Dismiss Notice
Get 12 monthly issues of BeerAdvocate magazine and save $5 when you select "auto-renew."

Subscribe now →
Dismiss Notice
Join our email list →

And we'll send you the latest updates and offers from BeerAdvocate, because knowing is half the battle.

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.

831 Reviews

(Read More)
Reviews: 831
Hads: 1,419
Avg: 4.25
pDev: 18.35%
Wants: 260
Gots: 206 | FT: 15
Brewed by:
J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
United Kingdom (England) | website

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 (22) | Events
Beer: Reviews & Ratings
Sort by:  Recent | High | Low | Top Raters | Read the Alström Bros Beer Reviews and Beer Ratings of J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale Alström Bros
Reviews: 831 | Hads: 1,419
Photo of hooliganlife
4.32/5  rDev +1.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

vintage 2000

pours a deep brown with a slight hint of ruby. cream colored head builds up and then leaves light retention.

super sweet and rich. hints of super sweet toffee and rich caramel. malty.

like liquid candy. loads of toffee, caramel, and butterscotch. very sweet and rich. very sweet malt and light booze in the back.

thick, full, light syrupy feel. mild carbonation.

pretty good but very sweet and rich, a super sipper. aged great though.

 453 characters

Photo of Zono
4.58/5  rDev +7.8%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 5

The 2010 release, served from the cask in a 12 oz. tulip glass.

The bar-tendress was good enough to give it a generously patient, two-stage pour.

I was impressed by the foaming thickness of the head. It does not last for too long, however, dissipating about halfway through.

The color: pale, ruddy gold, with a fair degree of cloudiness.

The first whiff is strong with cider-y esters. A spiciness prevails amid a fairly hot alcohol presence.

Upon tasting, the malt quality has a distinctly sharp, acidic fruitiness to it. Indeed, the flavor of cider is remarkable, receding to a more fully spicy, almost vegetal character.

The mouth-feel is lightly syrupy. A papery sort of presence is detectable -- herbaceous to woody. Deeply reminiscent of mouldering autumn leaves; apples fallen from trees left to gently rot on an orchard's ground.

Vinous "legs" are virtually discernible. Interestingly, a small amount of sediment was evident in the bottom of the glass.

Overall, I was intensely impressed by this ale, the first, as far as I can recall, I've ever had by JW Lees. I would consider it a fantastic, and fascinating, exemplar of a barley-wine. I look forward to sampling other "vintages."

 1,198 characters

Photo of goblue3509
4.25/5  rDev 0%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Pours a dark mahogony color with no head and sticky spotting of lace. There are visible floaties everywhere. The aroma is big and bold, I can smell it when I undo the cap. The aroma is of molasses and figs with green and dark fruits present. Taste follows suit closely, molasses and figs are the dominate flavors. Green and dark fruits play out also. There is a sweet caramel backbone underneath the flavors. The mouthfeel is sticky and lowly carbonated. Overall this is a solid beer, the abv is well hidden and it is dangerously drinkable. The taste is well blended and smooth.

 578 characters

Photo of weizenbob
4.2/5  rDev -1.2%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

This 275 ml bottle (incorrectly labeled 2.75 ml) was purchased at Beertopia in Omaha, NE. It is the 2008 vintage and was purchased for $3.99. It was served at 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The cap was popped and the bottle was poured into a Duvel tulip glass. I poured aggressively to rile up as much head activity as I could muster from this high gravity ale. I was rewarded with about a finger's worth. The downside of my pour is that I also ended up with an excessive amount of chunky sediment that remains suspended in the beer as though frozen in time. Unsurprisingly, head retention is poor, though lacing grips mercilessly to the glass. The beer is amber tinted with little translucence and (unfortunately) a lot of floating dregs. The chunks are a result of my pouring faux pas and will not be counted against this beer's score. It is otherwise average looking per style. Pour with care!

Though this bottle is over three years old, the aroma is still incredibly alcoholic. The potency is near-gag inducing. I cannot imagine what this must have smelled like when first released. Intense blasts of butterscotch put up a good fight but are no match for the alcohol. It is vaguely reminiscent of paint thinner in aroma and nasal-clearing power. Hmm; I wonder if I'll get high off of the fumes. I enjoy the richness and complexity of a good strong ale but this is too much of a good thing for me.

Being a little bit of a health nut I've often enjoyed organic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches prepared on whole grain bread. The flavor of this ale is strongly reminiscent of that PB&J experience. Honey-like sweetness aggressively fronts the flavor of this beer. As the honey melts in the mouth, literal impressions of whole grain bread emerge on the tongue. Nutty undertones prime memories of peanuts, sunflower seeds, rye and flax. A hint of woodiness fills the nostrils with each breath after the first sip. Despite its dominance in the aroma, alcohol is incredibly well-hidden amid the powerfully sweet and grainy flavors of this strong ale. If hops were added to the boil, there is no evidence in the finished product. It is pretty darned tasty.

Yes, this is a heavy ale, but the feel is not as heavy as one might expect from a brew of 11.5% ABV. The body is medium-heavy. Carbonation is relatively low, yet ample for the style. Sweetness coats the mouth like honey, but the overall effect is thankfully not syrupy. There is no alcoholic burn. It is a sipper that feels like magic in a bottle.

My overall impression of this legendary ale is positive, despite the rocky start. It looks average and smells over-the-top, but the taste and feel are both excellent. The price equates to $5.15 for a 12 ounce serving. That's pricey for lesser brews, but for a beer of this quality I call it a bargain. The small bottle is even enough to split with a friend and still not feel cheated. Just be sure to pour the bottle with a lot of caution.


The Two-Schlitz Scale: (reference my profile for an explanation)
I give two Schlitz about the 2008 JW Lee's Harvest Ale.

 3,067 characters

Photo of BBP
4.22/5  rDev -0.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4.5

2007 Vintage

Pours a toffee chestnut hue with decent head. No lacing to speak of however.

The aroma is intensely sweet. It gives a very blatant prelude to the taste. There's caramel, toffee, candied sugars, and perhaps the faintest traces of spicy hops.

The taste is at first far too sweet. When it warmed up it improved greatly though. The sweetness took on a lot more depth and became tolerable first, and then enjoyable.

The taste is like the aroma, but surprisingly, it's far more elaborate. Caramel, spicy hops, and more caramel form the foundation for this. On top of that there's some candy and a decent amount of fruit like figs and dates. It has a bit of a scotch ale element to it as well, with some peat like flavor, and some very rich malt coming through.

The body is medium thick and medium light in weight. The finish is dry and sticky. Carbonation seems to be a little faded, but there's still a good amount. I could see this aging for about 10 years before it would be a problem.

Overall, it didn't impress me one bit at first, but as it warmed up an incredible amount of depth came up. It really gets quite a bit more drinkable at cellar temperature. The alcohol really blends seamlessly and the sweetness seems under control at that point. I'm curious to try older and newer versions of this to see the contrast, though I expect it gets closer to it's prime with a touch more age.

 1,409 characters

Photo of Dope
4.27/5  rDev +0.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

2001 vintage, my first time drinking a JW Lees...

A: A very dark ruby red pour. Thick and syrupy pour. Tiny little offwhite head that fades almost instantly, leaving just a scant little ring around the glass. No lacing.

S: Can smell this before I even bring the glass near my face. Big, sweet caramel with little bit of toffee and maybe molasses? Super strong, sweet and boozy dark fruits. Raisin, cherries, fig primarily I would say. Maybe even some honey? There's a lot going on here.

T: Super sweet and cloying. Like drinking watered down caramel (almost the same consistency too). Molasses, toffee and honey from the nose join in. Dark fruits are there a bit as well, figs mainly but I'm getting a touch of cherry in the aftertaste. Almost no alcohol except for the warming sensation in your belly.

M: Wow, thick and syrupy. It's 75% of the way to maple syrup, no joke. Low carbonation.

O: Wow (I've used this word twice in a review), this is a sipper for sure. Sweet and decadent syrup. It's got to be the top of the style for me. If you like ridiculously syrupy and sweet beers this one is for you.

 1,109 characters

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

This 2009 vintage barley wine was consumed at my annual Barleywine and Stilton party this holiday season. The beer has that classic barleywine look of brown and garnet with just a wisp of foam. The aroma is a heavy dose of tobacco along with fig, raisin and fermented fruit. The palate is smooth. The flavor continues along the lines of the aroma with a heavy fig presence and tobacco. The dark ripe fruits adds wonderful complexity. Deep earthiness mixes in, making it a very enjoyable sipping brew.

 500 characters

Photo of jsanford
4.2/5  rDev -1.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

On-tap at the Churchkey in D.C. 2010 Vintage.

Poured a clear amber with a soapy white head that settles to a nice ring and haze. Sweet, sticky malt aromas of caramel and toffee with a touch of toasted grain and a whole lot of oak. Taste is dominated by more big, malty flavors of baked grains, caramel, oatmeal, candied orange peel, and oak. Mouthfeel is sticky yet smooth, with a fairly full body and low carbonation. Overall an excellent Barleywine, there's a reason it's considered such a high water-mark!

 509 characters

Photo of rfgetz
3.9/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2009 vintage. Pours a lightly hazed copper tinted brown, small cap of tan head, gone quickly. Scent leads with sweet malt, underneath one finds prune and dried fig, a splash of booze and earth. Taste leads with rich sweetness, light molasses and brown sugar, strong notes of dark dried fruit, hints of cherry. Not quite full bodied, carbonation at a minimum, some chalkiness to it. Possibly too early in its life to enjoy its subtle complexities, quite sweet still. Will revisit a true vintage.

 494 characters

Photo of Zraly
4.37/5  rDev +2.8%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Harvest '10 on-tap at The Birch. Served in a snifter.

Pours a deep copper-gold with no head to speak of. Semi-interesting notes of alcohol and honey in the nose.

Really heady flavor of honey and cognac. A touch of bread and toasted nuts. World-class flavor wise. Sweet and smooth, the alcohol is slow to burn. Heavy but well-balanced between malt and hops. Finishes nicely with little cloying.

I had mine as my night cap with crackers, honey, and chunks of stilton -- it was sublime. I can't wait to try the bottles of '08 and the '10 in port casks that I recently picked up.

 580 characters

Photo of jayhawk73
4.2/5  rDev -1.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

On draft at Churchkey:

Pours an amber/orange color. Zero head, with minimal lacing on my snifter glass. Nose is alcohol, dark fruit, and malt. Nice, but not outstanding. The taste is dark fruit, nuts, alcohol. A step up from the nose for sure. Feel is medium, and syrupy- very much like a port. Overall, a very nice example of the style. I would have this again. Cheers.

 371 characters

Photo of papat444
4.79/5  rDev +12.7%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

***2000 Vintage***

Big thanks to jtrockchalk for getting me this a few years ago. This will be the oldest beer i've had. Enjoyed on Dec. 1, 11 years after the bottling date (Dec. 1, 2000).

Appearance: A lop-sided light brown head forms, 1-2 fingers. Am opaque body that looks brown but actually has strong deep red hues. Lots of coating on the glass as i swirl.

Smell: Strong leather, musty, earthy, toffee, dark cherries, wood raisins and figs. Constant and strong aroma. Very nice.

Taste: Wow, this is rich! Raisins, fig newtons, caramel, dark fruits (mostly cherries, not tart), caramelized sugar and fruit cake. Decadent, sweet but not cloying and just great.

Mouthfeel: This has literally alcohol heat on it. Deceivingly easy to drink, smoothness is incredible and just a slight bit syrupy but i still like it a lot.

Overall: This drinks so well. Great flavor. One of my favorites and a highlight of this year.

 921 characters

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

Vintage 2008

A-Pours an attractive hazy chestnut amber with a thin, bubbly creamy white head that reduces in a matter of moments, leaving a few soapy streaks of lacing.

S-Strong aromas of mulled cider dominate the nose. On closer inspection there's an unrefined brown sugar sweetness, along with the evocative aromas of freshly tilled dirt, fruitcake and blackstrap molasses. I've rarely ever smelled a barley wine as cohesive and beautifully composed as this.

T/M-The first sip washes over the tongue with stony, mineral rich flavors of dirt and molasses. A few swirls across the palate reveal more of this beer's remarkable complexity. Dried fruit and maple candy flavors intermingle with a delicate smokiness reminiscent of peated malt. Dense molasses sweetness runs from beginning to end, culminating in a thin, lingering finish that leaves you wanting more.

O-A unique and special barley wine worthy of revisiting on special occasions.

 945 characters

Photo of NWer
4.45/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

2009 vintage stored in a pantry that holds a steady 50 - 55 degrees.
Served in a brandy snifter.
Little to no head. Just lies there. Like brandy. Color is rust/brown. Clear. Not much sediment.
First impression is man, this is really sweet. Figs, molasses, honey notes. A pleasant sipper. If in the mood for a sipping wine - er - beer this will fit the bill but man, is it sweet.
I have another I will be putting down for a year or two to see how it mellows.
In spite of my machinations about sweetness, I like it overall.
I might update my review as I get used to it.

 568 characters

Photo of zac16125
4.36/5  rDev +2.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

J. W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale
9.3oz bottle poured in a snifter
Vintage 2008

A: Pours a light mahogany with all kinds of sedimentation. Almost no head, and leaves no appreciable lacing.

S: Such a strong aroma, you can literally smell this from across the room. Sugar sweetness and dark fruits. Heavy on the fig and plum, with some red grape aromas as well. Oak and cedar wood are also noted, and there is a nutty character, walnut, as well. So much going on in the scent. Fantastic.

T: An incredible amount of candied sugar sweetness right off the bat, with nutty and oak flavors to balance out. Reminiscent of candied pecans. Some other flavors noted throughout the drink are cedar chips, caramel, toffee, a hint of dark chocolate, fig and raisins. There is a lot going on with the palate profile, and this is a very tasty beer, but a little too sweet for my personal preference.

M/D: Full bodied with a sticky, syrupy mouthfeel. Carbonation is appropriately on the light side. Slightly hot going down but otherwise does a great job of masking the 11.5%ABV. Very good drinkability, all things considered.

O: Overall, this is a very good beer. I am a big fan of the American Barley Wine style, but have very little experience with English Barley Wines. I’d have to say I prefer the American style (more hops and other flavors to balance out the sweetness) but this is damn fine in its own right. I would definitely recommend this to others. The downside is the price, I picked up this bottle for $9.99, and the only other time I have seen it it was $13.99.

On a side note, I am officially halfway through the BA Top 100 (which currently is drastically different from when I started, but still)!

 1,708 characters

Photo of oline73
3.35/5  rDev -21.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

I had this on-tap at Max's. Poured into a tasting glass. This was the 2010 batch.

Appearance: Pours a cloudy amber with almost no head at all.

Smell: Extremely sweet. Some malt and dark fruit along with caramel, port, and some alcohol.

Taste: This one is just a bit too sweet for me. I understand it comes with the territory, but this is a bit much. Malt and ripe dark fruit/wine flavors. The finish is slightly bitter with some warm alcohol and still really sweet.

Mouthfeel: The body is thick and mildly syrupy. Very mild, tingly carbonation and a dry finish.

Overall: I thought this was way too sweet. I'd like to try an older version to see if things mellow out at all.

 678 characters

Photo of mdvatab
4.12/5  rDev -3.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2002 Vintage
Poured from 275ml bottle into Bourdeaux wine glass.

Aroma: `Rich toffee, butterscotch, brandy, candied plum, apple juice, molasses, and a flash of booze.

Appearance: Light amber-red body with good clarity. 1/2 finger off-white head disappears gradually.

Flavor: Nice, complex candied fruit-like esters up front. Carmelized pineapple, prune, and overall sweetness. The alcohol is pretty well concealed. No bitterness or hops to be found.

Mouthfeel: Medium, sugary, coating mouthfeel. Low carbonation. Not a session beer, obviously, but highly drinkable. A little warming, but far from hot.

Overall: I would really enjoy one of these every once in a while. It would complement apple pie ala mode or bread pudding at the end of a meal. While I thought Thomas Hardy's had a bit more complexity, I greatly enjoyed, and strongly recommend this one from JW Lees.

 873 characters

Photo of rudzud
4.32/5  rDev +1.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Sampled various vintages at a Julio's weekly tasting.

A - They all poured nice copper hues with various amounts of head. Considering the ABV this was quite impressive that even after years there was still SOMETHING there.

S - Each one smelled delicious. Good carmelly malts and various amounts of dark fruits. There was some nice alcohol on the nose.

T - Excellent flavours throughout. More sweet, tasty malts (carmel, toffee). There were more nice dark fruits (especially figs) along with a slight alcohol finish.

M - Surprisingly smooth mouthfeel. Not too thin, not too syruppy.

O - Overall I really enjoyed this beer. It is a bit out of my price range, but very glad I got to try it.

 692 characters

Photo of armock
3.97/5  rDev -6.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Bottle from South Bay Drugs in San Diego, CA 2008 Vintage.

A - Poured a copper color with a white head

S - Has a sweet malt nose with some alcohol in it

T - Follows the nose with a very good sweet malt flavor

M - This beer has a full body with medium carbonation to it

O - This is an outstanding Barleywine that is way too easy to drink yet again I wish I bought more than one bottle of this if you have the chance to get some of this you should

 452 characters

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

2008, opened 2011.

Caramel brown body with plenty of suspended sediment in it. A bit of surface memory but my pour wasn't big enough to elicit a head.

Nose has some caramel, a bit of apple, chewy-sweet.

Chewy body, plenty of caramel and some (chili pepper?) spice?. Delicious, quite sweet, some raw honey.

Standard, but textured mouthfeel.

Impressive barleywine, quite complex-- I can't wait to see what the barrel aging does to this (this is the first in a horizontal tasting).

NB: The 2006 tasted of caramel, dirt, some soy sauce, and faint coffee grounds. Some of the honey, none of the spice.

 602 characters

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

Firstly, I am not a huge fan of barley-wines. That being said, I had always wanted to try this one based on things I've read. Had at Monks in Philly. Bartender had to dig it out and was dusty. Pours a warm almost purple color, but its dark in the back of Monks. Smell is crazy, I got figs, plums, brandy, sugars. Very strong. Does not have any head to speak of. Taste is intense, but mellow at the same time. Strong presence of fruit soaked in brandy here. Bartender served it warm, and it was perfect at room temperature. Mouthfeel is smooth and slick, its a sipper. This may change my opinion on the style. Overall, great beer!

 629 characters

Photo of LiquidCucumber
4.03/5  rDev -5.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Vintage 1999 shared with Bonis

A - Purple brown with nearly no head.

S - Strong earthy malts, sweet figs and some booze.

T - So many fruity malts, sweet figs, plums and grapes. The earthy aspects of this brew include quite a bit of oxidation. Comes off as sherry like.

M - Fairly heavy and uncarbonated, kind of cloying.

O - Very good stuff, but too expensive and probably better with less than 10 years on it.

 419 characters

Photo of zhanson88
4.43/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

1999 vintage. Poured into a snifter.

Appearance: Pours a nice mahogany color with an outstanding amount of tan colored head, considering the age. Retention is actually decent, lacing is limited.

Smell: Smells of caramel, toffee, brown sugar, fig, and raisin. Very rich. Oxidation is also apparent not too surprisingly, which retracts for me.

Taste: Outstanding. Taste is rich with toffee, raisin and fig with other dark fruits as well. Oxidation is much less apparent on the palate and doesn't retract at all. Finish is a sweet mix of toffee and dark fruits.

Mouthfeel/Overall: Medium bodied with low, fine carbonation. Smooth, and the amount of carbonation left in this beer is excellent. Overall, a beautiful beer. Would love to get ahold of another bottle of this.

 771 characters

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

2006 Vintage

Pours a deep copper color with no head. Some particulate matter is suspended in the beer. No lacing is left on the glass.

Aroma is all malt with hints of caramel, figs, and brown sugar.

Intense flavor of caramel, toffee, and figs. Very brandy like in flavor and alcohol presence. Warming going down. Slightly oxidized with a slight stale flavor in the finish.

Still carbonated. Body is full and rich. Enough carbonation to let the drinker know he is consuming a beer.

This example seemed past its peak. The flavor was powerful and delivered some rich flavor. I will have to try a more recent vintage someday.

 626 characters

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

A: The 2005 bottling pours a smoewhat hazy amber with a thin, fizzy whitish mousse that dissipates quickly. Little chunks of yeast collect in the bottom of the glass. Has a pleasant, rustic appearance. I like it.

S: The nose is dominated by notes of toffee, cider apples, brown sugar, roasted nuts, and a boozy scent that is somewhat reminiscent of calvados. A complex, interesting nose automatically signals this ale as a winner. Very inviting.

T: Opens sweet and a bit fiery with notes of apple, nuts, brown sugar, cream, vanilla bean, toffee, moist earth, and warming alcohol. The finish is warming and mellow with flavors of apple, toffee, and roasted nuts standing out amid a swirl of alcohol.

M: Full-bodied and thick, but also a bit oily and syrupy. Still, it goes down much more smoothly than one would expect.

O: This is one of my favorite English barleywines. No two bottles are alike, even if they are bottled in the same year. When you can find this one, buy at least two or three bottles.

 1,006 characters

J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
94 out of 100 based on 831 ratings.