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

1,284 Ratings
THE BROS
100
world-class

(view ratings)
Ratings: 1,284
Reviews: 798
rAvg: 4.25
pDev: 14.12%
Wants: 221
Gots: 184 | FT: 11
Brewed by:
J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd visit their website
United Kingdom (England)

Style | ABV
English Barleywine |  11.50% ABV

Availability: Year-round

Notes/Commercial Description:
No notes at this time.

(Beer added by: Todd on 12-18-2000)
Beer: Ratings & Reviews
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Ratings: 1,284 | Reviews: 798 | Display Reviews Only:
Photo of jameaterblues
4.28/5  rDev +0.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

1999 Vintage.

A- Dark Amber, mahogany, with a ruby hint. Very minimal cream colored head, and a light but sticky lace.

S- Very sweet thick malty scent....brown sugar, caramel, toffee...as well as some fruit....raisin, plum, and berries.

T- The taste is as thick as the smell....brown sugar, plum(or prune), raisin....light hops balance and complement this wonderful ale.

M/D- Extremely thick, mediciney texture....very complex...and wine-like. I am definitely interested in trying some of the other vintages...possibly one that is a little more fresh.

Photo of hgrong
3.95/5  rDev -7.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 2.5

2002 Vintage

Pours a beautiful copper color with an active head that dissipates quickly. Not surprising considering the ABV. The nose is raisins, molasses, maple, and some vinous alcohol. On the palate it resembles a liquer rather than a beer. Sweet notes of maple, nuts, and brown sugar. The alcohol is very well hidden in the palate. Good mouthfeel. Crisp and defined, not syrupy or loose. My only problem with this beer is that I could never drink more than one. It is just too sweet. A fantastic brew for sitting in front of a fire in the dead of winter.

Photo of ericj551
3.98/5  rDev -6.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3.5

I was at the at the store today and decided to finally pick up a bottle of the beer. I was surprised to find that the 1998 vintage bottle was cheaper than the fresher varieties. It pours a deep ruby brown, with a nice half inch lingering head. There is quite a bit of sediment left in the bottle. I smell sweet malts with a strong hint of raisins. The alcohol is quite evident in the smell, a bit overpowering, but not unexpected for a beer of this strength. It smells very much like a nice glass of good scotch. The taste is quite sweet, more raisin flavor, as well as faded hop bitterness. Deep roasted malts are evident, as well as caramel and toffee flavors. The alcohol is less obvious is the taste, but still there for sure. This is definitely a beer for sipping and savoring, I'll have to try the more recent bottles.

Photo of mattcrill
4.7/5  rDev +10.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

Happy Father's Day to me...2006.

Bottle inspection: looks exactly like the bottle pictured here on the website. States that it is limited edition and bottled on 1st Dec 1998.

Aroma: A wonderful blend of fig newtons, grape jelly, brown sugar, grape juice, and raisins. The grape jelly keeps coming back to the nose.

Appearance: Dense and cloudy deep amber pour with a thin tan cap. Beautiful streaming lace.

Flavor: Molasses, grapes, raisins, carmel malts, vanilla, and maple syrup. A dopplebock-like sweetness dominates. It is very sweet.

Mouthfeel: Full bodied...coats the palate and the back of the throat. A touch of drying alcohol finishes it up.

Overall impression: One to be sipped and appreciated. Top notch in my book. Glad I had the chance to try this one. Strongly recommended.

Photo of cjgator3
4.78/5  rDev +12.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

2000 vintage

Pours a murky dark copper color with a nice creamy head. Smell is sweet with notes of raisens, plum, caramel and alcohol. All I could think the second this beer hit my mouth was WOW!!! This is an amazing beer. Mouthfeel is chewy and has an unbelievable smooth thickness to it. Taste is just absolutely stellar. It is thick and syrupy and dangeorously addicting despite it's high alcohol content. Be careful not to drink this one too fast as it is definately a sipper. Simply outstanding.

Photo of bennetj17
3.78/5  rDev -11.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

2004 Vintage...
Pours looking flat, a deep brown color with amber hues. Smell is strong like wine grapes and cherry, and when you get your nose in further becomes very brown sugary and malty. Intense sugary malt present in the taste, with notes of fig and other dark fruit. On the first taste i get a hint of meaty flavor in the finish with just a hint of smoke, and later this disappears as the syrupy malt taste dominates. Mouthfeel is not very thick, but there is an oilyness present. Virtually no carbonation, only a slight tingle. I had trouble drinking this brew as it is too incredibly rich for my tastes. I would say the alcohol is masked very well. Some of you may love this beer but I prefer more balance...

Photo of barleywinebrewer
4.83/5  rDev +13.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

1998 vintage

I found 2 of these bottles tucked away in a specialty beer store corner. I was actually looking for a totally different beer when I found this. Amazing sometimes what you find when you aren't looking!

A - Beautiful deep burgundy. Nice tan head, light lacing.

S - Wow, rich malty smell. Hints of port, definitely vinous in character.

T - This is a classic example of what I love about english barleywines. Rich malt taste, not cloying sweet. Raisin / plum / toffee swirling around. Hops are enough to keep this balanced but definitely take a way back seat to the experience.

M - Rich, full bodied. This one is a perfect example in my book of a rich strong beer that drinks clean.

D - I had to have one as soon as I got home. Drinks wonderfully smooth. For an 11.5% ABV, this gives no hint that it is that potent. I'm keeping the other one for a special occasion as well as keeping an eye out for any more 98's floating around.

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

1997 vintage, purchased by me in early 1999. Has been in the 50f frig for a number of years. I drank one of the bottles purchased with a friend in minneapolis on night of purchase in january 1999 and we dumped it down the sink, it was completely disorganized and rather foul.

Pours in a pint glass, 25% head with a clear dark ruby color.

Nose is of old beer, uh-oh. Also very minty, and generally pleasant. Further in it smells of sweet raininy odors.

Taste is something different for me. Very syrupy, sweet, some background mint with a very sweet aftertaste. This is a very heavy drink and in a lot of ways resembles something other than beer. It does leave that glowing feeling in the mouth I associate with old ales. Most similar drink in character I have had was the Courage imperial russian stout/1993 this year, though this is less raisiny and dark. After seeing the similarity, I wonder what role oxidation plays in this taste character in old ale in general. I have found similar notes in older bottings of just about any ALE.

This is my last and only bottle of this, but I will say the 7 years of holding it were worth the wait. I have none left. Lesson - buy more than 1 to hold!

I feel some small guilt for not saving this for future Gecko visits, but will try to make amends. The Dog cellar has grown notably.

Photo of tavernjef
4.75/5  rDev +11.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

1999 Vintage - Color sits as a hazy ruddy brownish orange, a finger high dark ivory head foamed up as very loosely formed bubbles and popped down quickly to a whispy haze and a micro thin ring clinging to the edge of the liquid, lace appears from off the thin ringed edge and drips right back in super fast.

Smell is malty sweet, strong amounts of caramel and lots of dullish dark fruit overlays with a mix of banana and raisin, fig and plum. Strong warming alcohol, noting ethanol-like, seeps into the nose and opening up your sinuses like a minty strong tea. A potently strong boozy nose...whew!

Taste is malty thick and sweet with a great melty-like smooth caramel, great thick feel and flavor of super fresh sweet caramel, stupendously yummy with some notes of dulled dark fruityness of raisin, plum, light orange and banana. Toffee notes mix in with a fresh claro-like tobacco leafyness. Hops show through very easy in a calmly light pineyness and bitterness. The alcohol floats in and out finding areas to sneak in and warm you up. The caramel malts are amazingly candyish and chewy thick.

A wondefully full malty mouthful of creamy thick smoothness, oh my...its nice! The finish creeps along with a nice malty sweetness of very dulled orange and caramel hugging your tongue like a big fleece blanket on a chilly evening. Goes down with an incredible ease and soothing creamy smoothness, only the warming alcohol keeps you from bigger swigs, which really wasn't all that hard to do, just that the warming hits you faster. A great sipper which didn't last long in my glass during this years first snow storm, its so damn good!

Photo of jabocu
4.5/5  rDev +5.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

2000 Edition

This has been laid back since 2000 and WOW. Pours a amber/copper color with a nice 2 finger cap. Lots of floral and fruity esters in the aroma with sweet molasses, caramel, and figs. Flavor was full and sweet. Lots of fruit of raisins, figs, and a viscous quality. Very smooth and not very bitter, but just enough to tone done the sweetness. Rich and smooth is the best way to describe this beer. Too bad that was my last.

Photo of daliandragon
4.1/5  rDev -3.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 5 | overall: 3.5

Another brew I've been searching for for a while and finally found in the beer utopia that is Kings County, NYC. This is Lee's 1999 Harvest Ale, bottled on December 1 of that year. Wow. I think about who I was then and what I was doing and I realize how old this beer actually is.
Dark, opaque body with a orange/ruby tinge and thin beige head that kicks the bucket pretty quickly. The nose is pungent and detectable from a few feet away. Heavy, dark malt with some balance and soaked in alcohol is the order of the day. A fruity, winey flavor becomes evident after a few minutes, followed by bits of yeasty, toasty, piney with other wood characteristics. This also features some unidentifyable sugars. A quite, strong and unique smelling beer, for sure.
The bite of alcohol takes my breath away initially but this is quickly tempered by sweet caramel and gentle hopiness that provides some accompanying balance to this otherwise malt supremacist. Amazingly silky texture and lacking completely in carbonation.
Incredible craftsmanship, and definitely should be perused by any serious barleywine fan but the strong alcohol flavors kept his from being an otherworldly drinking experience. I would definitely give a fresher version a shot, just for comparison's sake.

Photo of jmz62565
4.35/5  rDev +2.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

The 2005 edition pours a honey amber with a smallish white head. The smell has a very strong alcohol, dark fruit,prune or raisin, aroma with some wood and wine like scents. The taste is much smoother than I expected. This is creamy with no harsh alcohol flavors,just a whiskey barrel aged smoothness with some sweet malt and fruit flavors. This is very good. indeed. The m/f is heavy and very well balanced. This is one of the most drinkable barleywines on the market and I would buy this again in a second.

Photo of bort11
4.33/5  rDev +1.9%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2001 edition I had been eying at Bubbles for some time now.

A- Poured into a tulip glass. About a 20 second head only a 1/4 inch high. A ring of lace around the edge. It has the color of dark maple syrup.

S- Coffee, chocolate, toffee, molasses rotate in the nose. It smells heavy and sweet.

T- the flavors melt onto the tongue. Toffee comes out on top. It feels like it is soaking into my mouth. Very Very sweet. Almost too sweet for me, but very mellow.

M- Pretty heavy body. It has the consistancy of Maple syrup, so it is thick and sticky, but also very fluid. I enjoyed the feeling of just holding it in my mouth and let it soak in. Almost no carbonation, I think the alcohol is creating more of a tingle.

D- This is a powerful beer. I would like to try other editions to compare. I am going to get more of these, but only to pull out for special occasions. This is not a casual beer, something you couldn't drink on a whim, or should you.

Photo of mcallister
4.63/5  rDev +8.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

Vintage 1998.

Pours a liquid mollasses/liquid caramel color. With a decent half inch head the dissipated very quickly and spotty lacing.

A terrific nose on this beer. Brown sugar, maple syrup, mollasses, caramel, cassis, and rich thick malt. With a syrupy mouthfeel. Tastes of maple syrup especially in the palate, brown sugar, honey, earthy flavors, big RS, candied pear, fig, raisin, and other candied fruit flavors, alcohol is very well hidden.

I love the mouthfeel and the finish does not end. Mouthwatering and really makes you want some more. Drinkability takes a slight hit mainly because of the high level of RS.

Bought this to see if I would like to buy a sample pack of 6 different vintages. I will definitely be getting the smaple pack. Great beer with much more aging potential. I see this only getting better over the next 15 years.

Very big and complex flavors.

Photo of Jredner
4/5  rDev -5.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Aroma is alcohol, caramel malt and a hint of strong wine. Rich amber in color with no head to get in the way of the beer. Fore is honey, caramel, molases and a hint of spice...but that may just be the alcohol tweaking my tastebuds. Rich fruits like fig and prunes come out in the finish. Palate is less syrupy than the versions they aged in different beverage casks and the caramel profile is less pronounced as well.

Photo of nflmvp
4.43/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

2001 Vintage....Now this is something you can really sink your teeth into. It pours an amber/orange with a nice tight head that quickly dissipates, leaving a light thin foam. Light traces along the glass reminded me of the wonderful nectar that had once been there. This is a thicker brew, nearly syrupy but missing nothing when it comes to palatability and taste. You want to linger over this brew. Savor it, don't quaf it. The taste has amazing complexity. Starting with a fruitiness and blending into an alcohol warmth and finally finishing with a sweet seduction. If this brew was a woman, she'd be certain to get you into serious trouble....but it would be well worth it.

Photo of kmo1030
4.75/5  rDev +11.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

1999 edition

mostly clear brown with a faint tan head. i couldn't coax much out of the bottle.
the aroma is made up of a lot of dry powery brown sugar, a big aged malt background, and a lot of interesting fruit. the fruit is mostly a soft pear like quality with some caramel/buttery notes and then some fig. cocoa powder comes out with warmth. a whisp of alcohol here and there.
the taste is brown sugar disolved in a pot of caramel, and then liberally drizzled over soft roasted pears and apples. some fig and faint soft unacidic cherry weave in and out. like in all previous incarnation of this beer i've had, there is a really pleasant sort of powdered cocoa aspect towards the back of the mouth.
full bodied and mildly carbonated. again, absolutely silky, and a pleasure to drink.
a real masterpiece. seek this beer out, no matter what vintage. one of the finest crafted beers i've had the opportunity to try.

Photo of Tupperwolf
4.97/5  rDev +16.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

2000 vintage poured into my Stone Old Guardian stemmed barleywine glass.

Pours a deep, dark cherry-wood color topped with a biscuit of light tan head; It leaves thin, reaching lines of lacing. Lots and lots of very excited bubbles are visible rising up to keep that thin head fed.

The scent is extremely strong - my first instinct is to credit the strength to alcohol, but further examination reveals that little to no alcohol is to be found. The strength is built on big, complex packages of scents - It smells like a bakery, like rye bread and hot oil cooking up doughnuts, honey-drizzled almonds - big, huge, mouth-watering scents.

Now this is just an unreal beer. It's an experience. I bsolutely couldn't beleive the flavors packed into this one! It's incredibly malty sweet, but balanced and complex to absolute perfection. For the first time ever in a review, I wish the scale went higher than five, because it's honestly like nothing I've ever sipped before. Describing the flavors is almost an excercise in futility, because they defy description. Fruity - fermented - nutty - oily - sugary - buttery - Waffles, banana pancakes with maple syrup and almonds, hazelnuts - Hazelnuts! That's a big one. Unbelievable.

The mouthfeel is many things at once. Crisp, oily - fluffy, zippy - with the tiniest warming of alcohol, the only place it's present in the drinking experience.

The more I drink this, the more I keep bumping up my review points. I think I'd better just shut up before I ramble myself off into space. I'm afraid to try other vintages of this beer now, because they might not live up to the 2000! An absolute must. The best. WOW.

Photo of Phyl21ca
3.93/5  rDev -7.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Bottle (2004 vintage – drank in 2006): Poured a deep amber color ale with a small off-white bubbly head with minimal retention. Aroma of sweet figs with some very sweet caramel malt. Noticeable trace of dry figs and raisins are discernable in the taste but the overall sweetness is personally just too much for my liking. Body is full but could be fuller. Would definitely improved with a lower level of sweetness.

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

2004 vintage. "Limited Edition"

Appearance- Pours a deep Chevy Caprice rust color with hints of seassoned curly fries. Lots of russet with a spalsh of amber.

Smell- The smell of a fruit garden with lots of attention paid to raisins, plums, and port sweetness.

Taste- Start to finish, sweet, sweet, sweet. This beer was perfect whilst enjoying a campfire and conversation with friends. The Sweet flavors of dark fruits like plums, prunes, candied apples, black cherries, and raisins for a little tartness.

Mouthfeel- The syrupy sweetness I find to be very distinct of all J.W. Lees barley wines. Lots of fruity flavors all over the palate. Very relaxing and a good way to end the evening.

Photo of grub
4.93/5  rDev +16%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

(reviewing 1997 vintage)

pours a deep brown colour, with almost no head, that quickly fades into a thin film on the surface of the beer.

aroma is a bit of alcohol, some bubblegum, and a rich sweetness.

taste builds on the aroma. rich, like bittersweet chocolate with a bit of espresso. tastes of dried fruit, sort of like raisins. alcohol is almost non-existent in the flavour, which is good consider it's over 11%.

body is fairly big, which i'd expect. it balances out the alcohol well.

overall a very deep and complex beer. very tasty and definitely a must-try brew.

Photo of ggaughan
4.38/5  rDev +3.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

1988 Vintage. This bottle was compliments of Tom at Union Jack's on the Manatawny, what a treat. This beer poured a port like redish/brown color into a nice miniature brandy snifter with minimal head. The beer had an exceptional aroma similar to a brandy with that strong alcohol smell and some fruit notes, maybe figs or plums. I was a bit apprehensive that the taste would follow along with the brandy like smell but the taste was actually very enjoyable and not burning like a brandy would. The taste was a bit sweet with more plums notes but very enjoyable and complex.

This beer aged very well and would be worth trying again if I can get my hands on it again. What a treat. Thanks Tom!

Photo of yelterdow
4.3/5  rDev +1.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

1997 Vintage.

Label says "best before Nov. 2002"... jeez, it's March '06! 250 ml. bottle. Let's see if this $5.99 was well spent or just thrown away.

Served in a grossly oversize brandy snifter at cellar temperature. Paired with Rogue Creamery's Smoky Blue Cheese. Mmmm.

Appearance- Pours a clear dark ruby, garnishing a one finger light tan head... damn impressive for a nine year old barleywine! Island-like lacing clings to the sides of the glass, as the weighty liquid mass beckons me to sip from its royal goodness.

Smell- Holy crap... nine years later, this beer is ready to unfurl. Huger than huge vanilla, old wood, sweet dark figs and dates drenched in aged port wine. Smooth with no alcohol burn in the nose whatsoever.

Taste- Instantly sweet on the tip of the tongue, displaying a gigantic malt character that showcases meat and molasses as the backbone... some vanilla and possibly oak barrels come forth and carry through the finish.

Mouthfeel/Drinkability- Almost syrupy in the mouth... smooth but thick and viscous. Carbonation levels are tuned down way low, letting the saturation of flavor flow abundantly. Heavy, yet easy drinking. What a fantastic nightcap, paired with a big blue cheese like this one... who needs dinner when you got this to wind down your day?

Photo of TastyTaste
4.22/5  rDev -0.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

1997 Vintage. 8 years old at time of sampling.

Appearance: Deep scarlet colored on the pour, 3/4" good retention, visible carbonation through the depths of the beer.

Smell: Sweet toffee, figs, raisins, and honey.

Taste: Very sweet, rich, with honey, lots of coffee, and chocolate, also slightly smokey. Rich, with many different flavors that nake this a complex beer. My only complaint is the intensely sweet taste.

Mouthfeel: Slick then sticky, good.

Drinkability: Very interesting, a unique and sippable English barleywine, not my favorite, but very good.

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

This beer was the 2000 vintage. The beer was poured into a wide mouthed wine goblet.

Appearance: The beer poured a very lovely ruby coppery coloration. The head was about a finger thick off honey coloration. The head quickly resolved into a ring of foam. Specks of lacing remained on the glass.

Smell: The beer smelled of fresh doughnuts very fruity and sweet. Honey nutty cloves swam in the smell. There is no trace of the alcohol in the smell.

Taste: This is just a wonderful beer drinking experience. The beer is way malty sweet; however, the beer doesnt even come close to being cloyingly oversweet. The beer taste bready with a malty wheat taste. THe beer taste of nutty honey combinations. There is not trace of the alcohol in the taste.

Mouthfeel: This beer is just simply the master of the palate. The beer is supper full bodied. The beer has a very silky buttery mouthfeel. If I did not know this beer was 11.5% I wouldnt be able to tell in the consumption.

Drinkability: This beer is a very dangerous drinking experience. It is the kind of beer that should be a savor and sip beer. I just couldnt keep my hands off of the beer. I am not a religious man in any since of the word. I think I know at last what a religious experience feels like. I dont believe in God but I believe in the Beer Gods.

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