1. American Craft Beer Fest returns to Boston on May 29 & 30, featuring 640+ beers from 140+ brewers. Tickets are on sale now.

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.

1,319 Ratings

(view ratings)
Ratings: 1,319
Reviews: 812
rAvg: 4.24
pDev: 14.15%
Wants: 231
Gots: 188 | FT: 13
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 (19) | Events
Beer: Ratings & Reviews
to view all ratings, reviews and sorting options.
Ratings: 1,319 | Reviews: 812
Photo of crwills
2.6/5  rDev -38.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2

WARNING: This may have been a spoiled bottle, as my rating is significantly lower than the average.

Vintage 1998 bottle.

Poured a muddy brown with a small fizzy head into an oversized wine glass. Doesn't look too bad, although there are some particles in there which make it less appealing than it could be.

Aroma is brown sugar, cake or doughy bread, with alcohol in the forefront. Some mild milk chocolate notes and dark, overripe or rotting fruits. A little bit of a sour, off aroma concerns me...

Taste is... ridiculously sweet. I think this is what happens when an eight year old barley wine doesn't get taken care of. Overwhelming sugary cotton candy and candied prune/date flavours make this impossible to enjoy for me, although it does overwhelm the high alcohol. Aftertaste is terribly sweet, and I had to eat something to get rid of it. Any hops that were in there are long gone... all malt, all the time.

Mouthfeel is still OK, if a bit sticky. I got about 2/3 of the way through this before I had to stop.

I hope this was a bad sample... I've had several other aged barleywines that didn't end up like this. Most of the reviews indicate that it should be very sweet, but this was just unbearable. If given the opportunity, I will grab another bottle (maybe not quite so old) and re-review.

Photo of Mikus
4.25/5  rDev +0.2%

Photo of ddedhed
4.25/5  rDev +0.2%

Photo of LordAdmNelson
4.25/5  rDev +0.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

2000 Vintage, found at my local store for $8 a bottle, figured it was a steal.

Opens with a hiss (good sign after ten years!), pours a nice cola red-brown color with about a centimeter of tan head. Sticks around for a bit. Smells of figs, raisins, cherries, rum, a bit of alcohol. Smells sweet and hearty.

A tad oxidized, but nothing terrible. I'm getting cherries, raisins, rum, and some lightly toasted bready notes. Sweet, some darker caramel notes too. Very sweet, but not sickeningly so. Nicely balanced, and well put-together.

Medium mouthfeel--very smooth. A bit of a prickle from some residual carbonation, happy that that has lasted for so long. A very enjoyable and interesting drink, a nice break from all of the DIPAs I've been having recently. Glad to try it, I might pick up a slightly younger version of this--I feel like it is just past its peak.

Photo of sisuspeed
4.47/5  rDev +5.4%
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 megahurts4
3.77/5  rDev -11.1%
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.

Photo of cowboy83
5/5  rDev +17.9%

Photo of perrymarcus
4.44/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2001 vintage bottle served in an oversized wineglass.

pours a hazy amber/copper tone reminiscent of a belgian quad. some sediment; a finger and a half of head with moderate retention and some lacing.

nose is both bold and complex (frighteningly so). a sweet bouquet of dark fruits, molasses, malts, caramel, honey, alcohol, and maybe a touch of... hmm... cognac?

taste follows the aroma. tons going on. booze is more subdued than i'd have thought going off the nose. lot of dark fruits and malt sweetness. very tasty; nice, smooth finish.

mouthfeel is chewy, syrupy - brings to mind the dfh 120. drinkability is solid. i would welcome another. this is definitely not one of my preferred styles but the best i've had to date.

Photo of khiasmus
4.07/5  rDev -4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Reviewed from a tasting, vintages 1997-2008.

it's odd, really, when you think back on it, at first the very fact that there is a past, and second that you, the same you, existed then, and third, that you now have bits of it stuck in your head, and no one else has those same bits. The random things we remember, you know. Take 1997, for example. It was a nut brown year, much darker than most, but not in a bad way, just more mahogany. Brown and cloudy in the remembering. Those were nights of sherry, molasses, dates and raisins, back in that wet cardboard box. A good year. I think it is my favorite. 2003 was different. it was thinner, more boozy, and a lighthearted golden, a much more serious year and less complex, but certainly little to no cardboard. There were, of course, the old girlfriends that one never thinks about, and then the old friends that one tries never to think about lest they feel guilty for not making contact in so long. 2002 was about when I started brewing, I suppose, there's that dense haze of pure grain sugar mash, definitely the most grainy year, by far. The absolute sweetest was 2004. Orange marmalade and syrup, and a nice amber hue. 1999 was an odd year. So many licorice sticks that year, I dread to think on it. I got into almonds then, or was that 1998? No, 1998 was almonds, Muscat grapes, and anise.
Then there was the millennium. What a strange year! Everyone was concerned about y2k and the end of the world and why we weren't yet living in space and driving flying cars... lots of booze in that one. Lots of it. Lighter and fruity, more white grape than the rest. Then back to the usual of nuts, grains and amaretto in 2001. They all had just a soap-bubble ring of head, except for the 2000, which had ample head that stuck around. The 2006 was the darkest, a nut brown and with a good bit of sediment, murky. 2005 was a cheery gold, but 2007 was the lightest of all of them.
It's sheer madness, as we look back on these years and see the steady march of time in our own lives, and how we have so much yet that we'd always dreamed of accomplishing, yet so little that we originally set out for has been obtained. There is an answer, you know. There is, in fact, a Reason. So different though, looking at all of the differences in yourself and the brew as the years go by, and being able to say "that was a good year." You, and they, had little idea in the moment what each minute would bring to pass years thence, but each action continues to make you into who you will be tomorrow. You have a choice, you know.

I think the 97 was my favorite, despite the oxidization, or perhaps 2002 because of the lovely grain-husk aromas. The 2004 really stood out as one of the best vintages by far. The 2000 was the oddball, and didn't seem really to belong. There are huge variations in flavour and colour year to year, not simply the minor nuances I was expecting. I certainly recommend a tasting of this magnitude if you can possibly set it up. Cheers!

Photo of seand
4.42/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

2008 vintage.

A: Pours a clear light amber with red highlights, with just a touch of white head. What little head there is leaves a few spots of lacing here and there.

S: Very rich, sweet honey, black licorice, and raisins.

T: Complex and rich. Strong honey through the mid palate, with the raisin dominating a bit more through the finish. There are some also some faint notes of cherries, dried fruit, and just the slightest hint of bitterness.

M: Full body, low but noticeable carbonation.

Really excellent. Not quite as rich and complex as the barrel aged versions, but they are also older; I'd like to try this aged another few years as a more direct comparison to the barrel aged versions.

Photo of Lothore
4.02/5  rDev -5.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2000 Vintage

A- Pours a deep mahogany brown color with a small brown head which subsides fairly quickly. Murky and hard to see through.

S- Nose is very strong alcohol, most whiskey with some sweet malt characteristics.

T- Taste follows the nose but is lighter with more of a thick, full malt profile. Very tasty.

M- Thick with an amazing amount of carbonation for an 8 year old beer.

D- This is not the most drinkable beer in the world to say the least but it's nice to sit down and sip on.

Photo of bradfordjohnson
3.25/5  rDev -23.3%

Photo of phisig137
4.84/5  rDev +14.2%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

1998 Vintage poured vigarously into a tulip, produces a thin 1/2 finger head on top of a murky reddish brown body. Head falls quickly, and doesn't leave any lacing.

Aroma is massive. Burnt sugar, caramel, dark fruit, chocolate, figs, alcohol, and tobacco are present in abundance.

The flavor is simply incredible here. One of the most complex beers that I have ever tasted, hands down. Huge notes of vanilla, cherries, caramel, toasted grain, wood, raw sugar, honey, and others fill your mouth, and change as you drink it. Everything in there is incredibly concentrated, to the point that this tastes like a "beer reduction". I can't even begin to pick out everything in there... the complexity and concentration are making my head spin. Alcohol is present, but not overwhelmingly. Mouthfeel is very thick, heavy, and syrupy. Drinkability is pretty good, but I wish that it were not... this is meant to be savored for a couple of hours.

I paid $7.99 for this bottle, and now that I've tasted it, I would gladly pay double that. I really find it interesting how this changes the more you drink, and are able to pick up on more and more subtle nuances. Despite the fact that this is already 8 years old, I could easily see this going for at least another five years.

Without a doubt, one of the 5 best beers that I have ever had.

Photo of kayrex
3/5  rDev -29.2%

Photo of mtrog313
4/5  rDev -5.7%

Photo of nhindian
4.2/5  rDev -0.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

275ml bottle poured into a Stone Old Guardian glass.

2000 vintage.

A - Opens with a very quiet hiss, very unassuming but still surprisingly gives promise to some nice carbonation still in this 11 year old bottle. Pours an extremely ruddy brown, like a dark chocolate bar or some kind of mud pit. Still about a finger to a finger and a half of light tan head, with surprising retention given the age. It leaves an island of foam behind when it’s gone.

S - The nose on this vintage of Harvest Ale is exceptionally bold, sweet, and threatening. It’s somewhat syrupy, which combined with the sweetness makes it almost cloying, but it only flirts with this notion rather than it being full-blown. Huge malts and fruits throughout; I’m getting tons of raisins, plums, dates, figs, and when combined with the breadiness from the malts, almost gives a cinnamon raisin bread character. The alcohol does come through in the finish, giving way to its strong ABV.

T - The extravagant nose leads into an equally so taste. It’s decadent, very sweet, and establishes a cornucopia of woody fruit notes. Tons of malt sweetness opens the flavors, somewhat spicy at times and delivering some bark wood notes, in that really dry way. Again, bursting with dark fruits, and once again the raisins are huge here. The raisin bread comparison returns here, probably even more so with all the richness. As in the nose, the alcohol comes through rather strongly here in the finish, giving it an almost grain-like alcohol note.

M - Mouthfeel is moderately heavy-bodied with medium carbonation. I have to say, for an 11-year old bottle, this had more carbonation than I was expecting. The sweetness definitely leaves an effect on the palate, but the carbonation and slickness definitely help to keep it from being syrupy.

D/O - Drinkability is moderate to moderately high. The flavors here are bold, huge, and rich, but it suffers at times from being overly sweet and malty. It's ironic, because most of the reason that this beer has held up so nicely up until now has been because of this. I greatly enjoyed this over a family dinner, and when I first bought it I almost balked at the price for such a small bottle, but after drinking it I found myself thinking that the volume was nearly just the right amount.

Photo of Natural510
4.57/5  rDev +7.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

1999 First Batch, 275ml bottle.
Pours a transparent bright-red color with tan overtones; little-to-none carbonation and no lacing.
Smells of sweet malts, honey & molasses, and orange citrus. Alcohol very strong to the nose as well.
A beer very sweet with flavors of honey & brown sugar, backed by a strong fruit presence of orange & cherries. A slight oak note is detected as well. Deeply malty with a subtle but ever-present hop character.
Stays tangy & syrupy in the mouth. Malts, hops & alcohol content vibrate throughout.
This drinks like a liqueur...definitely a sipper. Ideal as an appertief, dessert beer or nightcap before bedtime. Very enjoyable.

Photo of santoslhalper
4.85/5  rDev +14.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Pours a hazy reddish amber with a nice offwhite head. Smells very fruity and malty. Hints at prunes and rasiens. Quite a sniffer. Tastes exceptional. A true delight to the palate. An explosion of taste. Tastes very fruity and datey. Such a complex brew my taste buds are baffled by what they are tasting. This is an interesting, unique brew. A barrage of flavor. This is one of the best out there. Unbeatable complexity, very smooth and creamy in the mouth, and it hides the 11.5% almost too well. This is a world class knock you on your ass beer that can't be matched. Many, many thanks to GClarkage for sending me this one. A+++

Photo of Peyton5410
4/5  rDev -5.7%

Photo of itracy63
4.21/5  rDev -0.7%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

Photo of tviz33
4.75/5  rDev +12%

Photo of jakewatt135
4.25/5  rDev +0.2%

Photo of Cyclone8
4.25/5  rDev +0.2%

Photo of BrewMaster
4.37/5  rDev +3.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

1998 bottle pours a dark brown with a little head and slight red hue. a swirly ring of bubbles covers the top. the aroma is strong with notes of caramel, scotch, brown sugar, and a syrupy malt smell. Very sweet to start with a roasty but soft flavor. the sweetness is very reminiscent of sherry or port. There are some woody flavors in the beer that add a creaminess and subtle nutty flavor along with some fruit/berry flavors. There is a light grape flavor and a strong alcohol finish. The aftertaste is lightly roasty. Smooth and very rich. Excellent. This is very nice beer to drink. At 11.5% it's no wonder why it comes in 9.5 ounce bottles.

1999 bottle pours dark brown again. similar flavors to the 1998 but less woody and more malty. rich caramel malts dominate and a burnt sugar flavor comes in. also a banana and brandy sweetness. the roasty aftertaste is much the same as the 1998. this 1999 bottle seems to hide the alcohol better than the 1998.

Photo of mickeymac
4.67/5  rDev +10.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

1998 vintage enjoyed at the October 2003 BA gathering at Lucky Baldwin's. The head was almost non-existent. What did appear on pouring disappeared almost immediately. What remains is sort of a swampy brown. Its appearance does not do justice to what follows. The smell is a wonderful mix of ripe fruit: raisins, dates, hints of cherry, and a nice molasses smell. Hops are barely detectable. The taste is reminiscent of a vintage port and provides the same warming experience found in a fine port. Although some alcohol smell and taste is present, it blends very well and doesn't hint at 11.5%. I'm glad I tried this one early in the evening before my taste buds were shot. It's truly a classic.

to view all ratings, reviews and sorting options.
J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
94 out of 100 based on 1,319 ratings.