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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

831 Reviews
THE BROS
100
world-class

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

Style | ABV
English Barleywine | 11.50% ABV

Availability: Year-round

Notes & Commercial Description:
Beer added by: Todd on 12-18-2000

No notes at this time.
View: Beers (22) | Events
Beer: Reviews & Ratings
Sort by:  Recent | High | Low | Top Raters | Read the Alström Bros Beer Reviews and Beer Ratings of J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale Alström Bros
Reviews: 831 | Hads: 1,419
Photo of Murph
4.9/5  rDev +15.3%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

1999. Pours a clear bright amber with a thick creamy tan head that refuses to go away. Intense sweet chocolate and caramel malts dominate with some raisins tossed in and some very slight alcohol. Intense maltiness right away. Chocolate and caramel. Some fruitiness; raisins, faint cherries, and some other dark fruits. Extremely chewy mouthfeel and nicely drinkable. Not quite up to par with its older brothers yet, but still an awesome brew. A couple of years of cellaring would do this brew very nicely.

1998. Pours a clear dark amber/brown with a thick, rocky, tan head that retains very well. Smells are of cherries, raisins, toffee, chocolate, and some barely noticeable warming alcohol. Tastes start off with some sweet, chewy malt then fade to chocolate before going fruity. Cherries, raisins, and apples are the big ones. Woody and slightly smokey. The chocolatey malty flaovrs stay pretty much throughout. Great creamy smoothness in the mouth and very drinkable for the style. Damn do they ever know how to make a barley wine at this brewery. The best I have had of the style. Some might like it aged some more but I like the somewhat raw characters of the fruits.

1997. Beautiful light brownish/amber with a nice tannish head. Smells of malty sweetness, apples, smokey/wood, light alcohol, and a touch of honey. Taste is unbelievably complex. Tart fruits, smokey character, big maltiness, some earthy hops, honey, chocolate, and more maltiness. Those are just a few of the flavors that I am pulling off of this one. I can't even identify some of them. Incredibly smooth and creamy and pretty damn drinkable for a BW. This was an absolutely awesome brew, if you love barley wines like I do then you have to get some of these. A great special occasion beer.

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Photo of luvND
4.9/5  rDev +15.3%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

1999

I have had this case for nearly a year now and only break one out on special occasions, have also given a few as gifts to those I deem worthy.

Bottle: Nice fallish label, 1999 gold embossed

Appearance: In a brandy snifter, it can only be described as perfect. Thick, small bubbled head. Swirls beautifully. Deep amber color.

Smell: Sweet, molasses, bready, licorice, candied raisons.

Taste: Beautiful. Sweet, black licorice, very reminiscent of a brandy or port.

Mouthfeel: So creamy and slick, flavors linger pleasantly and your tongue actually feels coated with the stuff for a few minutes after the swallow.

Drinkability: About one an hour I'd say to properly enjoy this through a range of temperatures, it really does change as it warms a bit.

Notes: It is not an exaduration to say that this is the BEST beer that I have ever tasted. I would love to try some of the other vintages as this is the only year that was available at the time.

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Photo of jmdrpi
4.91/5  rDev +15.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

2002 vintage - 275mL bottle, poured into snifter

appears a muddy chocolate brown, with an off-white head that fades immediately. extremely pungent aroma - huge malt, raisins, brown sugar, toffee. intoxicating smell.

taste is more of the same. buttery sweet, with notes of caramel, molasses, burnt sugar, raisins, milk chocolate. crazily complex and bold flavors. no alcohol taste. thick luscious full body. subtle smooth carbonation.

overall - wow. I am truly amazed by this beer. need to get more! 10 years has done wonders

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

1 December 1999.

A fuzzy ambered fluid underneath a pale yellow cap.
A nostril enlarging, mind boggling aroma of figs and pineapples, covered in butter toffee, carried within a supple leather basket. I'd like to pour this over my head just to savor the aroma for awhile.

The mouth is raided with candied figs looting tobacco stores. Mangoes toss earthy clumps of sod through the windows. Raisins and plums look on in awe. The Butter police arrives, sirens blaring. A sugary toffee ruffian flips the bird to the Pigs, and steals a leathery baseball mitt and a few bottles of white wine.
This is an immensely intense fracas, of which I only caught a snapshot.

Luxuriously ample and silken within the mouth. World class, without a doubt.
Smooth criminal.

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

I'm basing my scores on the bottles of the '99 vintage that I've had. I've enjoyed two within the past 3 months or so and have been some of the most sublime beer experiences I've ever had. It is an unparalleled beverage, and is worth seeking out regardless of the price.

12 oz. bottle (06' vintage) poured into a tulip glass (8/1/11)

Appearance-Reddish brown color, with decent clarity considering that suspended particles are notable within the beer. Just a trace of a wispy off-white head appears, and vanishes quickly, though the beer shows some serious legs when swirled.

Aroma-Smells a lot like some of the older versions that I've had, though a little bit rougher around the edges. The primary aroma is of sweet rock candy sugar, with hints of toffee and burnt caramel. Some booze is apparent, as are some fruity esters.

Flavor-Flavor is also quite sweet-similar rock candy flavors with caramel edge, molasses, raisins, dark fruit jam, and honey drizzled on toast. A very interesting ash/tobacco flavor comes through rather strong in the finish and takes over the palate in the after taste.

Mouthfeel- Full body, alcohol warmth with a slight burn in the back of the throat. Rather smooth, but compared to older versions it certainly is rough around the edges.

Drinks quite well, and is a pretty damn good barleywine within its own right, but it seems rough compared to versions aged twice as long. The alcohol still needs some time to smooth out, the body needs to thin out a bit, and the flavor profile could use some time as well. Apparently 5 years out isn't nearly enough.

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

I had the pleasure and privilege of pouring this 1999 vintage at Albany Craft Beer Fest (thanks to the organizers for giving us all this treat). Poured into 5oz mini-Pilsner tasting glasses.

It poured hazy gold with very little head. Strong fruity nose with banana in the fore. Tastes more like an aged sherry or mead than what you might normally think of as barleywine. The sweetness is dominated by honey and balanced by the complexity of flavors and good old Kent Golding hops. Mouthfeel is silky smooth and leaves sticky honey-like sugar on the lips and glass. It's easy to forget the high ABV of this barleywine.

One of the most complex and biggest beers I've had. This made me a very popular pourer.

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

1999 vintage. Pours a very dark, reddish brown with great clarity and a considerable head for a beer of this style and with this ABV. Extremely complex aroma of marshmallow and molasses sweetness, with dried fruits (reminds me of a fruitcake), fresh cut strawberries and smoke. For some reason, I get just a touch of sauvignon blanc-like cat-pee when the beer reaches room temperature. On the palate, fruity malts and a smoky, syrupy sweetness first off. The finish brings out a marshmallow flavor. The whole thing is quite sweet, but with considerable refinement and flavors that keep things just light enough. Mouthfeel is a touch hot and thick and syrupy... but not too much so on any count. For a beer that reaches 11.50 ABV this is incredibly drinkable, with astonishing complexity of flavor. Very enjoyable -- a truly exceptional barleywine.

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

(reviewing 1997 vintage)

pours a deep brown colour, with almost no head, that quickly fades into a thin film on the surface of the beer.

aroma is a bit of alcohol, some bubblegum, and a rich sweetness.

taste builds on the aroma. rich, like bittersweet chocolate with a bit of espresso. tastes of dried fruit, sort of like raisins. alcohol is almost non-existent in the flavour, which is good consider it's over 11%.

body is fairly big, which i'd expect. it balances out the alcohol well.

overall a very deep and complex beer. very tasty and definitely a must-try brew.

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

Release '05: Sept. 23, 2007

Still considered very young, yet seductive enough to crack open the bottle. I just can't let these beers age at all. They are magnificent at any age. The 05 is no exception. Expecting a heavy sweet beer with some raw sugars and syrups, perhaps a hop bite and conflict; expecting high amounts of co2 to amplify an already-hot brew. Nope -- got none of that. Instead, the same smooth, brandy-like, port-wine brew with a hint of hop bitterness and flavor, mild heat, and creamy co2. Candied fruits take the form of fruit cake soaked in rum, with the finess of an after dinner congnac. The beer is absolutely amazing. Can't wait to see what the next decade does to the other one that I'll try to stash back.

Releases '87, 97, 92 - side by side comparison / Aug. 21, 2007

The '87 shined with higher port-wine, brandy flavors, but much more mellow, and less robust than earlier verisions. The nose was quite light, flavors were muted, with a complex alcohol feel and void carbonation. It looks a lot like prune juice, and tastes syrupy with deep dark fruits (dates, raisons, prunes, plumbs, figs). No hop presence at all. Highly oxidized and musty throughout. Rate 4.4

The '97 has all of the characteristics as the '87, but with richer context, intensity, and mouthfeel. The carbonation rounds out the mouthfeel and makes the beer feel fuller. The fruits are a bit ripe in comparison, but taking on similar proportions. More molassas, maple, wood character persists. Less oxidized, but still characterful with sherry and a touch of soy-sauce. Rate 4.8

The '02 is much sweeter, and has not rounded out fully yet. Rich maple syrup flavors make the beer taste a bit raw. The alcohols come across very warm, nearly hot. Fruits take on fresh fruitcake / dehydrated fruits, pronounced cherry flavor. No oxidation, but more one-dimensional than the earlier versions. Rate 4.25.

What an experiment! The '97 has the best recipe and has aged very well, probably nearing it's peak. The '87, although very nice, has signs of decline. The '02 still needs time to come into it's own. Thanks Clvand0!

Release 1999:

Always a joy to drink. After 8 years of bottle conditioning, great things are anticipated. The sweetness from this brew was fantastic: full of plumbs, grapes, dates, figs, cherries, prunes, and raisons, all swirled around a rum-like liquor. The hops have basically disappeared, leaving a mild bitterness from hop residue, grains, and confectionate sugars. Very rich and syrupy feel with a sharp, hot alcohol thinning. The beer sticks to the insides of the mouth for some time. Though this was a special session, I prefered the 2000 and the Port Cask Harvest Ales better.

Release 2000. Sampled on 06-21-05.

Boy what a terrific beer; best I've had in a while.
Looks brown with amber and tan highlights. Has a smooth, silky viscocity when poured into the glass. 1/2" off white head settles to a trace. Laces well and has legs. Smells fruity and sweet. Fruits resemble dates, figs, and raisons. Mildly alcoholic and spicy. Mouth watering. Tastes sweet and malty. Terrific full and round body. Sweetness hangs around. Mouthfeel is creamy and silky. Complex barley flavors abound. Flavors remind me of dark sweet wines. Quite chewy. Alcohol is hidden well. Finishes sweet and malty. Bittered only to balance; no flavor, no agressiveness. Not as dry as one would expect. Again, mildly alcoholic.

Impression: Probably more akin to an English Old Ale--with a punch. Well matured and melded. Dangerously easy to drink.
I highly recomend. May be substituted for an after dinner Port Wine or a Brandy.

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

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

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

1998 vintage. This was my first-ever barleywine style beer. I must say, it blew me away. It was served in a snifter glass at the bar at Birreria Paradiso in Georgetown in Washington, D.C.

Excellent after-dinner beer/drink. Like a cordial.

Smooth, inviting to the nose, and quite pleasing to the taste buds, this is a sipper to enjoy over conversation about all the beers that came before it.

If you have never tried a barley wine before and have an opportunity to taste this one, do not pass it up!

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

Served in my Uprising Chalice at Novare Res' First Anniversary Party. Reviewed from my tasting notes. The keg this was served from did not have any marking to indicate what year vintage this harvest ale is. It's also possible that this was aged at some point in port casks, as port flavors and aromas were all over this beer, but because it was advertised as J.W. Lees Harvest Vintage, I'm reviewing it here.

It has an opaque golden/orange/copper color with a thick white, soapy head. There is a port-like aroma that is very sweet and slightly alcoholic. The taste is mostly of port, but also some malt. It has a thick full-bodied mouthfeel that I rather enjoyed. The alcohol lingers in your mouth after you swallow, letting you know this is complex, finely crafted beer that demands your respect. I know it is strong and expensive, but I could drink this beer all night. After great beer, port is my next favorite beverage of choice, and this harvest ale combined them in a way that I love. This beer has become one of my favorites.

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

9.6 fl oz. 1998 Vintage Limited Edition bottle poured into a large Dogfish snifter for one and a Duvel tulip for another.

Appearance: Mahogany color that turns dark amber in the light. Small head that fades to lace pretty quickly. Not overly carbonated, understandably due to its age. A somewhat syrupy and viscous look to the brew with some swirls.

Smell: Malt. Alcohol is noticeable yet comfortably inviting like a warm blanket. Molasses. Dark fruit. Raisins. Fruit cake soaked in an aged rum. Allspice. Some butterscotch-toffee. Notes of a fortified wine. Sherry, maybe Port.

Taste/Mouthfeel: Amazingly smooth. Makes me wonder if the claimed 11.5% abv is false advertisement. Some warmth on the finish, but none of the alcohol scents I got are present in the taste. Really malty! even when expecting it from the style. Full syrupy mouthfeel. Very sweet, but not cloying. More dark fruit. Prune flavors, but not those of the cheap Pathmark from-concentrate prune juices your constipated grandmother bought, more like freshly picked plums dried and then soaked in a sweet syrup of complexity.

Drinkability: A beer of this sort, (especially after being aged for a decade) isn't intended to be a session beer, and therefore should not be graded as one. As i mentioned above the beer is very smooth for the style and abv, hence my score for drinkability.

Overall notes: An excellent beer. Enticingly smooth and complex. Will be sure to revisit other years and the various cask fermentations.

Quote from Dad: "Good after dinner, not a breakfast beer."

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Photo of kmpitz2
4.92/5  rDev +15.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

2000 vintage

This is one of the beers I have been sitting on for a while, waiting for this week. The beer pours a deep amber to light brown color. There is little to no head on the pour. The beer smells highly of malt with dried fruit, figs, raisins and prunes, coming through heavily as well. The flavors compliment the aroma of the beer. There are sweet dried fruit overtones with sweet malt flavors coming through strong as well. Damn, this is a good beer. It is heavy in my mouth, almost syrupy, but it is appropriate with the flavors brought to the table. I wouldn't want to sit down and drink more than one of these, but it is not hard to put this one away. Highly drinkable. I'll have to seek out other vintages and see how they compare. I recommend this one to anyone and everyone.

1987 vintage
First off, thanks to clvand0 for the opportunity to taste this beer at just shy of 15 years of cellar time. The color is a nice flat brown and the head is under a finger that falls to coat the beer. The nose smells just like raisin bread. I want to spread some butter on it and eat it up. The flavor is nice. Its like a raisin, but with a chocolate feel in the back of my throat. Wow. I love it. Even better than what I remember it. The feel is full on thick. DAMN. Good stuff. Drinkability is great as well. I think this is one of the best beers I have ever had. Love it. Taste goes up to a 5

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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 jasonjlewis
4.94/5  rDev +16.2%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

this beer is epic. no hot alcohols. fruity esters such as apple and plum.

the taste is very very sweet with a big caramel malt sweetness and low hop bitterness.

incredibly creamy mouthfeel.

this beer is truly epic. go try it now. the alcohol is so deceptive, its ridiculous.

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Photo of MaltyGoodness
4.94/5  rDev +16.2%
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.

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Photo of altctrlsdelete
4.94/5  rDev +16.2%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

2002 vintage consumed on 9.7.04.

Very high expectations for this beer after hearing lots and lots of hype (and paying a pretty penny for the bottle).

Decanted slowly into a snifter, resulting in a very slight white head that fades to just the sides of the glass in a few moments. Very deep bronze color with ample carbonation.

Very smooth and subtle aromas -- easily the most delicious smell I've encountered emanating from a glass. Buttery toffee is the first thing that comes to my mind. A very light hop aroma underlies the dominant aromas. I almost want to inhale this.

The taste of this beer is out of this world. I've not had anything approaching this in the relatively short time (~1 year) that I've experienced craft beers. The "buttery toffee" that was present in the nose is definitely here, but with a very agreeable burnt flavor. As a fan of hoppier beers, subtlety in the hop department is something that I didn't think I'd really appreciate. Wrong. The balance here is absolute perfection, like drinking a Bach concierto. The earthy malt flavors leave a perfect sweet but subtle flavor on the tongue in the finish.

This is a "wow" beer among "wow" beers. If you haven't tried this, you owe it to yourself to do whatever you can to obtain some. Nearly flawless.

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Photo of klewis
4.94/5  rDev +16.2%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

2003 edition

A: Pours a deep golden color with a small, quickly disappearing head and a bit of fine sediment. Specks of lacing slide down the glass after each sip.

S: Strong, thick smell with aromas of maple syrup, molasses, brown sugar, and caramel.

T: Huge, sweet malty taste with an incredibly complex flavor. Tastes like it smells. Little to no alcohol or hops flavor, a good thing in this case, I think. Take small sips and savor.

M: Full-bodied, thick, sticky, smooth, and syrupy with just the perfect amount of fine cabronation. One of the best textures of any of the beers taht I've tried. Amazing.

D: A damn fine beer. Truly a work of art. I need more.

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Photo of Pahn
4.94/5  rDev +16.2%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

275ml bottle into Duvel tulip. 2002 vintage. Picked up as a reward to myself for quitting smoking.

Appearance: Moderately strong pour surprises me by yielding a couple millimeters of fizzy, off-white head that dissipates quickly and leaves a ring of bubbly lace for about a minute. Pours an almost fully opaque brownish amber. Sporadic, short-lived lacing and nice legs.

Smell: Big, pungent aroma of raisin and fig, with some caramel and alcohol. Faintly suggests some other fruits and malt. Strong, inviting smell that I can't stop breathing in and enjoying.

Taste: Smooth, vibrant, and spicy. There's a thick hit of fig and raisin, so particular it tastes like biting into the flesh of a really fat raisin; it's not a note of raisin, it's all the sensory qualities of a fat, juicy and gritty raisin along with more (again, fig, alcohol, brown sugar, molasses). The taste is insistently deep and sugary, but not overwhelmingly sweet as the robust dark fruit and malt flavors dominate the sweetness away. Each sip is an exploration, starting with that syrupy dark fruit goodness, moving into spice and alcohol with gradual hits of chocolate, caramel, other random flavors, then ending in a long, pleasantly burning aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: Slick and medium- to full-bodied. More carbonation than I expected, but not much. Hot finish. Carries the huge, lingering flavors perfectly.

Drinkability: If you're buying an aged J.W. Lee's Harvest Ale, you probably know what you want from it. It delivers. It's difficult to drink this beer slowly enough.

Just a perfect English barleywine. Endlessly deep and stimulating. The kind of beer where no matter how much I try to get words down to describe its flavor or aroma, I can't do it justice.

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Photo of ajs4bd
4.95/5  rDev +16.5%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

2000 Vintage, poured in a snifter, served 1-14-09 - Very slight head that disappeared quickly. The color was a cloudy dark amber or brown. A few swirls provided fair lacing, which was average compared to the other barleywines I've had.

The aroma was filled with very sweet malt with hints of raisins, dates and honey. The sweetness trumped all other smells, and was quite a build-up and I was hoping I wasn't about to be let down.

The flavor was excellent, with a very full body, slightly soft carbonation (just right for my barleywine preferences) and a thick creamy finish. This tasted even better than it smelled and had an even sweeter flavor than expected.

All in all, one of the best beers I have ever had.

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

This is an amazing beer. Cloudy, rich orange-brown in appearance with an aroma of deep and smoky sweetness. Perhaps the best, cool-and-pearly-caramel-smooth mouthfeel of any beer I've ever had. Literally, a stunning beer -- you sip it, and stop, and regard it and your response to it, marveling that something this good can be had so relatively cheaply (over $8 a bottle in my city, but my God, who cares). If you have an affection for barleywines, this cannot be allowed to pass you by. To me, the alcohol was wonderfully hidden, and I could have sipped it for hours.

NOTE: 1998 Vintage.

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

Poured from a 9.6oz bottle into a Caracole tulip. Extra special thanks to Killer for giving this to me after laying it down for 10 years!

1997 Vintage

A: Pours a dark and opaque, burnt-orange highlighted brown with a tiny hint of a khaki-colored head which quickly disappears to a faint, swirly skim and unbreakable ring.

S: Huge aromas of tobacco, caramel, rum soaked raisins, plums, molassas, oak, chocolate, bourbon, and cherry. As it warms, a slightly boozy alcohol aroma emerges. It only adds another layer of complexity to this wonderful beer.

T: Sweet oaky caramel and tobacco hit my tongue right off the bat. After this I'm greeted by a rush of dark fruit, sherry, chocolate covered cherry, pear, tart apple, coconut, dark chocolate, and finally, spicy hops.

M: Smooth, slick, and oily, but not syrupy. Very sweet and coating with a spicy hop bite towards the finish.

D: Absolutely incredible! This a perfect example of a beer that's completely inoffensive to the palate yet hugely interesting and compelling. I loved the tobacco aroma and flavor. Once again, hats off to Killer. Thanks brother!

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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 PatrickJR
4.97/5  rDev +16.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Re-review. Original posted below.

Poured from a 9.3 oz bottle into oversized snifter. 1999 Vingate.

A - Dark, molasses-like brown, almost completely opaque with the tiniest bit of light coming through. Large 2 finger, light tan head rises. Retention is moderate, moderate lacing as well. Good looking for a 10 year old brew.

S - Literally this stuff smells like a cross between a gingerbread and chocolate chip cookie. Lots of dark bread with massively sweet overtones. Bananas, vanilla, and almonds are all prevelant with moderate doses of brown sugar and spice. Slight sourish aroma of prunes/plums hiding in the background, but much lower levels of dark fruit aromas than expected.

T - Starts off like a scoop of ridiculously vanilla vanilla ice-cream. Brown sugar and bread hit next. Sweet dark bread covered with caramel; residual vanilla and hints of chocolate pull through. Slight nuttiness. Sweet bread leads into slight fruitiness, though indistinct. The beer dries out by about half late palate with low to moderate levels of oxidation and a slight bitterness. Finish is slightly peppery (from the masked alcohol I presume) with hints of cinnamon and wood.

M - Full-bodied and syrupy with just a touch of carbonation. Smooth as can be and the perfect vehicle for this liquid desert.

D - All around amazing stuff. What I found most interesting between this brew and the 2 year old beer I previously reviewed is the relative lack of dark fruit flavors. The dessert qualities of vanilla and brown sugar override the ciderish, apple, and overripe dark fruits found in the younger brew. Alcohol is also much more masked and mellowed in the senior beer, hence a total lack of rum/brandy flavors mentioned in the original review. All things said, I'm convinced the more age on this beer the better; at least up to 10 years because this is fantastic stuff.

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Original Review from 06.23.08

Poured from a 9.3 oz bottle into oversized snifter; 2006 Vintage.

My first thought: wow, this is beer??!!

A - 4.0 - Murky brown with big chunks floating around. No head or lacing, expected with the ABV and the age.

S - 5.0 - Rich dark rum, somewhat brandy-like. Apple cider comes to mind as well with other over-ripe stone fruit. Cola and darker fruits make their way in as well. Wonderful.

T - 5.0 - Rum like flavors abound, with a very molasses/brown sugar sweetness. Vanilla and rotten apples work their way in mid palate and begin mingling with oak and charred wood. A subtle but obvious charred flavor wraps up the taste with huge residual sweetness. Very slight bitterness and a smokey BBQ flavor make for the long, sweet aftertaste. It's really hard to believe this came from barley.

M - 4.5 - Smooth, and rich, with only the tiniest suggestion of carbonation.

D - 4.5 - For such a huge beer, it drinks very well. I wouldn't pound these down in an evening with friends, but I could probably make it through quite a few just sipping it away. The alcohol is very well hidden, even moreso than a lot of average session beers. A delicious beer and something that should be experienced by all. To hell with the price tag though!

Overall: 4.7, A+

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