. Overall, a very nice barley wine. I understand this beer cellars very well.

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Photo of altctrlsdelete
4.94/5  rDev +16.2%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

2002 vintage consumed on 9.7.04.

Very high expectations for this beer after hearing lots and lots of hype (and paying a pretty penny for the bottle).

Decanted slowly into a snifter, resulting in a very slight white head that fades to just the sides of the glass in a few moments. Very deep bronze color with ample carbonation.

Very smooth and subtle aromas -- easily the most delicious smell I've encountered emanating from a glass. Buttery toffee is the first thing that comes to my mind. A very light hop aroma underlies the dominant aromas. I almost want to inhale this.

The taste of this beer is out of this world. I've not had anything approaching this in the relatively short time (~1 year) that I've experienced craft beers. The "buttery toffee" that was present in the nose is definitely here, but with a very agreeable burnt flavor. As a fan of hoppier beers, subtlety in the hop department is something that I didn't think I'd really appreciate. Wrong. The balance here is absolute perfection, like drinking a Bach concierto. The earthy malt flavors leave a perfect sweet but subtle flavor on the tongue in the finish.

This is a "wow" beer among "wow" beers. If you haven't tried this, you owe it to yourself to do whatever you can to obtain some. Nearly flawless.

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Photo of Rio
4.5/5  rDev +5.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

1999 vintage, enjoyed September 2004, in a tulip glass. And I do mean enjoyed. Poured a beautiful, deep coppery brown color, darker than the 2001. Still little or no head to it. Smelled very sweat, with an earthy, almost leatherlike smell to it. The smell of the alcohol from the 2001 vintage is very well masked here, little presence at all.

Taste is much the same as the 2001, sweetness of brown sugar, taste of a few fruits, including a bit of tartness that tastes almost like an apple, vanilla flavor, with something a little more buttery in there, too. Extremely smooth, even as thick as it is. Seems even thicker than the 2001, but goes down much smoother.

I could drink this stuff all night long. Wonderful, wonderful brew. Near perfect. I have two more bottles of it (as well as the last two bottles of the 2001 that I know of in the KC area), that I plan to age for another year or so and try again. Can it improve on the perfection? We shall see.


2001 vintage, reviewed September 2004 in a tulip glass. Poured a coppery-brown color with almost no head. Smell was heavy of earthy and sugary smells, with the smell of the alcohol a little too prevalent behind there for my taste.

Tastes wonderful, strong taste of like a brown sugar, followed by some fruity tastes, and a bit of a vanilla flavor to it. Thick, viscous feel to it that seems a bit odd at first, but ultimately enjoyable. The first bottle (August 2004) felt like it had something else in it, some kind of thickness that was palable, like there were solid particles in it. This pour, though, is very smooth. First bottle may have been a bad bottle.

Strangely enough, with its thickness and high alcohol content, very drinkable. Not something I recommend drinking bottle after bottle of, though, and one bottle, even at 11.2 oz, can last a long time as you enjoy this beer over a longer period of time than a normal beer would take you.

(Since you can only rate it once, I've put both in here. Scores for the 2001 would be 4.0, 3.5, 4.0, 4.0, 4.0).

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Photo of Naerhu
4.84/5  rDev +13.9%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

2002 vintage consumed in August of 2004.

Amber clear beer with no head and no visible carbonation.
Massive sweet caramel aromas. Toffee and huge herbacous bouquet of hops.

Massive caramel and toffee flavors. This is a masterpiece. Maple syrup and molasses.

The 11.5% alcohol is aparent but integrated. Richness, silkyness and bitterness, this is a fantasy beer.

It took me 2 hours to finish one, but it was a lovely two hours.

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Photo of mschofield
4.24/5  rDev -0.2%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

1997 vintage
first of all a great robust aroma, I could smell it from a few feet away.
Pours a dark ruby, topped with a two finger dark tan head (in a snifter), left temporary bits of lacing.
Black strap molasses, floral and caramel aroma, vanilla bean, "cookie" type spices cinammon/nutmeg star anise.
Taste of cocoa, sugar and cinammon roasted apple wedges, sweet and syrupy but with a spicy backbone.
Full syrupy body, I couldn't drink more than one, but I'd make sure I got one each year

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Photo of gueuzeonhigh
4.5/5  rDev +5.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

1997 Vintage

Pours a dark red mahogany color.
A small but enduring tan head with tightly knit bubbles
Slight lacing on the glass.

Prominent nose- of licorice, toasted malt and alcohol.

Flavor comes on strong, but under the opening act it’s thin and collapses into a rather abrupt finish.

The flavor start is loaded with the signatures of licorice, butterscotch, toasted malt with hints of hops around the edges. The alcohol is not as prominent as this beer's nose suggests it might be.

The finish is a numb but tart and clean ending. My palate was left with a scrubbed and fresh feeling.

The mouthfeel is creamy, thick and smooth-- a very cordial but "heavy" demeanor. This is not a casual type beer. It's entire character lets this beer stand by itself, and additions like food would only diminish the profile of this fine beer.

Even though this is an 11.5% ABV beer, it's drinkability beckons further enjoyment-- only the price per bottle curtails out and out abuse. I felt as if I could drink several bottles of this stuff per sitting.

Nevertheless, improvements to the flavor could be a stronger underpinning and a longer lingering finish.

Now whether it's worth the price per bottle is another matter altogether. I still think this is wonderfull beer!

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Photo of rajendra82
4.3/5  rDev +1.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

1997 Vintage picked off the shelves of the wonderful Green’s Discount Beverage on Buford Highway today. The body was reddish brown with a little bit of carbonation and no head, as can be anticipated with a seven year old brew. The aroma is a mix of raisins, licorice, and soy sauce. The taste is incredibly bright and fruity for a beer of this age. I can detect grapes, figs, apples, pears, and apricots. There is not even a hint of hop bitterness. The yeast is dusty and zesty, but seems to have thrived for quite a while in the bottle. The beer is definitely a sipper, as the alcohol content is enough to make you keel over unless you are vigilant. The only downfall is the extreme sweetness of the beer, but that comes with the territory I suppose. I will be seeking out more recent vintages of the beer. I may also find and keep another 1997 for 10 or 20 years to see what will happen.

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Photo of kmpitz2
4.92/5  rDev +15.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

2000 vintage

This is one of the beers I have been sitting on for a while, waiting for this week. The beer pours a deep amber to light brown color. There is little to no head on the pour. The beer smells highly of malt with dried fruit, figs, raisins and prunes, coming through heavily as well. The flavors compliment the aroma of the beer. There are sweet dried fruit overtones with sweet malt flavors coming through strong as well. Damn, this is a good beer. It is heavy in my mouth, almost syrupy, but it is appropriate with the flavors brought to the table. I wouldn't want to sit down and drink more than one of these, but it is not hard to put this one away. Highly drinkable. I'll have to seek out other vintages and see how they compare. I recommend this one to anyone and everyone.

1987 vintage
First off, thanks to clvand0 for the opportunity to taste this beer at just shy of 15 years of cellar time. The color is a nice flat brown and the head is under a finger that falls to coat the beer. The nose smells just like raisin bread. I want to spread some butter on it and eat it up. The flavor is nice. Its like a raisin, but with a chocolate feel in the back of my throat. Wow. I love it. Even better than what I remember it. The feel is full on thick. DAMN. Good stuff. Drinkability is great as well. I think this is one of the best beers I have ever had. Love it. Taste goes up to a 5

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Photo of meathookjones
4.13/5  rDev -2.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

1999 Vintage bottle

When poured the appearance was a dark reddish/brown color with a slight tan head that didn’t stick around too long. It also was quite cloudy and never really settled. Right after pouring the scent was overpoweringly alcoholic. I let this one settle a bit and the dark fruit and sugary smells crept through, making for a much more pleasing aroma. The taste starts off very sweetly with signs of various fruits and some malt. It has a slight alcohol after taste but a pleasant one. The mouthfeel is quite think and full and very smooth. A very drinkable brew for its high ABV, I will defiantly be picking up more of these to age for a few years.

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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 Afterburner
4.72/5  rDev +11.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Note: This was a 1998 vintage.

Appearance: Hazy reddish brown, with a moderate beige head that retired slowly.

Smell: The predominant note here was almost teriyaki in its bouquet. When I worked in the restaurant biz, a common "oriental" marinade was created by mixing soy sauce and pineapple. This beer has that aroma. In addition, there's a ton of malt, a hint of molasses, and a faint alcohol tinge.

Taste: Forceful malt character in the early stages, followed by maple syrup, hints of green apple, and more malt. Finish is strongly flavored of toffee. There's also a faint character at the end that reminds me of nothing so much as a gooey cinnamon roll with lots of butter. It's not a strong flavor, but it's there.

Mouthfeel: My personal preference for beers of this nature is for a thick, viscous mouthfeel with light, small-bead carbonation so as not to combat the flavor. This brew has that in spades.

Drinkability: I found this to be an exceptionally flavorful beer, easy to drink, and I certainly would have enjoyed another.

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Photo of GuinnessSmurf
4.53/5  rDev +6.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

This is a 2000 Vintage harvest ale reviewed April of 2004.

When I cracked open the cap, an animated and scented gas crept out of the bottle like an extinguished candle. It was like when the cartoon aroma turns into a finger and becons you to come closer.

I poured it into my glass. So excited. It was a cloudy brown/orange color. The beer had that look of many beers before they settle in the glass - that kind of cloudiness. But it never cleared up. It stayed full of anticipation for the whole drink.

The smell was very interesting. It had elements of apples, sharp/strong barley, and a very sweet hops smell. There was only hints of alcohol in the aroma.

The taste begins with a sweet, almost floral flavor. There are some fruits in the opening flavor too - as mentioned, apple, pear, and perhaps some white grape. The taste quickly turns to a bready flavor - that yeasty taste that still has some strange sweetness to it. It then evolves into a semi-bitter finish that carries with it a mild alcohol aftertaste.

The body was so thick and full - it was truly heavenly to feel this beer in your mouth. I couldn't possibly describe or critique it - but I need to mention that it was pure passion....seriously.

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Photo of Tballz420
4.62/5  rDev +8.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

1999 reviewed april 2004

This is a murky brown colored brew, small tan head on top. Scent is woody, alcoholic, and malty. The taste is really sweet up front, and has some raison/plum tones, alcohol is felt but tastewise it is blended well. Syrupy feel, sticks all the way down. Hops are there but the malts keep them from making a big scene. Excellent brew.

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Photo of vladtheimpaler
4.48/5  rDev +5.4%
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!.

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Photo of shippos
5/5  rDev +17.6%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

1997 vinatge, 275ml bottle, sampled 12-04-2003

poured with a dark ruby amber color with a thick dense tannish head that kept producing even to the last drop. chocolaty sugary aroma with wood vanilla molasses and brown sugar showing through. has a rich mocha chocolate taste with an excellent thick but not not syrupy mouthfeel. for 11.5% this is amazingly hidden and just enough hops to give a little balance to the huge amount of malt but restrained enough to let the malt be the dominant flavor in this beer.

this is an amazing beer, the past 6 years have done this beer wonder. you just can't get any perfect than this. 5.0

1998 vintage, sampled on 04-11-2004

has a more pronounced vinous sour wine-like aroma that completely envelops the malt aromas. huge sugary sweet taste, brown sugar chocolate...chewy with an warmth of alcohol in the finish. 4.4

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Photo of yankeeheel
4.82/5  rDev +13.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

2001 vintage

Pours a dark garnet with a small, yet very active, dark eggshell colored head. Head settles out in to a H shaped foam line in the middle of the tulip glass. Lots of little volcanic carbonation bubbles ebb to the surface. Bits of uncaught yeast slither around.

Smells quite strong. Quite sugary with a lethal dose of alcohol vapor hiding behind it. Very intriguing.

Leathery flavors are the first sensation that comes to mind. However, this is quickly replaced by a sweet rush of brown sugar malt. Sweet gives way to fruit. Apple, plum, fig, and butterscotch show up, then a strong vanilla presence. The flavors just drift away(or is it me drifting)only to have the void filled with a gentle glowing warmth. Fucking brilliant.

Mouthfeel is quite syrupy, which I normally don't go for, but here it works. This brew fits like old blue jeans. Comfortable.

I could drink a lot of this. I could at least try. I can't imagine letting this age too much longer. I'd be afraid of missing some of the goodness that the malt decompensation would bring. I have an 02 that I'll let ride until 06.

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Photo of IrishRedRock
4.26/5  rDev +0.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3

1988 vintage.

It keeps going through my mind...I'm drinking sixteen year old beer. My oldest beer sampled to date, wow. Loads of very tiny sediment floating in the brew, ruby/amber/mahogany colored with absolutely no head or anything resembling carbonation. Aroma is exquisite...notes of vanilla, port wine, sherry, brown sugar, cherries, and alcohol. Wow, complexity in the nose for sure. Flavor is very sweet the whole way through. Hops are not much of a factor at this point, but it retains a nice, rich maltiness. Candy-like sweetness and warming alcohol take over the aftertaste. Chunks of sediment remaining in the bottle are HUGE. This bottle may be past its prime, but its quite delicious right now. Very impressive. I feel as though I am not worthy?

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Photo of ElGuapo
4.34/5  rDev +2.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

1988 vintage.

A very chunky pour of deep brown amber with a tiny little bit of head on top. The floaties are large in quantity and size, but that doesn't bother me. The aroma is big, sweet, and malty. Rich aromas of dark fruits hit the air as well as touches of alcohol.

It is very smooth, and the carbonation is almost not there at all. I usually like atleast a little bit of bubbles, but this one didn't need them at all. The thick beer must have had plenty of time to mature. It still had loads of flavor. Sweet malts, dark fruit, hints of caramel. There were also mild spicy flavors, and little bits of alcohol. It was complex and heavy, yet very drinkable. This is a treat, and I sure can not wait to try the other vintages I have sitting around.
Thanks to IrishRedRock for this oldie but goodie!

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Photo of sbattert
4.11/5  rDev -3.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured a 275 ml. 2002 limited edition bottle into a wine glass. The label is dated "1st December 2002". A small tan head disappears revealing a golden dark amber elixor. Smells of honey and barley invite a mouthwatering palate. Tastes of sweet honey, molasses, and malt with a buttery mouthfeel. Early on, there is quite a bit of carbonation that blossoms around the tongue nicely. This carbonation seems to fall off about halfway through.

This is a fine english barleywine that one should savor. It is perfect if you are in the mood for sweet honey. It is a close second to tom hardy's which seems to balance the sweetness with a little more alcohol flavor.

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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.