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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BA SCORE
95
world-class

814 Reviews
THE BROS
100
world-class

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Reviews: 814
Hads: 1,355
rAvg: 4.26
pDev: 13.62%
Wants: 246
Gots: 197 | FT: 14
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: 814 | Hads: 1,355
Photo of BlackJeremiah
4.18/5  rDev -1.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

2000 vintage, poured into a snifter. That makes this one at roughly 5 years, 9 months old. This is the oldest beer in my cellar, and the longest I've ever managed to age something without breaking down and drinking it.

A: I have to adjust the temperature of my cellar a bit, since I see a little chill haze here. Not much, so I'm not too concerned. Color is like iced tea, a mahogany with a burnt red undertone. This is more evident when it is held up to the light. Very little head; dissipates quickly.

S: This smells almost liquorish, like whiskey or tequila. Definite oaky and raisiney characteristics. Smells STRONG, even more than the 11.5% ABV might lead one to believe.

T: A lot of sweetness up front, with powerful prune/raisin characteristics to it. Alcohol is present, but more than balanced, unlike the aroma suggested. Little to no hop character detected, but it might just be completely overwhelmed (or the more likely--my palate is not yet discerning enough). Smooth, but the dried-fruit flavors are downright cloying after a few sips. However, it is truly different than any other barleywine I've tried, and its flavors provide something really interesting. No matter its cloying effect on me, it is an EXCEPTIONAL flavor, and I've ranked it as such.

M: A bit thick for my tastes. That, combined with the raisin and prune flavors, make me feel like I'm drinking a very thin jam.

D: There is no scenario I can imagine in which I would be able to consume more than one bottle of this. It is a remarkable beer, in that it has many excellent and well-balanced characteristics. But I just can't deal with the thick sweetness of this sucker for more than 12 ounces. One I'll break out every so often, just to check on its maturation. This one also brought on some serious heartburn, so those of you prone to gastric mischief should be prepared with the antacids. (1,887 characters)

Photo of mydeadguy
4.7/5  rDev +10.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

1999 vintage. 4.5

Poured a deep ruby brown with an inch of sticky patchy off white head with plenty of bubbles to begin but dropping rather quickly, though at 11.5% that is to be expected. The aroma is strongly malt sweet with fruit and heady alcoholic esters. Taste is sweet with fruity plum and raisin hints, sweet earthy tobacco, healthy malt profile...barely a hop presence, though slightly bitter.
An exceptionally smooth and warming ale.. alcohol from the back of the throat to the belly. The mouth is round and slick, opening up on swirling, the body is then lightened a bit and slightly chewy to fluffy, with decent amounts of carbonation. This brew is truly a gift from on high, my first non-U.S. barleywine, and amazing at that... impressive.
I look forward to more this coming winter..

___
1998 vintage. 4.7

Pours a deep woody garnet, with an old newspaper tan yellow, patchy loose head, starting at a couple fingers, then disappearing fairly quickly.

Scent is of caramel, over-ripe apple, and overwhelmingly, sweet malt. the alcohol is more muted than the '99, with a deep woody sweetness apparent.

The taste is so good, where to begin? Butterscotch, toffee, caramel and raisins with a slight alchol warming in the belly that mellows from the first sip. Exquisite.
Like burnt apple pie with raisins, sweet, warm, bready, malty and more sweet. I can see people who don't like barleywines not liking this beer, but i love it. Quite beautiful, over the top + mind bendingly strong, don't kid yourself that you're having anything else after this.

Mouthfeel leans towards oil-slick, but also has some strong grip on the tongue, like eating a caramel apple in September. sweet and refreshing, but in an "it's about time to go home" way. a real great beer that knows just how great.

I have to bump the taste up to 5, because its december.
every once in a while, decide that this will be your last two beers of the night, do it, you'll thank me..

___ (1,989 characters)

Photo of jpiper
4.32/5  rDev +1.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

1997 into a snifter at cellar temperature.

Dark brown with a light tan head. Dissipates to just a 1cm ring around the edge of the glass.

Immediately the aroma fills the air: raisins and prunes everywhere. Like a wonderful sweet port.

The flavor is much less ripe fruity and more overripe fruity: old prunes. Extreme complexity here - the fruit is very good. Caramel, some smokiness almost. A little mineral in the burp. Still pretty hot. Just a touch of bitterness to round out the flavor. Super sweet, very rich, deep flavor. You can tell this one is more than 10 years old.

The mouthfeel is very smooth. A very small amount of carbonation remaining.

This is a dessert sipper. Drinkable, but not one you'd drink too much of.

Very good overall. (750 characters)

Photo of HappyBivouac
4.29/5  rDev +0.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2008 Vintage. 9.3oz bottle into an Ommegang Chalice.

a- pours an amber orange with a minimal off-white head that goes away fast. very little lacing on the glass.

s- deep, rich caramel, a heavy done of bready, sweet malts, prunes, figs, tart cherries, and honey all fill the nose. A very sweet, caramelly, bright, and fruity aroma.

t- The first impression is an extremely sweet beer, very much like this was actually brewed with thick caramel. It's almost hard to get past this sweetness as it really dominates, but it's so damn delicious. Whole wheat bread comes though, and a faint tartness like cherries enters in late along with the unexpected but distinct taste of florida oranges, lingering on in the finish. Heat is there to a perfect level; I suspect being masked by the intense sweetness. There is but a faint grapefruit bitterness throughout that intensifies long after the beer goes down. Will the sweetness of this beer be tamed in several years? I have no idea, but I'd like to grab a couple more bottles and find out.

m- Thick, syrupy, chewy. Carbonation is just a faint tickle on the center of the tongue.

d- My overall impression is this is a great, complex beer. There are a lot of flavors in there, but it can be hard to find them underneath the cloying, overpowering caramel sweetness. I have to sip this one really slowly, which is I guess what was intended. Very high quality stuff, and this fresh bottle just screams that it was meant to be aged a long time. (1,484 characters)

Photo of kindacold
5/5  rDev +17.4%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

2001 Limited Edition

WOW. First impression came from the dark reddish color. No head at all. Held it up to the light, just a beautiful red.

Then I smelled it and I knew I was going to be in for a treat. It smelled sweet and a bit spicy.

Then I took a sip. It took me a second to realize that I wasn't drinking a sherry. I really had to do a double take. It was a bit syrupy and very sweet. Absolutely amazing.

I split the bottle with my cousin, who was kind enough to bring it for sampling. Let's just say I owe him big. (524 characters)

Photo of Webbydag1
1.77/5  rDev -58.5%
look: 2.25 | smell: 3.25 | taste: 1.25 | feel: 1 | overall: 1.25

Oh man, just not up my alley. Or maybe I had a bad batch. Very syrupy and sweet. It's called a "robust" ale but it reminded me of a fermented mrs.buttersworth. (159 characters)

Photo of Afterburner
4.72/5  rDev +10.8%
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. (1,049 characters)

Photo of BiereBlanche
4.87/5  rDev +14.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

A flight of shared 12 oz. bottles of the Dec. 1 1999, 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2006 Whiskey-aged (comments under that specific style) courtesy of the owner at Deep Ellum, Allston MA. Served just below cellar temp and allowed to warm in small flutes.

An excellent flight and nice to pick out the subtle differences. All the vintages shared the same great characteristics. The pours were dark, caramelly ambers of slightly varying shades. Cloudy, with yeasty sediment evident at the end of the bottles. Light head was impressive in size for an easy half bottle pour and took minutes to fall. All these drinks were incredibly rich with complex, sweet malt characters, little hops, little carbonation and slight alcohol. Filling and incredibly smooth.
The 1999 was my favorite, the smoothest, richest and sweetest of the flight. The nose and taste were incredibly complex and I'd love to see an ingredients list for all the wonderful flavoring that was picked out for the brew. It brought to mind sweet potato and brown sugar so strongly I could almost picture it in front of me. The drink would be a great desert for a holiday feast. Caramel, lightly burned brown sugar, buttery toffee, a tiny bit earthy. The aging had mellowed and smoothed this vintage so nicely. Almost no alcohol or bitter flavors. Absolutely delicious. To this point, my perfect desert beer.
The 2002 was a little darker, and just the tiniest bit of bitter. Again, almost no carbonation. A bit less caramelly, less burned and a little smoky flavor picks up. This vintage seemed to be the sweetest and least bitter.
The 2005 was the first to have a little alcohol bite to it, surprising in the earlier two, given the still high 11.5 ABV. A bit less smoky. Still really delicious and along side any other beers, this would have been incredible, it was only in this flight that I was able to pick out that it was missing a bit of the complexity of the 1999 and 2002. Caramelly and sticky.
The 2006 had less of the caramelly, burned-brown sugar sweet potatoes notes that were so distinct in the 1999 and was the most different of the flight. Clearer appearance than the rest, lighter malt characteristics. There was an earthy note in aroma and taste that was distinct to this vintage, it was fitting and fairly mild but stood out. Tiny bitter and alcohol bite.

These were all a real treat, I would have been happy with any one of them and having the flight brought out details that wouldn't have been noticed otherwise. Incredibly flavorful, smooth, rich and delicious. They could all drink like fine liquors and I can't think of anything I'd rather have for a desert beer than a bottle of the 1999 vintage. (2,671 characters)

Photo of oceanman
4.64/5  rDev +8.9%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Bottle dated December 1, 2001, opened December 1, 2009.

Pours prune juice brown with a thin, oily head which disappears within minutes.

Nose shows a tremendous burst of toffee followed by port-like aromas (raisins, figs). Sweetness already apparent, plus milk chocolate, cherries, caramel, butterscotch.

Palate is sweet all the way. Big, fruity notes followed by complex, bready finish.

Feel is thick, smooth, creamy all the way until a slightly warming, alcoholic finish.

Overall, incredibly rich an complex, and a good substitute for a nice aged port wine. The sweetness is a bit heavy-handed, but 9.3 oz spread over an hour is close to unbeatable. (655 characters)

Photo of Elendinn
4.78/5  rDev +12.2%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 5

2002 vintage, poured into a tulip glass, and raised in praise of Don Younger.

Wow, this beer looks beautiful! It pours a dark, leathery, bronze-tinged mahogany; so dark that it's practically opaque, though, when held to the light, becomes a slightly more translucent copper, with bits of yeast floating around, possibly from a novice pour. It's got no head, save for a thin ring of caramel-colored effervescence around the circumference of the glass. It looks like an eleagant, refined liquor -- brandy or cognac.

Smells like it looks: a spicy, refined liqour. Cinnamon, chocolate, and lots of dark fruits (figs, raisins, port-like grapes) are all extremely prominent. There is a very discernable aroma of rubbing alcohol that permeates the nose, which is a bit of a distraction, but, ultimately, it coalesces into something very sweet and pleasing.

The taste is immediately reminiscent of port, primarily featuring the dark fruits present in the nose. There are some very earthy elements in there, as well, like a decades-old red wine. It's a little boozey in the finish, but a very noticeable chocolate flavor interjects itself and lingers long after everything else, rounding the experience out nicely. Not too sweet, not too hot.

Like a port, the body on this is quite thick, practically syrupy. Fortunately, the moderate amount of carbonation makes for a pleasurable stay on the tongue.

J.W. Lee's Harvest Ale is everything I expect from a traditional barleywine and more. Deep, rich, and as complex as a fine port -- eleagant, nuanced, and spectacular. It transcends what one would typically define as beer. Yes, it's drinkable, despite the abv., but should be savored, fully and completely. Buy these, age them for as long as you can, and open them on special occasions when reflection and contemplation are paramount!

For Don Younger. A perfect beer to honor you with.

Cheers. (1,891 characters)

Photo of Buildscharacter
4.06/5  rDev -4.7%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 5 | overall: 3.5

I had a bottle of 1998 J.W. Lee's Harvest Ale. Seeing as how this bottle was 7 1/2 years old, I was hoping for some good things, and boy did this beer pull through. It remindes me very much of a 10 year old bottle of Thomas Hardy Ale that I had not too long ago.

It pours out thick, with little head. There are aromas of brown sugar and maple. Thin head that quickly goes into nothingness....as would be expected from an 11.5% beer.

First taste sends my taste buds reeling. Wow.. good powerful stuff. Super smooth in the mouth, and almost creamy in feel. The alcohol is well blended in this warming barleywine. Reminds me of sitting in front of a fire with spiced cider. There are spicy undertones to the very maple syrup like flavor. There is a sweetness that prevades the overall taste, which is great in my opinion. I may even smell a hint of vanilla in there.

I was quite pleased. Especially because I found this bottle at Whole Foods on 24th Street in Manhattan. Three Chreers for Whole Foods for stocking a great selection of quality beers. (1,058 characters)

Photo of lifeboyq
4.89/5  rDev +14.8%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

2001 vintage poured into a rochefort glass.

Very little head that fades almost instantly.

Nose, holy nose. it is a monster as I can smell it from a foot away. When i put my nose into it, it makes my nose hairs dance and wakes me up as if it were the smelling salt of beers. My eyes open wider with the strong fig, dates, raisins, sorghum, brown sugar, alcohol. Very deep dark fruits intertwined.

Wow, the taste is a monster. More flavor concentration than you almost ever "see" when tasting a beer. What a huge body on this beer. It almost reminds me of fabio or arnold, but not quite. I could pour this on my pancakes. Holy bajeeburs at the thickness of this beer. Reminds me of maple and raisin toast and fig newtons and just nuances of unrefined sugars dancing on my tongue. I served this intentionally slightly warmer than 55 and the hotness of this beer is slightly present, which doesnt bother me at all.

The mouthfeel is sily smooth, closer to a syrupy texture on the tongue. This beer isnt cloying but it is hugely intense.

Beer experiences dont get much finer. With age, this becomes a glorious thing.

Note, I've had different vintages back to 99 up to 08 and it changes quite drastically. The 08 this year was a bit much for me and wasnt ready. The 99 was even cleaner than this 2001 from my recollection but the tasting wasnt side by side. (1,360 characters)

Photo of daftafne
3.9/5  rDev -8.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

2003 vintage

Poured with great force into my tulip and yielded a scant, transient head. The color reminds me of a dark mahogany. Most obviously to me, smells sweet and bread-like. Also smells of raisins, caramel, oak, and plums.

Wow, this beer has a unique flavor profile. There is quite a bit going on and it is hard to place my finger (tongue more precisely) on each taste. It begins with sweet raisens, rum and plum, then some spice (clove and perhaps a little cinnamon) and then a minor pop of hops and finishes a little smokey. Each sip gives me a different iteration of the same story. Sticky on the tongue and very low carbonation. Overall, a great aged-beer. (668 characters)

Photo of beavers
4.22/5  rDev -0.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Vintage 1998.
From a 9.6 ounce bottle into a snifter. Pours an opaque mahogony with a thin tan head that lines the edge of the glass but otherwise dissipates into a fairy nonexistent covering. Little lacing is left behind, which makes sense to the 11.5% ABV. Unbelievably rich, malty aroma of sweet pumpernickel, rum soaked dark fruits (dates?), rising dough, and an alcohol note that is reminiscent of tripel sec, sweet cognacs. Taste of sweet doughy bread, with rum soaked raisins and oak chips and a lingering brown sugar and molasses finish. It tastes like a holiday bread...with booze. You can smell the alcohol in the air, but is it entirely undistinguishable in the taste. This is most definitely a long sipper, not because of the booziness but because of how rich the malt profile is. I now know what a true english barleywine is, and I'm not going to say I dislike, but its quite a different exercise for the palette. A very interesting beer, and I can clearly see how the aging process works after this brew (1,018 characters)

Photo of luvND
4.9/5  rDev +15%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

1999

I have had this case for nearly a year now and only break one out on special occasions, have also given a few as gifts to those I deem worthy.

Bottle: Nice fallish label, 1999 gold embossed

Appearance: In a brandy snifter, it can only be described as perfect. Thick, small bubbled head. Swirls beautifully. Deep amber color.

Smell: Sweet, molasses, bready, licorice, candied raisons.

Taste: Beautiful. Sweet, black licorice, very reminiscent of a brandy or port.

Mouthfeel: So creamy and slick, flavors linger pleasantly and your tongue actually feels coated with the stuff for a few minutes after the swallow.

Drinkability: About one an hour I'd say to properly enjoy this through a range of temperatures, it really does change as it warms a bit.

Notes: It is not an exaduration to say that this is the BEST beer that I have ever tasted. I would love to try some of the other vintages as this is the only year that was available at the time. (971 characters)

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

1998 bottle:

The beer pours a murky, reddish brown color with a thin tan head. The head has receded to a thin layer of film and little to no lace is forming on the glass.

The odor is rich and reminiscent of overripe fruit.

The taste is full and complex, very sweet—maple syrup, toffee, apricots are standouts for me.

The mouthfeel is thick with little carbonation. For a beer as sweet and thick as this is, it isn’t syrupy at all, which is pretty remarkable. Very good.

The drinkabiliy is good; it’s defiantly a slow sipper, very appropriate for the style. (574 characters)

Photo of jrae2424
4.6/5  rDev +8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

1988 vintage shared with some friends.

A:Poured into a snifter. Pours a really nice dark mohaghany color. The pour is very quiet, thick, no carbonation, with a wafer thin transparent head that dissipates quickly. Was careful not to pour in the massive amount of sediment.

S:Sweet bread, dark fermented fruits, cherry, burnt sugar. Taking a big slow whiff, you can pick up some alcohol, but it's hidden very well.

T:Taste is very sweet, brown sugar, cherry, bready, malty.

M:Thick but not to heavy, just the way it should.

Overall the best of the vintage jw lees ive had and something im going to be looking to get more of. (629 characters)

Photo of HopHobo
4.49/5  rDev +5.4%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

2001 vintage poured from a 9.6 oz. bottle into my HopCat Snifter on 6/6/09.

Beer pours a dark amber color with one finger of head that hangs around for about 20 minutes until my 4th drink. The carbonation is very light and appropriate for the style. The smell of this beer is amazingly complex with smells of sweet fruits like rasians and prunes, also smells of sweet malt and toffee. Oddly enough the smell really has an acid charactor that hangs around in my nose well after the sip, which I really love because I believe that it enhances the flavor of the beer. The flavor is much like the smell, very sweet malt with tastes of prunes and sweet apples along with hints of toffee and carmel throughout the drink. First sip has an amazing buttery creaminess that I'm still loving. I will say that as the beer warms to room temp the sweetness isn't as over powering and it becomes much more of a social style ale for me. Basically, no noticable hop profile at all in the beer and the alcohol in this beer is disguised very well by the maltiness sweetness and creaminess.

Admittedly, I am new to lovely barleywines and old ales and I credit a few beer with really getting me into the style such as Thomas Hardy 2002, Kuhnhenn 4th Dementia and Kuhnhenn Bourban Barrel Barleywine, but this one exceeds those beers on the levels of mouthfeel and smell for me. Not as balanced and drinkable as some of the others that I've had, but I could definetely sip and enjoy this one all day on a cold winters day or a rainy fall day. Absolute heaven in a bottle....I wanna swim in it. (1,574 characters)

Photo of altctrlsdelete
4.94/5  rDev +16%
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. (1,289 characters)

Photo of jamespub
4.77/5  rDev +12%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Drinking a 2000 vintage in celebration of my daughter's birth. poured into a Duvel Tulip.

A- Much darker than i recall the 2007 and 2008 bottles I had last fall. Dark brown with low carbonation, but what is there lingers around the edge. A beautiful dark brew....was it particular to the year, or did age somehow do this? I'm not sure.

S- ah....amazing. malt, malt, malty sweetness. it has the distinct smell of an aged brew. toffee, caramel.

T- simply stunning. toffee, grain, caramel. it has the incredible grain flavor that the 07 and 08 years had, but it is so much more refined. the yeast has settled well and leaves a clear brew that tastes absolutely stunning. i could drink this all day, every day.

M- sticks to the tongue. smooth, velvety with a feel that lingers. a faint hint of carbonation. mildly sticky finish due to the sugars.

O-Easily one of the best beers I have ever had. I had one and this was the best occasion to open it on. I wish I had a case more. I will be aging the rest of them as long. (1,020 characters)

Photo of AleDrinkToThat
4.87/5  rDev +14.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

1998 Vintage.

A: As soon as I cracked into it (catching the alcohol presence right off the bat), I poured it with care into my DFH snifter. Deep mahogany hue which could only be seen on the sides and bottom in the evening sunlight, and about one finger of creamy smooth head.

S: Again, the alcohol made itself known immediately upon opening the bottle after 10 years of waiting in the darkness. While it was present, it was not utterly dominant. Caramel malt, molasses and raisins permeated and nearly overwhelmed my olfactory senses. I swear I could almost smell how sweet it was.

T: The aroma is great, but the taste is divine. The caramel malt & molasses burst forth immediately with a slightly cloying sweetness, opening up into strong raisin notes and the warming alcohol presence. It finishes beautifully on a warm note and the aftertaste is full of sweet raisins.

M: Again, it is just a little cloyingly sweet. One of the sweetest beers I've had and without the tartness of wild yeast that balances out a lambic. Very low, but not entirely absent, carbonation. But the intense thickness and warming alcohol presence make it a different and wholly fantastic experience altogether.

D: Alas, I cannot recommend more than one a week. It's just too sweet and complex. (English barleywines are right up my alley, so take all this with a grain of salt.) It's best to enjoy this flavor on occasion so one doesn't get to the point that it tastes somewhat pedestrian, which is certainly far from the case. Also, there's just no sessioning an 11.5% monster like this.

I'm not sure if all the vintages are this sweet (I've heard the 2000 is less so), but it was time to drink the '98. I don't think it could have gained much more by sitting longer. Excellent! (1,760 characters)

Photo of Hachiman
4.97/5  rDev +16.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

2002 vintage

Had a great odor of bread and raisins straight out of the 'fridge. After it warmed up a molasses-like volatility was evident.

A 3/8 inch, long-lasting beige head. Dark red-brown body was quite attractive.

Wonderful raisin bread taste, with a yeasty aftertaste. Very assertive flavor, meant to be savored.

Substantial mouth feel, giving some meaning to that old saw, "liquid bread". Left sticky feeling on the lips. (431 characters)

Photo of beerogre
4.33/5  rDev +1.6%
look: 2 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

2001 Vintage sampled Nov 2006.

Another very special sipping beer, which I purchased along with a Thomas Hardy Ale last weekend. Visually both are really quite ghastly, in my opinion!

For me, this had the beating of the Thomas Hardy. Both were excellent little treats, but the Harvest Ale just seemed to have that extra touch of class, which is the difference between finishing in the last 8 of the World Cup like England, or going all the way to the final like Italy or France. Sad but true!

Again, not too hard to believe if someone offered you a glass and told you it was a sherry and when I offered my wife a taste, (as I often do when I believe I'm sampling an exceptional beer) she was reluctant to return it and wanted to down the whole thing. That's usually the sign of a really good beer, as she's normally content with just a little sip.

A rare treat, and worth sampling as a one off, but I'll take my value for money Ommegangs anyday thank you very much. (976 characters)

Photo of eatabagofbooger
4.54/5  rDev +6.6%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

2001 vintage. Poured from a 275ml bottle to a snifter. My pre-birthday beer.

A: No surprises here-deep caramel color with a very small head that dissipates quickly. Leaves a very thin lacing and if you swirl it, it even has legs.

S: Holy crap that's strong! In a good way, though. Toasted nuts, alcohol, toffee, caramel, figs, dates. In the past two days, I've had two of the most wonderful smelling beers of my life. This is definitely one of them.

T: Follows the nose, but with a bit of oxidation. Kinda like a cross between a fine tawny port and a barleywine. Toffee and caramel are the most prominent flavors. Nuttiness is far more subdued than in the nose. The dates and figs are there, but there is a slightly more tart fruitiness there too, like cherries and raisins.

M: Could have used some carbonation, but I can't say the lack thereof is a surprise from a nearly 10 year old beer. Very thick and viscous.

D: The prominence of the alcohol, the viscosity, the lack of carbonation, and the rich sweetness create a beer that is best sampled in small doses. Even this 9.3 oz bottle might be a bit much for me. But hey, it's not meant to be a session beer, and for what it is, it does it's job well. This is definitely a special occasion beer, and I'd probably be inclined to share my next bottle, but I'm planning to pick up a couple more while the shop has 'em in stock! Overall a wonderful beer and very unique. The only thing I've had that comes even close to it in character is Cherry Adam on the Wood. (1,516 characters)

Photo of dedalus
3.93/5  rDev -7.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

1997 vintage bottle.

nearly no head on a deep reddish, garnet colored brew. minimal lacing down the bulb of the snifter.

aromas of intensely concentrated malt and lots of alcohol. heavily sugared dates and raisins.

thick, syrupy mouthfeel. clingy and stringy.

massive flavors of sugared dates, raisins, sweet rum, and sugary cherries in their own syrup. no hop presence whatsoever, no balance at all. but then again, this is a traditional english barleywine, and balance would be inappropriate for the style. this is just pure, concentrated malt in all its glory, what i imagine straight malt wort would taste like. tons of alcohol bite in the finish, which is long and intensely sweet.

i had to conclude that i was just not man enough for this beer. with every sip i could feel the alcohol seeping into every cell of my body. by the time i finished the bottle i was ready for bed, completely glowing with alcohol warmth. luckily, bed was only a room away. this beer put me in my place, and quickly.

i wouldn't recommend this beer for anything but a very special occasion. as the glass becomes emptier, the malt sweetness goes far past cloying, and the beer approaches undrinkability. this one was six years old and probably could have standed about five more years of aging. it was smooth, but probably could have been much more so had i given it another half-decade to mellow out.

if you get a chance to try one, do so, but only if you're close to your bed, or if you have a designated driver, or a tolerance that would put gambrinus himself to shame. and if you're a hophead, dive behind the couch and hope this beer didn't see you.

cheers,

s.d. (1,676 characters)

J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
95 out of 100 based on 814 ratings.