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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.
BA SCORE
94
outstanding

1,296 Ratings
THE BROS
100
world-class

(view ratings)
Ratings: 1,296
Reviews: 804
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: 1,296 | Reviews: 804 | Display Reviews Only:
Photo of biegaman
4.4/5  rDev +3.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

1998 Vintage opened for Thanksgiving - October 13, 2008.

Against and away from the light reveals two completely different looking beers. What sits in front of me is a beer dismal and dreary. It is a muddied, cheerless ocher brown that refuses to refract any light what so ever, denying even the slightest of highlighting. The beer's collar, even along its fringes, can scarcely be noticed.

To the light, however, it quietly erupts with colour. Tones of raspberry and red apple appropriate the 'Harvest Ale' moniker with thoughts of fall time fruit bounty. I can't help but think two different scores for appearance would only be appropriate. It is rather astounding the sparkle it conceals.

This is less a beer than it is a sweet, sugary nectar of over-ripened fruits and sticky butterscotch pudding. The above does little justice to describe the character of an aroma that seems to incorporate elements of tawny-port, dark rum, calvados, sherry, and especially cognac unto itself.

Smell alone will warn you that what you're about to encounter is rich, but only after tasting it will you realize the full extent of this. Its likeness to a full bodied cognac, vintage tawny-port, or five star brandy really can't be overstated. This is as rich as it is complex.

The flavours are so numbered that one could associate this to a long list of things. I would venture to say foremost on my palate is: mushy pineapple, plum pudding, molasses, shortbread cookies, maple syrup, browned sugar, wine grapes, pecan pie, raisin bread, choke cherries, caramelized fruits as well as dates, figs, and plum all coated in a bitter cocoa fondue. It's a nearly endless list.

It makes me think of oak-aged honey, and whether or not there exists such a thing. It is sweet and nectar-like with a complex depth of flavour. The carbonation has long faded which leaves the tastes to stick on palate. The lingering bitterness adds more persistence. It is both intensely bitter and sweet at the same time. The alcohol is quite well pronounced - especially in smell - but as it should be, no?

This ten year old vintage is my only taste of the J.W. Lees Harvest Ale to date. I'm still not entirely sure what to make of it, it is definitely something special and considerably unique. It isn't like other barleywines, it is a beer of its own, one that I can't define yet. Luckily I have a number of other vintages still waiting in the cellar to better become acquainted with.

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

1999 vintage oh yeah baby. Today I'm gonna party like it's nineteen ninety nine. Uh, sorry.

Deepest shade of caramel known to man. I'm talking dark caramel. Head tried to well up, but fell on it's sword.

Quite fragrant. As a man of few review words, I'm gonna sum up the scent like this: caramel, alcohol, and roses.

Wow, incredibly smooth. This has the most caramel flavor I've ever encountered in a beer. Seriously, it tastes like 8 parts caramel and 5 parts alcohol. Very sweet and very strong.

Slightly more than medium body and as I said, oh so smooth. Very nicely done at 11.5%

Overall: fixed my wagon

Photo of CrellMoset
4.44/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Review #300. 2006 vintage from Wine Warehouse, Charlottesville, VA. Poured into an Allagash flute.

Appearance: This one opens w/out so much as a hiss and pours a thick, churning, syrupy mess, right down into the flute. It's a dull, hazy reddish brown beer and is full of particulate suspensions - hop particles, yeast clumps, who knows what they are, but there's tons of 'em. Carbonation is ... what carbonation? Head is ... what head? Lacing? Don't think so.

Aroma: Whew, that smells nice. A thick, pungent curtain of the breadiest malts you can imagine. Tons of sweet, layered notes (caramel, toffee, honey, complex fruity sugars), darker fruits (raisins), light leafy hops, wonderful tannin-like notes, and only the faintest hint of sweet alcohol.

Taste: A step-up from the nose. First of all, it's overwhelmingly sweet, but not in an annoying, cloying, sticky way. It's a layered and complex sweetness - doughy bread and toffee are dominant, but darker malts appear as things warm, with light coffee and sweet chocolate making themselves known. There's also, as in the nose, honey and tons of fruit - apple skins and cherries at the top and, progressing downwards, raisins, dates, figs. While there's almost no hop bitterness, there are still the remnants of a few pleasant leafy hop notes, a reminder of a time when, perhaps, this beer was indeed made with the finest harvested hops of that year. Alcohol is still nearly imperceptible - you know it's there on some level, but, eh.

Mouthfeel: 99% certain that tingling is the alcohol and not carbonation. This beer is as dead as they come, but it's a two-year old plus barleywine, so that's to be expected. It's a little thick and syrupy, but as I mentioned before, it's not cloying or sticky, so you can only knock it so much. There's hardly any alcohol warmth to be found, despite the 11.5% bill.

Drinkability: 11.5% abv, but the most well-hidden, well-blended 11.5% you're likely to find. Whether you attribute that to age, to conditioning, to the overwhelming sweetness of this beer ... either way, it's incredibly drinkable. It's complex, inviting, enjoyable, devilishly tasty ... I might just have to recommend trying it.

Photo of BeerBelcher
1.75/5  rDev -58.7%
look: 2 | smell: 2 | taste: 2 | feel: 1.5 | overall: 1

2005 bottle. Pours thick & syrupy with no head and a fair amount of floaties, despite an effort to decant. Aroma is a sweet graininess with some sawdust-like smell. I also get some dried fruit and lots of alcohol. Flavor is sweet, boozy, and very malty. Mouthfeel is sticky, alcoholic, and puckeringly sweet. I'm not quite sure why this stuff is so highly thought of; many of its attributes are things that I'm not looking for in this or any other beer - grainy/cerealness, overpowering sweet maltiness, and smack-you-in-the-face alcohol flavor.

I would not recommend this beer. I bought this bottle at Parti-Pak Discount Liquors in Indianapolis (probably Greenwood).

Photo of MaltyGoodness
4.94/5  rDev +16.5%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

275ml bottle, 1998 vintage

Pours a murky chestnut brown with a very thin tan head that fades. Very slight lacing on the glass.

Aroma is bursting with malt, caramel, dark fruits, and even a hint of toffee. A treat for the olfactory senses.

Sweet upfront, with incredibly rich malt and caramel flavors. A plethora of dark fruit flavors add to the mix and just a slight bit of buttery toffee sneaks in. Finishes sweet as it began with a pleasant lingering caramel malt flavor. Alcohol not really detectable in the flavor, but definitely warms as it travels.

Full body, creamy texture. Mild carbonation.

Regardless of the ABV, this is immensely drinkable. I can't stop smelling it, which leads to another sip with each smell. The complexity of this beer is truly a rare treat.

Photo of DrDogbeer
4.19/5  rDev -1.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Had on cask at Ebenezer's 4th annual belgium beer fest. Should be noted- I beleive Chris said the beer was from 98 and the cask was about 150 years old. Holy Sh*t. 6 oz pour into a snifter. Pours a dark brown with little to no head. Smell is bordering on obscene. Bartenders did not even want to pour it. High alcohol, gasoline, oak and bourbon on the nose- who knows what else. Taste was strong as hell. Lots of whiskey or bourbon, some oak, some smoke and a whole lot of alcohol. Unlike anything I have tried before. Definitely a sipper. Oily mouthfeel and super filling. Would drink more, but might pass out.

Photo of SaucyA
4.26/5  rDev +0.5%
look: 3 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2006

A - Into a snifter. No noticeable carbonation, aside from a scant bubbly head that quickly dissapeared to nothing. Body is murky brown, with quite a bit of random floaties. There's no yeast in here so I'm a little bothered. Rather unappealing.

S - Takes a turn for the good here. Caramel, toffee, alcohol, plum/prune, malty, Kraft carmels.

T - Here goes. Nearly what I expected, and hoped. Sweeet... but, good. Caramel, toffee, slight oxidation. Incredibly complex, yet nothing smacking me around. Not at all hoppy, and has the finish of 2007 Short's Anniversary part 1 that I love so much. Alcohol burn only noted in the tummy.

M - Syrupy, little to no carbonation, sugary.

D - Quite frankly, it's a little cloying, but anticipated. The alcohol is surprisingly not noted much aside from the buzz that seems to come on like a freight train.

Notes: My first TRUE english barleywine. For what it's worth, I'll definitely buy another bottle or two for the cellar. I can see this only getting better, and I'm curious to try the barrel-aged versions.

Photo of changeup45
4.39/5  rDev +3.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

2006 vintage. Pours out a brown/amber color with no head at all. Aroma is very nice; roasted malts, tree bark, plums, molasses and a little bit of alcohol. The flavor is sweet and sugary with a lot of dark fruits, particularly raisins with some roasted malt. Silky smooth. The most amazing part about this beer is that the 11.5% is hardly noticed. If any alcohol shows at all it is a little in the finish. Way better than the Thomas Hardy 2005 I sampled recently. This really is impressive.

Photo of Zadok
3.75/5  rDev -11.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Vintage 2000

Poured a deep hazy amber with no head or lacing to speak of.

Smell is unbelievable, strong aroma of many dark fruits to include raisins, dates, figs, and cherries. Faint malts and hops in the background with alcohol mixed ever so slightly.

Wow, dark fruits abound in a syrupy mix of caramel and sweet malts. Raisins, cherries and figs are on the border of overpowering but still slight enough to make an unbelievable elixir. Alcohol definitely has a warming presence and only increases as it warms.

Very smooth and syrupy with low carbonation.

Although the quality and time invested is evident, the high ABV and insane amount of sweetness make this a once in a year brew for me personally. Even with the small (9.4 I believe) I could only really see splitting with someone else if I ever happened across another. Maybe a different year would have a little less sweetness...time will tell.

Photo of Andbrew
4/5  rDev -5.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3

1999 vintage

Poured strong head and nutty brown color
Strong alcohol aroma right off the bat, rasin, plum,

No carbonation to speak of. Tasted light of alcohol, but syrupy, what I would expect from this type of barleywine.

As the beer warms it gets more of a bite and you can taste more plum and esters.

Fantastic sipping beer, but share with a friend as it will overwhelm your palate after a quarter of a bottle. Pair with a strong caramel dessert or vanilla ice cream.

Photo of daftafne
3.9/5  rDev -8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

2003 vintage

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

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

Photo of Goliath
4.27/5  rDev +0.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3.5

2004 vintage

Pours a rather hazy dark brown color. A very thin light tan head forms and quickly dissipates.

Aroma is ok, very familiar to the other harvest ales by J.W. Lees. Raisins, plums, figs, caramel, syrup, oak, and just a bit boozy.

Taste is pretty good. Raisins and figs, caramel, and a bit of chocolate. Molases and brown sugar as well. Really quite delicious once it opens up. Little alcohol warmth as well.

Mouthfeel is thick, syrupy, and full bodied. Very lightly carbonated. Really my ideal mouthfeel for such a beer.

Drinkability is moderate. The flavor is great, but the high alcohol will get to you. not to mention, it is a bit cloying. Really a phenomenal brew any way you look at it though.

Photo of BeerIsland
4.37/5  rDev +3.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

I got a taste of the '99 at Max's a few weeks back, this was quite a brew. Even though it was on the handpump, it poured very flat and brown to garnet in color. There were some nice honey smells that got a little sweeter as I progressed. The '99 is a rich, deeply flavored beer with butterscotch and toffee flavors all the way through. I'm not sure about the drinkability since it took me 45 minutes to do 5 oz and a companion 5 oz of the 2004 Lagavulin. But who's in a hurry ??

A Very Neat beer drinking experience!

Photo of Dizzy
4.52/5  rDev +6.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2000 bottle

A-Pours a slightly hazy brown. Ring of foam. I'm surprised I don't see any chunks floating in it.

S-Dark fruits, carmel and alcohol is noticeable.

T-Complex taste matching aroma. The dark fruits and carmel flavors are there, a little bitter in the finish. I'm pleasantly surprised that I don't notice oxidation.

M- Very thick, full bodied. Light carbonation left.

Photo of Strix
4.25/5  rDev +0.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

1998 bottle - a 10-year old brew!

Pours a thick, murky orange-brown, with a very nice head.

Smells rich, caramel and syrupy.

Taste does all sorts of things. Sweet and ripe overall, with a caramel/maple syrup flavor. Tastes a heck of a lot like raisin bread as well. Some alcohol in the background somewhere. Very complex and dynamic.

Mouthfeel smooth and viscous.

Definitely one to be slipped slowly. Drinkability hampered a bit due to sweetness and thickness, I wouldn't want any more than they put in the small bottle. This was quite the experience though. I won't be buying another one soon due to the price (almost a dollar an ounce!), but certainly a very nice English barleywine here.

Photo of FtownThrowDown
4.32/5  rDev +1.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

2001 Vintage
Pours a ruby brown in color with absolutely no head to be found. Some sediment "chunkies" floating in the beer. Smell is dark fruits, figs, very port-like. Taste is very much the same. Very smooth and creamy. Some leather tannins coming through as well. This is over seven years old and has aged gracefully. Have some more left, so I'll check back with those at a later point.

Photo of sholland119
4.32/5  rDev +1.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

1999 Vintage, reviewed July 2008

A-Pours a clear deep amber color with honey brown highlights. Nice lacing.

S-Sweet dark fruits, toffee and caramel. Hint of alcohol but not overwhelming. Wonderful.

T-Following the nose, a creamy caramel, maple and raisin taste with a moderate alcohol warmth in the finish. Very complex and delicious.

M-Rather thick and syrupy, in a good way.

D-Very nice, but I rarely want more than one barleywine.

An excellent beer, holding up very well at 9 years.

HV

Photo of Antilochus
3.65/5  rDev -13.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 2 | overall: 2.5

Vintage 2006 - reviewed July 2008. 11.5% abv, 275mL bottle. Room temp. Served with Stilton.

Clear dark copper body under a thin cap of bubbles - tiny bubbles stick to the side of the glass. If this isn't a barleywine, what is?

Aromas of toffee, dark fruits, burnt sugar. Yum... dark, sweet grains... rye, nuts. Raisins. Superb.

Feel is remarkably thin, but lots of flavour - raisins, molasses, peaches, prunes, cake mix, rotten apples, burnt sugar. Finish is on mincemeat pie, a hint of astringency. Gigantic malt presence.

A bit young yet, but some things about this 06er are to be greatly admired.

Photo of jjayjaye
4.47/5  rDev +5.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Harvest Ale 2000 purchased from Knightly Spirits, Orlando FL.

Pours a clear deep dark red amber color with a full finger foamy light tan head that fades to surface fairly quickly but is kept alive by visible effervescence. Sheets of Belgian lacing trail behind. The smell is really rich fruity and sweet. Big dark fruit figs and molasses. The mouth feel is medium-full bodied. Full flavored, the fig brown sugar molasses taste is really rich. It coats the tongue nicely and leaves a n after taste that lingers nicely. A real easy drinker, the 11.5% ABV is well integrated. Highly recommended.

Photo of cvstrickland
4.54/5  rDev +7.1%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

1998 Bottling; BA review number 300.

I'm excited about drinking a ten years-aged beer, and am amused by the cute little 275 ml bottle. Poured into a snifter, the miniature vessel yields a deep ruddy brown body capped with a sticky finger of foam the color of raw wheat bread dough that recedes quickly, leaving very little lacing behind.

The smell is unbelievable! Layer upon layer of caramel and dark fruit, rich notes of fine port wine and juicy red apples, an edge of spiciness that almost comes off piney...holy cow! There's fine molasses with a floral note of honey, with zippy pepper and lemon peel. I swirl it for another snort, and out comes a bready note.

Taste is sticky-sweet, reminiscent of honeysuckle nectar, with a flavor of orange juice that fades quickly. Caramel and honey pay their respects, as does a warming alcohol that never manifests itself as a true flavor, but is definitely part of the equation. Lots of flavors-- some out-front, some lurking-- almost all of them sweet. An earthy flavor of damp black loam soil and maraschino cherries emerges as the drink warms.

The feel of this drink seems something like the "Syrup of the Gods", uh, in my little mortal opinion. Thick, sweet, and rich, the drink could have just as easily come from a Mrs. Butterworth's bottle, if only she made syrup so good as this. Definitely a sipper, 1998 Lees is proof-in-the-bottle that good things come in small packages... very good things!

Photo of flexabull
4.29/5  rDev +1.2%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

2003 bottle courtesy of leftmindedrighty, thanks again!

Pours a dark gold color, hazy and cloudy, with a pretty nice white head.

Aromas are cider like, there is a very strong apple aroma. A bit boozy, and some oak as well.

Taste is very cider like as well. Some very boozy apple flavors. Creamy and sweet malts, very well balanced tasting beer. Finish is crisp, with a nice brandy like bite from the alcohol. This is holding up quite well even at 5 years old.

Mouthfeel is very full, and is quite nice.

Drinkability is very good. A very unique tasting beer to me that is quite easy to drink, and very enjoyable to sip.

Side note : I really like that this is put in a 275 ml bottle. It's a perfect size for one person.

Photo of thickerfreakness
3.39/5  rDev -20%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2.5

1998 bottle purchased from Sam's in Chicago.

Rich amber brown color. Pours with more head than expected but it fades to a ring of foam around the glass.

Smells really sweet off the bat. Rich toffee, candy, doughy malts, creamy vanilla caramels. Very, very sweet.

Really similar to the smell with the caramels becoming the main flavor component for me followed by other things from the smell and then some really rich overripe fruits like strawberries and cherries. Sweetness just gets to me as it lingers for quite a while after drinking.

A creamy medium bodied beer with more carbonation than expected for a 10 year old beer.

Just gets way too sweet. I don't think I can finish the end of this glass. Really high ABV as well.

Photo of soupyman10
4.67/5  rDev +10.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Well this monster (in both price and - or so I'm told - flavor) was supposed to be review #500, but goddamn did I have to go and screw that up. Well, #501's just as good. I really wasn't sure what to expect, but was told by Tim the beer guy at Wine Specialist that he'd had an '01 a bit back and it was amazing. So I followed his advice. This one pours a deep opaque amber brown color with a nice dark middle. A thin half-inch of tan head on top dissolves down to a fan lace fairly quickly. Looks pretty nice. Aromas you can smell all the way across the room. Incredible spicy, caramel malt, with huge swirling dried fruits in there, also cherries and a dose of vinous wine-iness. A touch of alcohol, mixed in with solid breadiness. Huge delicious aroma (although not a hop in sight. Flavor is...oh good Christ this is something. Hugely bready and full; the body is incredibly creamy and syrupy, clinging to your mouth for a minute. Very mildly carbonated (possibly cause of the age), but it works perfectly for that syrupy sweet flavor (and I mean that in a good way). Other flavors are tons of maple syrup, tons of sweet caramel malt, lightly spiced. Cookies, chocolate...the flavors are innumerable. Really outstanding. Not sure what more I can say. Delicious, and an amazing dessert beer (not one I'd recommend for slamming with the boys, both cause of the price and cause you'd die). Absolutely excellent.

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

Just feeling lucky to get a bottle of the 1997 classic. I am really looking forward to this one.

Appearance - Very dark reddish brown. Almost no head after all these years. Pours slowly, looks lovely.

Smell - An explosion of dried fruit. Cherries, prunes, almost a hint of brandy. There is the alcohol smell. There is a lot going on here, including a red-wine sort of smell, but mostly the dried fruit. Not like a typical beer at all. Except, there's a sort of Guinness-like maltiness. Unexpected.

Taste - Starts with some serious caramel, then a little coffee bitterness. Finally followed by all the fruit. Some cranberry, the aforementioned cherries and prunes. Very complex. Lots of caramelized sugars.

Mouthfeel - Dreamy. Thick and buttery smooth. Coats the tongue. It just lingers.

Drinkability - Hard to gauge. It's not like I'd want another, but there is just so much going on.

Overall I'm glad I tried this baby. It's not really a "beer" in the way that I imagine beer. More like a port than anything. Including the thick port mouthfeel. A very different beer experience. That being said, I'm looking forward to a saison or belgian golden ale tomorrow.

Photo of Donnie2112
4.5/5  rDev +6.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

bottle of 2K6 in an oversized wine glass

appearance: dark brownish with a bunch of tiny little bubbles and tons of chunks of lees that inevitably get spilled into the bottle

smell: rummy molasses, incredibly rich

taste: rich dark malts, tons of carmelized sugars in this one. a bit of alcohol burn in there but it's subtle

mouthfeel: this is the interesting part, it's thick and oily, so incredibly full bodied, the carbonation is smooth and extremely light but still there

drinkability: it's drinkable but you're not going to drink any more then say two? I mean I can't imagine drinking a four or sixer of this stuff it's just too rich. Granted that's not the usual drinkability standard that I would apply to a barleywine, so I'll say. It's certainly not offensive but it doesn't really snap either. Maybe I just need to start drinking older barleywines.

J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
94 out of 100 based on 1,296 ratings.