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: 222
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 brakspear
4.43/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

1999 Vintage.

Appearance is a brownish amber, no head to speak of, but I would not expect much of one for the style. The aroma contains an immediate blast of alcohol, followed by a malty caramel and toasted sweetness, little hop bite of smells. The taste....wow! Thick chewy sweetness, caramels, port or brandy qualities in finish...exceptional. This beer is deceptively easy to drink given the high alcohol content. Sublime joy in the glass.

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

Bottle dated 1999, tasted February 2005. Poured a deep caramel hue, slightly cloudy in appearance. The aromas of alcohol, Scotch and fresh baked bread were all present. A variety of flavors come through, including sweet honey, brown sugar, maple syrup, rye whiskey, all with a hint of mild bitterness while remaining sweet throughout. Very complex, and different flavors come forward the more you drink. The mouthfeel was thick and syrupy with a very mild carbonation.

Altogether, an exceptional barleywine to sip and enjoy and linger over... the experience of a 12 oz bottle should last longer than two or three pints of just about anything else.

As for pairing, I've tried it with stilton as some have suggested, and it just doesn't work for me personally. Too many strong flavors competing there. I say enjoy this one all by itself.

Photo of yen157
4.43/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

1988: Bottle was from a case we just got in to our store. Dust was caked on nice and thick, and as I was opening it I realized the cap was rusted pretty good. The rust was slightly visible from beneath the foil, but I didn’t realize the extent. No worries…

Brownish-red, slightest ever wisp around the glass. Smells of alcohol, rum, and butterscotch candy. Actually, it kinda smells like a good, British barley wine. Go figure. Vinous up front with some amontillado sherry qualities, followed by dark brown sugar mixed with butter. The malt is so processed by the yeast over 15 years, the sweetness reminds me of a very dilute saccharin solution. Don’t get me wrong, the great malty goodness is still there, but just not in the same form as it would be in a younger bottle. It closes with a refined hop snap that lingers long into the finish playing hide and seek with that wonderful malt. The oxidation makes itself known after the malt finally fades away. Carbonation starts out as very, very light which fades away to nothing about five minutes into the glass. Body is smooth through and through and less cordial-like than very young examples.

This a very complex beer. I didn’t even scratch the surface. I didn’t give the malt presence enough adulation, nor did I address the gullet warming abilities of this brew. Hell, it can’t be a surprise considering the alcohol content! Overall, great beer, but past it’s prime. I’m curious to give my ‘86 a try.

Photo of cpetrone84
4.43/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

1998 Vintage

A-extremely dark ruby red beer with a creamy light kahki colored head leaving some light lacing.

S-the nose is huge and brings a ton of dark fruits. those fruits include plum, raisin, and dark cherries. there is also a whiff of candied fruit and brown sugar.

T/M-extremely full bodied and quite syrupy. very smooth on the palate and a low level of carbonation that I actually very much enjoy. the taste is also huge and very sweet. tons of candied and dark fruits. a light note of caramel malt, tons of plum and raisin. there is some cherry taste in there as well. notes of molasses and brown sugar towards the back. a hint of alcohol comes in at the finish; but not much at all.

D-this is actually going down extremely easy and I have to catch myself to drink slowly. huge alc content is hidden nicely, although after about 11 years you would expect that. tons of sweetness, almost more than i can handle; but so tasty. wouldn't want to drink it all night; but I do wish I had another.

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

1999 Bottling: This version has many of the same qualities I listed in the previous 2001 review. I do believe the alcohol presence is more apparent in both the aroma and the taste. A very good beer that obviously ages quite well, but definately a sipping beer.

2001 Bottling: I realize I may be reviewing this one too soon, but I couldn't wait. This beer poured a dark reddish amber color and formed a small off white head that left some circular lace as it subsided. A medium amount of carbonation is present. A heavy aroma of malt, caramel, raisins and other dark fruit. A slight hint of the alcohol is also present. A flavor of malt, caramel and raisins/plums with a slight vinous quality, but without leaning too much into wine or hard liquor as some others do. A slightly syrupy finish, but not enough to damage it, just push it into more of a sipping style, with at this alcohol level, it should be. Would make a fine after dinner beer and will no likely improve with age.

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

1998 vintage, I kept it till the 31st to make sure its at least a 10 year old sample, oldest beer Ive ever had.

Pours a viscous, murky mahogany with an ominous stillness underneath a small foam ring. The ring never leaves and manages to muster up a bit of lacing, pretty impressive for such an old beer. The aroma is a heady mix of rum drenched Christmas pudding, strawberry jam on toast and maple syrup. The taste is very sweet with layers of doughy malts and ripe fruit flavors. After a while toffee covered cashews, roasty dark malts and clover honey shows. Hops are essentially imperceptable against the barage of malt flavors. The mouthfeel is immensely thick and creamy and more briskly carbonated then I expected. The finish is fruity, sweet and a bit warming from booze.

The alcohol is very well hidden for 11.5%, but the intensity of the malt flavors makes it a slow sipper. Tonnes of nuance shows with warmth, with new flavors emerging all the time. Very nice.

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

2002 Vintage

Pours to a reddish-brown color with a thin off-white head that leaves spotty lacing. The aroma is semi-sweet, malty, toffee, molasass and honey. Very nice.

The flavor is malty, honey-like, with toffee and a bit of chocolate. It is a bit vinous as well. It is full bodied and smooth drinking for it strength. It has a nice creamy texture as well. A very nice brew. Thanks to Jimmy.

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

1997 edition. Pours a dark ruby color, very little head - disappears fast. Dark, fruity smell and taste. Full mouthfeel, good balance (though more towards the malt). Very wine-like (in a good way). Reminded me a lot of a really good Baltic porter in taste (like Stepan Razin?), only fuller in body. Alcohol not overwhelming, this one is enjoyable all the way through. A high quality ale that I will try again.

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

Pours a lightly hazed garnet with a small ring of fine bubbles that cling to the edges. Nose is of rich malt, peat, toasted nuts, sweet candied cherries. Ice cream sundae toppings, awesome. Super sweet in the mouth, candied fruits, toasted nuts. Doesn't even express as malt, but as sweet dark fruits, candied walnuts, a lot of maraschino cherries. Decadent, port-like, vinous. Balance is superb, just marvelous and one of the best beers I've had. '99 vinatge.

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

This is the vintage 2006 edition.. a 9.3 oz bottle poured into chalice.

This is a dark thick reddish brown color. Some crumbles of sediment lie at the bottom.

The smell is intense and powerful: vinegar, cider, sour apples, pears, sweet caramel, and loads of alcohol.

Taste is not what I expected at all.. this is very sweet and subtle. A mixture of sweet fruits, honey, and something darker (cocoa?) it hits quickly and fades fairly fast. Carbonation is virtually nonexistent here.. alcohol is masked amazingly well, other than the smell it is barely there.

This is one of the more unique beers I've tried. Very liqueur-like: subtle, mellow and for enjoying slowly.

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

Brewed in 2004.

The beer poured into the chalice clear deep golden amber with a low and wispy off-white head that formed slowly and never grew.

The aroma was malty with an intense caramel and old ale characteristic of ruby port. The aroma was fruity and contained a sherry presence. The aroma was also strongly sweet like a freshly cut juicy apple.

The flavor was malty with a strong caramel sweetness and an intense caramel presence. The sweetness the attacked the palate at first swallow begins to dry as the beer lingers on the palate. The bittering, while in the background, was strong enough to lend a drying character to the beer.

The finish was even, oh heck, just a bit on the not dry side with lasting caramel and malt long and pleasantly into the aftertaste. The body was full and viscous. The alcohol was mainly present in the warming that occurred after consumption. A very nice beer, but could have used a bit more head retention.

9.3 ounce bottle.

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

2001 vintage bottle served in an oversized wineglass.

pours a hazy amber/copper tone reminiscent of a belgian quad. some sediment; a finger and a half of head with moderate retention and some lacing.

nose is both bold and complex (frighteningly so). a sweet bouquet of dark fruits, molasses, malts, caramel, honey, alcohol, and maybe a touch of... hmm... cognac?

taste follows the aroma. tons going on. booze is more subdued than i'd have thought going off the nose. lot of dark fruits and malt sweetness. very tasty; nice, smooth finish.

mouthfeel is chewy, syrupy - brings to mind the dfh 120. drinkability is solid. i would welcome another. this is definitely not one of my preferred styles but the best i've had to date.

Photo of mrfrancis
4.43/5  rDev +4.2%
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.

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

2008 vintage.

A: Pours a clear light amber with red highlights, with just a touch of white head. What little head there is leaves a few spots of lacing here and there.

S: Very rich, sweet honey, black licorice, and raisins.

T: Complex and rich. Strong honey through the mid palate, with the raisin dominating a bit more through the finish. There are some also some faint notes of cherries, dried fruit, and just the slightest hint of bitterness.

M: Full body, low but noticeable carbonation.

Really excellent. Not quite as rich and complex as the barrel aged versions, but they are also older; I'd like to try this aged another few years as a more direct comparison to the barrel aged versions.

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

1998 edition, decanted with care from a 9.6oz bottle...

Pours with a rich caramel color with noticeable floaties. Head is almost nonexistant, even after a vigorous pour. Aroma is boozy and ripe with apples and berries, along with sweet caramel and powerful malts. The huge flavor initially hits me like a bus. Malts are huge, lots of bread and biscuit going around. Sugary sweetnees comes in early and hangs around. Caramel, toffee, molasses, and even some black licorice are all out to grace my palate. Slightly acidic apples and other fruits fight to get past the sweetness. Hops are barely there, some herbal hints and slight orange peel are the only sign. Mouthfeel is heavy and oily, and warm with alcohol. Although the alcohol is present, it is surprisingly well hidden, especially for this vintage and abv. Finish is oily and laden with sugary malts. A bit too sweet for my taste, but it is an outstanding offering nonetheless.

Photo of jrallen34
4.43/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

I drank this 1999 version from a 12oz bottle into a Chimay glass.

The beer pours a medium brown with a light tan head that comes about only a quarter of a finger and is gone right away. Lacing is medium, much stronger than I thought with such a weak head.

The aroma starts off pretty malty light toffee but then overwhelms you with a ton of yeasty bread. At the end you get the lightest whiff of alcohol and vanilla.

The taste starts off pretty malty, pretty bready and yeasty with a bitter alcohol finish.

The feel is medium, semi lasting finish, pretty smooth.

The drinkablility is good for 11.5 abv.

Overall, this is a pretty great bw, can't wait to buy some to age for a long time.

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

1999 Vintage bottle, courtesy of Mahar's Public Bar, Albany, NY.

A - Pours a cloudy brown with reddish hues. Barely a pinky finger head in a chalice. Sipped slowly over the course of 45 minutes.

S - Simply put - delicious. Boozy, sweet and malty as can be. What a whiff.

T - Wheeww! Huge...Sweet as honey, hints of fruit, mighty yeasty. Intense maltiness completely overpowers the hops.

F - Thick and heavy...great slow drink - perfect for the occasion. However, it did leave me with a slight headache...

Overall, superbly done - I look forward to trying the 2000 Harvest.

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

December 2001 Bottle (Sampled 5/1/03 - 4.15): Pours a dark copper color with a medium and dense beige head. Aroma is very sweet malt and caramel, and the alcohol is well masked. Full-bodied and chewy with flavors of caramel and rum, along with some malt. As with the aroma, you don't really get a sense of the alcohol level in the flavor. Finish is long and sweet (borderline cloying). $4 for a 9.6oz seems a little high but it was worth it.

1999 Bottle (Sampled 9/23/03 - 4.35): This vintage is a ruddy dark amber color with a medium beige head. Thin lacing. Aroma is very sweet, mostly caramel with some malt as well. The richness of body is similar to the 2001 vintage. Very rich and chewy. The flavor is very sweet caramel and malt along with some plum. Alcohol is well hidden. The finish is full and sweet. I am giving this vintage a slightly higher score.

Photo of warnerry
4.44/5  rDev +4.5%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

1999 vintage into a tulip

A - Pours clear amber with a thin cap of tan head.

S - Brown sugar, rum, raisins. Definite sweetness in the aroma, but very nice. Also get quite a bit of vanilla and a faint touch of chocolate.

T - Similar to the aroma. Flavors blend together very well. Definitely a touch sweet with lots of honey, caramelized brown sugar and dark fruits, but it works. A faint amount of bitterness keeps the sweetness from being too much.

M - Mouthfeel is pretty full and somewhat sticky. Very smooth.

O - It would be interesting to try a fresher bottle to see how the hops integrate with the other flavors, but this was a very tasty brew.

Photo of BeerForMuscle
4.44/5  rDev +4.5%

Note - Having the 2011 version in November 2014, on tap at UNO in Hamilton NJ.

A - Unfiltered and hazy looking orangey glowing body.

S - Honey coated apricots, marmalade. Candied tropical fruit, light caramel and malt. Fruit jam.

T - Oak barrel aged fruit spread. Sweet, fruit meat and fruit skin, dry wood, farm honey, smooth silky booze. Booze soaked fruit, rum cake, hint of biscuit. I've named mostly sweet flavors but it's never at all cloying.

M - Soft, warming medium body with light carbonation.

O - Amazing. So far this one has trumped all other barley wines that I've had.

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.

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

This beer pours a murky, rust brown color, with a thin light tan head. The head fades fast, leaving minimal lace.

This beer has a very aggressive aroma. It has a very sweet caramel malt aroma. Alcohol is present. It has a dark fruit aroma or raisins, prunes, and figs.

This beer tastes strongly of raisins. Some figs too, but mostly a strong raisin flavor. It tastes of sweet caramel. The alcohol is hidden in the flavor. There is just a hint of licorice in the flavor as well.

This beer is very full bodied. The alcohol warms as it goes down, leaving a sweet raisin aftertaste. The carbonation is low, which is to be expected of a 10 year old beer.

This beer would probably not make a good session beer. First, it is 10 years old, and not readily available. Second, it is very aggressive, and would become cloying after a time. Finally, the alcohol content is pretty high, making it hard to put back a few.

Overall: Thank you Brentk56 for so generously sending me this beer. It was great. I wish I had about a case more. The beer could probably age for a lot longer.

Photo of russpowell
4.45/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

1999 vintage pours a reddish caramel with a 1/2" offwhite head. No head retention or lacing

Huge oaky, fruitty boozey nose, beautiful

T: Dryness, raisins, dates, & breadyness with a slight booze presence up front. Caramel & rummy flavors follow. Huge praline profile & little vanilla as it warms. Finishes plummy, dry & sweet, extemely complex

MF: Vinous, syruppy, rich & failry low in carbonation

This is a sipper, the overwhelming sweetness/dryness slows you down a little. A nice, if expensive indulgence that went down smoothly, if not so quick this boxing day

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

2001 Vintage

Poured cloudy brown with ruby hints. Virtually no head. Great aromas of malty sweetness, very little if any hop aromas. Malty aromas are dark fruits. Definite alcohol in the aroma as well. Taste is very sweet, with some fig, raisin type fruity flavor as well. Alcohol doesn't really appear until the end, pretty well masked. Feel is smooth, syrupy and has very little carbonation. Overall a very good Barleywine with great characteristics. Really enjoyed the beer.

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