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J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale | J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd

YOUR RATING = None |
BA SCORE
94
outstanding
841 Reviews
BEER STATS
Reviews:
841
Ratings:
1,455
Avg:
4.25
pDev:
18.35%
 
 
Wants:
259
Gots:
218
For Trade:
14
J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest AleJ.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale
BEER INFO

Brewed by:
J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
United Kingdom (England) | website

Style: English Barleywine

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 11.50%

Availability: Year-round

Notes / Commercial Description:
No notes at this time.

Added by Todd on 12-18-2000

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Reviews: 841 | Ratings: 1,455
Photo of cbeer88
4.92/5  rDev +15.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

Reviewed blindly courtesy of Blind BIF #6.

9.3oz bottle poured into Duvel tulip.

Appearance: Cap cracks with a nice hiss, and I slowly pour into the glass careful to watch out for sediment once I see the dark liquid and smell the liquor. Head is a fluffy finger and a half of very light tan. Lacing is pretty and covers most of the glass.

Smell: I immediately smelled some sort of liquor when I popped the cap. I get notes of vanilla, caramel, and sweet dark fruits - dates, prunes, raisins - a lot going in here. There is a hint of wood and some definite must. This guy is both barrel aged and cellared for a while. The aroma is simply intoxicating.

Taste: How does one quantify "awesome"? Lots of that delicious dark fruit in the flavor, plus wood, slight oxidization, caramel and toffee, vanilla, maple, and a very smoothly blended liquor that is rather difficult to pin at this point. I'm going with port, but this could be sherry. Alcohol taste is smooth but strong - definitely a potent beer.

Mouthfeel: Good carb and full bodied. Nice and smooth, but syrupy.

Drinkability: High. This is a sipper all the way, but wow is this drinkable. Each sip makes me yearn for the next. It's just the right mix of sweet and alcohol.

Overall: This beer is sublime. I could happily drink this for the rest of my life.

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

This review is based upon a J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale Vintage 2001.

Appearance - Wine colored and clear. Colored water. Limpid. Barely any carbonation. No head with massive legs.

Aroma - Strong scent of port wine and quality bourbon whiskey. A firm wave of vanilla ice cream and caramel creme brulee. Pure sweet dessert with strong scent of alcohol topping.

Taste - This is filled with a variety of powerful flavors. Massively sweet and porty. Layers of vanilla bean and warm caramel and hot butterscotch and cool cream. Brandy. Molasses. Maple syrup. Dark fruits. Dollop of oak.

Mouthfeel - Huge body with a silky and suave finish. There is a hefty dose of alcohol mid-swallow then it fades to a sweet and buttery aftertaste.

Overall - This ale is one of the most curious and unique "beers" that I have ever had which makes it difficult to rate. It is nothing like a "beer". It is more like a port. A boozy and sweet rare treat. A twelve ounce serving is plenty. A little too sweet to drink alone, more of a novelty beer. Share this with another beer enthusiast.

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Photo of pjs234
4.32/5  rDev +1.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2007 Vintage. Poured into my DFH Signature glass. The beer is a very murky brownish/red color. There was little to no head, but there was a fair amount of sediment suspended virtually motionless in the glass. The smell is good and very sweet, with an overall molasses aroma with hints of raisins, toffee and caramel.

The taste is very sweet. The molasses flavors are very noticeable. There is also a slight bitterness. Hard to place the exact flavor, but it keeps it from being way too sweet. Honestly, this is a real nice barleywine, it is almost like a very nice dessert wine. Please let this one warm up before your first sip. When a little too cold, there is a very odd flavor to it, almost a cardboard taste. This goes away as the beer warms. Also, regardless of temp, there is no hint of alcohol.

The mouthfeel is good, although the carbonation is almost gone. I guess this is to be expected with a 5 year old barelywine.

Overall, this is very good. I am glad i tried it. From a personal standpoint, I think I prefer fresh barelywines, as I like the alcohol bite of them. Also, I would love to try this one fresh, just to see how it changed over the past five years.

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Photo of grittybrews
4.12/5  rDev -3.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

2006 bottle, opened 01/2012. South Sound tasting notes:

Poured a clear amber with a thin slick of head. Aroma of sugar cookie, toffee, raisin, and a hint of cider.

Lower carbonation and a creamy, sticky mouthfeel. Super sweet up front with lots of toffee, honey, molasses, and hints of dark fruit. Definite but not overpowering boozy warmth.

A nice treat but with the sweetness this intense, a little goes a long way.

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

2002 Vintage
appearance: Mostly clear reddish copper. No head or lacing to speak of but hey, it's 11.5% and 10 years old.
smell: butterscotch, raisins, and toffee just poppin out. Huge, refined nose.
taste: sweet but not cloying. a big assertive butterscotch finish. Amazingly smooth given the high abv. I've never had this fresh but i have to believe the decade has done wonders to this amazing beast.
overall: one of the best beers i've ever had.

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

Harvest Ale 2008 Edition.

Nice syrupy medium brown almost like a slightly diluted molasses color poured into a tulip glass it poured thick with no head. Strong scents of golden raisins, currants, molasses, brown sugar, almost like a good subdued bourbon smell to it. First taste was almost like sipping on some extremely sweet golden raisiin cough syrup but it was mellow going down and was pleasant with no veracious alcohol taste which is normally a good sign with barley wines that they have aged long enough. Couple more sips and i got more fruit and almost vanilla flavor out of it and an aftertaste of apricots in the back of my mouth. Overall i wish i had a few more of these it tasted really good and can't wait to open up some more of other j.w. lees barleywines i have sitting at home.

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Photo of claaark13
4.77/5  rDev +12.2%
look: 2 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

1988 vintage poured into a small taster flute.

Looks like I was poured a thick reddish brown juice into the glass. Not great at all, no carbonation.

Smells like a bag of twizzlers. Seriously smells like a fresh bag. Unbelievable.

Sweet almost port flavor with sweet cherries, raisins and then that beautiful twizzler flavor. Phenomenal.

Has some syrup feel to it, but complements flavor appropriately. Very drinkable.

Very impressed with this. The guy serving it didn't have too many notes on how it was kept, but I was happy with the results.

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

2009 Bottle
A - Dark amber, clear, small frothy head goes still raher quickly

S - Intence toffee, caramel, apples, grapes

T - Malt forward, brown sugar, toffee, autum spices, apples, and sweet bitter coffee towards the end

M - Well carbonated but light and smooth on the tongue. medium bodied overall and really nice

O - A bit sweet overall but that is an Engilish BW for you. looking forward to this with some more age on it. I may also try blending it a bit.

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Photo of nihiloexnihil
3.07/5  rDev -27.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

12 oz bottle 2008 vintage poured into a tulip glass.

Appearance: brilliant golden/deep amber, with a significant amount of stirred up yeast sediment even after a careful pour. Minimal head. The yeast clumps are a bit distracting.

Smell: apples. I'm sort of blown away by the almost cider-like scent, with a light yeasty component.

Taste: Hm. Initially I'm hit with cinnamon, apple- but not fresh apples, almost like what I imagine rotten apples taste like, a sweet necrotic taste- which then transforms to an almost fungal, mushroom-like non-fruit sensation which is hard to place. Someone mentioned "vegetal" which I think is accurate. A bit unexpected.

Mouthfeel- good carbonation but feels much like a cider.

Overall- I'm honestly not sure what to say about this beer. I'm a fan of barleywines but this seemed more like a strong, sweet cider on the initial attack with an unusual, fibrous, rotten-apple, yeasty finish that didn't quite jive. Just not for me, I guess.

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Photo of smakawhat
4.47/5  rDev +5.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Poured from the cask into a medium sized snifter at ChurchKey DC. Vintage 2010.

No head presented but filled to the brim nearly, giving off a dull dark slightly opaque red rust color, and maintaining just a faint tan collar. Shaking it up or bumping produces some more carbonation, giving a slight fizzy faint body.

Nose is stupidly butter rich and apple jam. But not of the diacetyl variety. Rich rum soaking spirits seem to come out in abundance. Smells fantastic.

Taste is just soft an luscious on the palate, bringing in that warm apple butter richness. Some faint licorice that is chewy on the aftertaste too.

Great drink right out of the cask just wonderful.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)!

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J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
94 out of 100 based on 841 ratings.