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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 twiggamortis420
4.41/5  rDev +4%
look: 3 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

275 mL bottle of the 2005 vintage pours a limpid, fairly clear brown color with a few bubbles around the collar.

Nose is very sweet and caramely. Bread and toffee play a supporting role and there is an earthy-alcohol thing going on in here too.

Taste is a delicious blend of various malt flavors...from caramel to toast to honey to even a little hint of chocolate. Thick, sweet and syrupy but strangely never gets cloying as the alcohol dries things out nicely on the finish. I did the JW Lees thing a little different as I have had two of the flavored cask versions prior to the regular. I think I enjoyed the cask ones slightly better, but not by much. This is a real treat, I wish this was sold in TX; I'd love to have a case or two of these to drink over the next few years.

Photo of rhoadsrage
4.42/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

This is the 2004 edition drank on 11/17/2005
(Served in a snifter)

A- This beer has a nice warm deep coppery brown body that is crystal clear with a nice thin wispy film of bubble on to that loosely form a head.

S- This beer has a nice vinous, sweet caramel nose that has hints of pear and brown sugar.

T- A smooth sweet sugary toasted caramel malt flavor hits at first and then it finishes with a nice warm alcohol taste in the finish. A slight hint of cherries or dried fruit is noticed in the finish aswell. A nice vanilla oaky quality add another layer to the complexity.

M- A medium-full body with some slippery texture in the finish. The alcohol is a smooth note in the finish, not harsh and no hot.

D- This beer has nice sweet complexity with a nice balance of alcohol to balance the malt sweetness. The tastes of dried fruit and toasted malt really meld nicely.

1999 Vintage drank on 2/14/2010
(Served in a sifter)
A- This beer pours a deep dense brown body with a glow of soft auburn at the base. There is a light bubbly beige head that turns to a thick ring after a bit.

S- A soft tart hint gives way to sherry like sweet malt with some caramel malt sweetness that grows as the beer opens up. There is a soft hop hint in the background.

T- This beer has a rich caramel flavor with a mellow dark toffee note and hints of dark roasted malt buried underneath. There is a nice malt bitter note at the finish that takes on more sherry qualities as the beer opens up.

M- This beer has a medium mouthfeel with no alcohol heat until the beer is pretty warm and a soft fizz note. There is a slight watery texture when the beer is pretty warm but the alcohol warmth is good.

D- Great rich caramel flavor with a good depth and some nice age characteristics.

Photo of Bung
4.42/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

1999. The oldest vintage brew I've had to date. A thick brown/orange pour. Thin layer of off white head that quickly recedes to a ring. Happy to see the carbonation, I know this one's going to be thick and juicy sweet.

Aroma is incredibly powerful. I can still easily smell it sitting on the counter at hip level. A ton of malt, caramel and raisin.

Taste is malty goodness. Many levels of caramel, toffee, brown sugar, yellow raisins, fruitcake, frangelico, seems like you could just keep going and going. Finishes with a little caramelized brown sugar and toasted oak and rum cake.

Big and sticky, but not overly boozy. It is really smooth and coating. Not as syrupy as I though it might be. Actually quite easy to drink. The warming sensation reminds you that this is a big beer.

Not sure this is a good as my favorite, Arctic Devil, but it's certainly up their for the style.

Photo of thekanna
4.42/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

9.3 oz. bottle, 2006 vintage.

A: Pours a radiant dark amber that glows the color of clear apple cider when held up to light. No head to speak of.

S: Strong, dark, warming yeasts that bequeath notes of caramel, dates, dark fruits, raisins, and molasses. Gorgeous.

T: Bitter-y hop note underscores an extremely complex and earthy taste. A cigar or tobacco pipe-like smokiness is mixed with chocolate, large amounts of dark fruits (figs, dates, raisins come to mind), dried fruits, molasses, vanilla, and maple syrup. There is somewhat of a fruity creaminess at the end, as if someone added fruit flavoring to Bailey's irish cream.

M: Not much carbonation to speak of. Overall, the brew is oily and slick and covers the mouth, with a general creaminess to round out the end. Strong warming effect as one continues to sip.

D: Improves more and more by the sip. I was really impressed by this brew. I have a 1999 bottle that's cellaring right now, but I think I'll wait for a while before I crack that open.

Photo of DavoleBomb
4.42/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Poured into a perfect pint. 1999 vintage. The older beer I've had.

4.0 A: Deep amber color with good clarity. Maybe a 1/8 inch head forms, but that's not too bad given the elderly status of this.

4.5 S: This smells absolutely wonderful! Big aggressive caramel and toffee. Minerally earthiness. Lots of honey and a light sherry. This is oxidized surprisingly little. Plum, prune, and date fruitiness with a slight grape and raisin combo. Moderately sweet and quite clean. Very well rounded.

4.5 T: Taste is even bolder than the nose. Big syruppy sweetness to kick things off. Loads of caramel, toffee, and brown sugar. Even more honey in the taste. I don't know if they even used honey in this. Again just a slight sherry. Plum galore with nearly as much prune and date. Fig, raisin, and tobacco underneath. Earthy mineral. Still has a mild alcoholic tinge. Quite pleasant and shockingly bold after all these years.

4.0 M: Heavy body. Very good carbonation for the age. A little overly syruppy, but otherwise creamy and smooth.

4.5 D: Really enjoyed this. I'm going to have to pick up a few to age.

Photo of nflmvp
4.42/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

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

Photo of TenHornsProud
4.42/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

2002 Vintage

Pours a murky amber, brown with almost no head, just a slight ring of tan.

Smells of sweetness, toffee, port wine, booze, earthy/leaf character, some oxidized cherry/sherry notes.

Taste is sweet caramel like malt that goes into a plum/sherry/honey middle and ends on an earthy sweet note that lasts and lasts. The alcohol warms right at the end and is nice lingering. Reminds me of a malty/tawny port in the best ways. Big, heavy, and thick. Pushing the line beyond beer.

Heavy body due to the residual sweetness and alcohol and veryyy little carbonation. Works like a charm.

I'd have to do a vertical to get more perspective, but this is fantastic. Like a fine porto.

Photo of projectflam86
4.42/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

-2000 vintage-

This one is a decade old and I want to see how it is holding up...

A- Pours a deep brown raisin color with a thin wispy head that leaves a bit of scattered lace.

S- Rich dark sweetness with a bit of grain and alcohol. Some faint fruit and vinous aromas come through as well.

T- Incredibly rich and sweet with loads of caramel malt and dark fruit leading the way. Flavors of caramel, fig, plum, oak, sherry, and an earthy finish. The alcohol is extremely well hidden. The years have been very kind to this brew.

M- Medium bodied with low carbonation. A bit thin considering how big this baby is.

D- Overall a great brew that holds up incredibly well over the years. I can't wait to crack open a few other vintages a see how the flavors progress.

Photo of mikeys01
4.42/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

I had the privilege to drink some cask '96 J.W. Lees Harvest this weekend at the Moan & Dove in Amherst, MA. Poured directly from the cask, there is no visible head or carbonation, it's a serious cask barleywine. Color is a gemlike clear mahogany, and it appears to be fairly thick from the way it clings to the glass. Aroma is a mixture of whiskey and brandy and a little bit of sweet vanilla. Mouthfeel is fairly thick, without being syrupy however. My cask Lees was served appropriately at room temperature, which allowed the flavors to fully blossom immediately upon sipping. Taste is very oakey and reminiscent of a fine brandy at first, then is rounded out with ample sweetness and notes of coffee in the finish. Alcohol presence is certainly noticeable in the before, during, and after sipping, but it does not overcome any of the complex flavor and the Lees is actually quite smooth. A rare treat to say the least....

Photo of brakspear
4.42/5  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
4.42/5  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
4.42/5  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
4.42/5  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
4.42/5  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
4.42/5  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 JohnnyDuvel
4.42/5  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 JAXSON
4.42/5  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
4.42/5  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
4.42/5  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 mrfrancis
4.42/5  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 ark57
4.42/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

1989 Vintage sampled in 2004 - The color is dark orange to brown. The oily body gives rise to tastes of vanilla, wood accents, and citrus notes. This beer is very complex and mellow. It is earthy and slight minty with port/madiera oxidation. The body is lean and smooth, yet it still has some carbonation. Best drank from a snifter.

Just sampled the 1986 Vintage and it was amazing. It was pretty much as expected, but I was surprised that it had quite a bit of carbonation.

Photo of seand
4.42/5  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
4.42/5  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
4.42/5  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 Dogbrick
4.42/5  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.

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