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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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1,298 Ratings

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Ratings: 1,298
Reviews: 806
rAvg: 4.24
pDev: 13.92%
Wants: 224
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:
Beer added by: Todd on 12-18-2000

No notes at this time.
Beer: Ratings & Reviews
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Ratings: 1,298 | Reviews: 806 | Display Reviews Only:
Photo of AaronHomoya
3.53/5  rDev -16.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

12 bottle. 2004 vintage.

Pours an amber color with decent head for a beer of this strength. Aroma is mostly sweet malt and light fruitiness. Taste is very sweet and malty. A little fruity, alcohol and slight earthy hops in finish, but dominated by almost cloying sweetness. Mouthfeel is medium bodied and a bit syrupy. Drinkability suffers from the overly sweetness, but the beer is pretty smooth and hides its alcoholic strength.

Photo of mrasskicktastic
3.52/5  rDev -17%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 2.5

2004 Harvest Ale

A - A relatively clear brown thick syrup with no head. The beer displays some viscous action when swirled.

S - Red grapes, blackberries and faint brown sugar. Smells a bit like some better port wines or a brandy (without the alcohol).

T - Sweet - very sweet. There is some strong brown sugar and extremely strong toffee flavor with some maple syrup underneath and even under that, a the very faint, there is some dark red fruit (blackberries). The flavor is, though very sweet, very good. The first sips are amazing, but ti can be a tad cloying.

M - Smooth, thick, pretty refreshing.

D - Though a good beer, I have to dock it here. I will definitely have this, or one of its casked varieties again. It is basically the gold standard of the english barley wine. Honestly thuogh, it isn't easy to drink, just too sweet. Maybe with some years under its belt it would be a bit better. Would be fantastic on pancakes (not that I'd ever waste it).

Photo of mikesgroove
2.46/5  rDev -42%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2

2003 poured from a bottle

Poured a cloudy brown with no head at all. Smell was total alcohol, really over powered it and the taste was pretty much the same. There was a bit of a caramel, nutty, sugary taste in there but the alcohol far over powered this. I expected this one to be a bit more rounded out then it was, maybe I am just more of a fan of American Barleywines. Overall it was not bad, but I would pass on a second.

Photo of jhu1995
1.63/5  rDev -61.6%
look: 3 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 1 | feel: 1.5 | overall: 1.5

Had the 2002 Vintage in a bottle. Pours a rich brown color with a minimal head. Smell was mostly alcohol as can be expected given the strength of this beer, but did not expect it to dominate as much as it did. Very strong, sweet smell as well. The taste was overwhelmingly sweet. Where is the balance and complexity because I could not find it. Syrupy and no smoothness whatsoever. Very harsh beer that was choked down. Prefer cough syrup over this one.

Photo of badbeer
4.29/5  rDev +1.2%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

1998 Vintage.

Poured a nice brown/red color with a white head that left some lacing. Smell was heavenly, super sweet, slightly burnt caramel, raison, cherry, plum, hard to fully describe. Taste was almost as good as the smell, but was a bit overly sweet, not as balanced as the nose was, became a bit cloying even. Sticky on the tongue, low carbonation, full bodied. A sipper for sure, damn glad I got to try this, hopefully some of the other vintages are even better. This one was holding up like a champ, even after 8 years.

Photo of blackie
4.15/5  rDev -2.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Vintage 1999

appearance: Pours a 0.5" dirty white head that soon falls back to a generous ring around the glass. The beer is a dark whiskey brown in color.

smell: Huge, sweet barley malt presence with a toasted, dark bread type character. Just the right ethanol presence. Notes of sweet potato, various fruits, wood, and spice play around behind an English hop aroma. Nearing perfection.

mouthfeel: The carbonation is low, and the body quite full and becoming slightly syrupy after the swallow.

taste: Complex, thick barley malt sugars explode all over the tongue. Somewhat grainy, pretty sweet and just a little cloying in that respect. Decent amount of benign English hop flavor. A touch of green hardwood. The finish is a light bitterness with sweet, toasted barley bread flavors lingering for quite awhile with some spicy rootlike notes that remind me a little of cola.

drinkability: A really good bwine, but drinkability is limited by the heavy sugars.

Photo of haz77
4.17/5  rDev -1.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

A - 2003 vintage. Pours a light ruby with a finger of white head, which quickly disappears. A few of the floaties that slipped through are suspended in the body. Small bubbles of low-medium carbonation.

S - Massive aroma is present without going near the glass. Sweet solvent, caramel, cherry, plum, raisin, light brandy scent.

T - Big hit of caramel almost immediately, which coats the mouth and sits there from start to finish, fading only right at the end. The cherries, then the raisins come through, with chocolate lingering in the background.

M - Full bodied, smooth, creamy, rich, and with soft carbonation.

D - On the verge of being cloying, but there is so much to enjoy that it's not too much of an issue. Drinkablility is poor, even for the style, but overall I would strongly recommend giving it a go.

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

Vintage: 1998

Rich brown color, not much head retention. Warm sweet aroma of mollassess. Taste is delightful, with hints of toffee, strong alcohol presence, which works well with the rest of the flavors actually. All of it is so smooth and mellow, the time in the bottle has really done wonders for it. I haven't tried any other brews by this company but I most certainly will in the future.

Photo of gonzo138
4.35/5  rDev +2.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

1997 edition, cracked open after thanksgiving dinner

A- pours a very deep brownish red, has a cream colored head that doesnt retain exceptionally well, but laces greatly

S-super rich sweet malts, nice chocolate aroma, also has hints of raisin fruitiness, a little anise smell was present, also had a very strong alcohol smell

T-complements smell, rich and chocoaltey sweet, fruity taste is present in the taste as well, alcohol becomes more pronounced towards bottom of glass

M- very thick and sticky, full body, low carbonation

D- wow, this was one monster beer, glad I found it, it has inspired me to age more beer, absolutely great

Photo of carln26
3.72/5  rDev -12.3%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Medium copper color, mildly hazy and topped by a thin off white head, the beer settled quickly into the glass, as did the head. The nose is very sweet. Some mild yeast, a little dark caramel, sweet date, and a light touch of citrus hops. The flavor is rich and sweet. There are hints of dark fruit, toffee, dates, and a mild yeast note. The hops have run away to hind. There is a subtle bitterness, and maybe, just maybe some orange character. The mouth feel is slick and smooth, and there is surprisingly little alcohol on the finish. Oh, it's there, but at 11.5, I expect a lot more. Surprisingly drinkable.

Photo of GooberMcNutly
3.49/5  rDev -17.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

An amazing little bottle. Rich, round aromas of dried fruit (apples and raisin with some currants) and treacle. Initial taste was of heavy maltiness bu the hop level keeps the palate clear without coating the tongue. I wish I had a case of this to put away for the future.

Photo of nriech
3.68/5  rDev -13.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

2000 Edition enjoyed on 11/11/2006

Appearance: Mahogany colored, darker than any regular ale but not quite porter colored either. (I'm a guy, I dont know any color thats not in the 10 color crayon box)

Smell: Oaky oaky oaky. Very nice, almost more enjoyable than a bourbon. A little fruity and more oak, aged nicely.

Taste: Very smooth and sweet. You have to know going into this its going to be sweet and expect it otherwise youll be heading towards the drain with a very expensive pour. A bit of alcohol but not overpowering, nice actually. Not entirely complex though as I would have liked but a nice depart from the usual. Stickeyness at the end which I actually enjoy and get even more flavor from.

Drinkability: Not entirely high due to the sweetness, one bottle once in a while. A great brew to share during a tasting session though.

Photo of beerogre
4.33/5  rDev +2.1%
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.

Photo of wcudwight
4.22/5  rDev -0.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

1999 Vintage
Pours a ruby walnut color. Decent head for a 11.5% beer.
The odor can clear your sinuses. I'm not a liquer drinker, but this smells like a fine whisky or some other liquer. I also get the aroma of toast made from homemade bread. You don't even have to put your nose down to the glass or swirl or anything to smell this beer. Just pour and the aroma fills the room. It's nice.

Wow!!!! Even at 7 years old this one still packs a punch. It has a cloying sweetness. The beginning is caramel sugar and maple syrup. From middle to the end I get a fine liquor again. Maybe even a hint of chocolate. Kind of reminds me of those Jack Daniel's chocolates with the liquor in them. There is a subtle hoppiness in the finish. The aftertaste is wonderful with the alcohol warming and a nice mild bitterness.
This is a big, complex, full bodied beer. The 11.5% warms the mouth and even burns a little bit. The huge amounts of malts in this thing are chewy and even feel like they stick to the teeth some.
For 11.5% it's very drinkable...just be careful.
I wanted something different for my 300th review and I couldn't have picked a better beer.

Photo of mynie
3.86/5  rDev -9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3


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

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

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

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

Photo of Onibubba
4.55/5  rDev +7.3%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

2000 vintage enjoyed at home in a Duvel glass. Faintest hiss of air as I popped the cap. Tiny bubbles rush to the top in a futile attemp to form a head. They're persistant. I'll give them that.

What an aroma! Candied fruits, caramel, chocolate covered cherries, raisons, and a strong rush of auslese or eiswine. This is the most amazing beer I have smelled yet. The bubbles are still fizzing. Just an awesome appearence.

Taste is very smooth. Carob, not chocolate. Rich and creamy with a full and coating mouthfeel. Almost cloying in the sweetness, so small sips will benefit. The only taste of alcohol is the aforementioned auslese, but it does assert itself.

Halfway through the glass, there is just a touch of bitterness on the roof of my mouth vainly fighting against the sweet caramel maltiness.

This was a super experience. A 12 oz bottle is perfect. Would even be a great beer to share with someone. Would I want another. No, not tonight. But I have a 1998 that I will be eying greedily in a few months. Seek this out.

Photo of lpayette
4.82/5  rDev +13.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

1988 Vintage - Enjoyed at Trias Bar, Philadelphia, June 2006. Yeah baby, 17.5 years old. The oldest beer I've ever had and perhaps the best too. $10 per bottle, and well, well worth it. I wasn't able to write down a complete review at the time, but I was able to jot down some notes and scores.

Sweet and malty flavors... nutty, buttery, fruity, smell of brandy-like alcohol. Grapes, muscot??? Strong malty flavors, musty notes, hidden honey, and strong alcohol.

Simply amazing in the complexity. I'd like to have a a case of this stuff from each year it's been made.

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

2003 vintage, consumed in fall of 2006.

Appearance is standard English Barley Wine, deep, coppery brown with a light white ring on top, not much head but exceptionally heavy lacing. Smell is a left hook, carmel, dates, malts, other dark fruits, and a soft alcohol / white wine aspect as well. Really good.

Taste is extremely depthy...the initial flavour of malts segues into brown sugar and caramel. A sweet, sugary aspect sits in the background during this, and a strong dark fruit presence of dates is present throughout. The sweetness peaks on the swallow, which leaves a slight alcohol presence behind. Exceptional.

The mouthfeel on this is right up there with the best, extremely thick and wonderful. Drinkability, there is nothing to complain about here, a very tasty beer that I have no problem drinking.

Overall: the Harvest Ale series is very expensive when you can find it (about $1 per ounce of beer) but the flavour makes it a semi-regular in my rotation. It is an English Barley Wine, so people who are hop heads will probably think this beer is bland or not interesting enough, but for people who like malt dominance this is one of the absolute gold standards. The other, special barrel aged harvest ales are slightly better than this (if you can find them...the lagavulin one is particularly tasty) but I would never turn down a bottle of anything out of this line. Truly one of the best in its style.

Photo of mjc410
4.3/5  rDev +1.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

2002 vintage

My pour into a snifter leaves a half inch of beer in the bottle, to save the dregs for last. There are a few sparse bubbles forming a ring around the glass, which are a middling tan. The beer's body is a hazy copper, with vivid crimson highlights at the glass's stem. The nose runs the myriad of peppery alcohol, strong molasses, sweet cherries, and wheat toast. There's also a lot of caramel about, and caramel notes too. Very nice. Taste is very sweet, cloying if taken too quickly, with a very distinct coffee flavor. Very sweet like honey, with a slight ending bitterness that is over almost before I notice. Very fruity from the alcoholic esters, and incredibly malty, like sweet bread. Mouth is thick and syrupy, with no carbonation. This is a very drinkable BW, because the alcohol burn is hidden so well. It paired marvelously with my girlfriend's apple strudel!

Photo of BlackJeremiah
4.18/5  rDev -1.4%
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.

Photo of RedChrome
4.22/5  rDev -0.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

1998 vintage poured a muddy brown color. Had only a minimal off white head. Very few carbonation bubbles can be seen in the murky color.

Very rich aroma blends a very nice scent of chocolate with the bitterness of coffee grounds. Rich plum scent helps this finish sweeter in the nose. Additional malt scent reminds me of caramel. The high alcohol content also comes through in the aroma, and highlights the rest of the scent by comparison.

Very sweet taste is a mixture of chocoalte and caramel with a fruity finish. The taste of plums and raisins hang on the back the tongue. As the taste lingers it takes on a slightly nutty flavor. The alcohol content is played down to the other flavors, and doesn't have the burn effect I was expecting. great flavor, but can use a hint more bitterness.

A very thick syrupy body. Decent amount of carbonation pops along the sides of the mouth and on the tongue.

A decent offering in the style. To sweet for my taste but Would pair well with nice sharp cheese, such as chedder or pecorino romano. If you like a sweeter beer, with a high alcohol content, this is a winner for you.

Photo of kpantz
3.88/5  rDev -8.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

Review is for the 2000 edition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of marcobrau
3.99/5  rDev -5.9%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3.5

This review is for the 1998 limited edition.

This J.W. Lee's Harvest Ale pours with a medium brown color with good amount of carbonation that creates a brief flourish of foam that settles to a nice collar. The aroma of this beer reminds me of what the bowl of mixed nuts my grandmother used to put out during the holidays smelled like, mixed with fruitcakiness and a hint of leather. (Wow.) I swirl the glass and the aroma changes to that of a frosted vanilla bundt cake laced with rum.

This ale starts out with sugary sweetness that mixes with some extremely wonderful caramel notes, some bitter molasses and then finishes alcoholic and rather sweet. A nutty taste lingers on the palate for a really long finish.

The mouthfeel is a bit viscous, but not cloying, and very, very smooth. The bitter molasses flavor towards the finish is just a touch off-putting, but doesn't undermine the overall enjoyment of this fine ale.

This isn't the most drinkable beer, due to its strength, but more than one could be had. A slightly drier finish could make this beer a bit more pleasant for me, but this is a darn good vintage brew.

Photo of kmcnair
4.65/5  rDev +9.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

1997 Vintage, 12oz bottle.

Pours a cloudy darkened garnet to brown tone and makes a thin halo of slightly offwhite head.

Aromas of burnt caramel and molasses, caramelized dark fruits, figs, dates, raisins.

Chewy sweet apples, raisins and dates, syrupy caramel, deliciously sweet. Hop bitterness blends well with this very sweet beer. High alcohol blends well with the sweetness.

Full bodied, with medium to light cabonation. A syrupy, viscious texture coats the tongue and palate.

Very nice beer, this vintage the best that I have tried. Highly recommended.

Photo of EPICAC
4.64/5  rDev +9.4%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

This was purchased several weeks ago at Downtown Wine & Spirits. I was debating whether to cellar this or not, but in the end I decided to drink it now and buy another bottle or two for cellaring if I enjoyed it. I let this warm to around 45º F before serving it in one of my New Belgium glasses.

Appearance: Pours a hazy ruby-brown, with a faint, wispy, beige head that forms a thin ring around the glass.

Smell: Very rich, malty and sweet. There are notes of burnt sugar, maple syrup, molasses, raisins, figs and a tart alcoholic aroma.

Taste: Multi-layered. Sweet all the way through. Upfront are notes of brown sugar and fruit. There's a little bit of tartness that makes me think cherries. The finish is sweet with some burnt sugar bitterness, notes of fig and a light alcoholic spice.

Mouthfeel: Low-carbonation, thick and full-bodied, with a thick syrupy feel, though not unpleasant.

Drinkability: Alcohol is very well-hidden, rich flavors make this a nice sipping beer.

Overall: Very good, malty and rich. I'll buy a couple more bottles to cellar for a few years.

J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
94 out of 100 based on 1,298 ratings.