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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.

821 Reviews

(Read More)
Reviews: 821
Hads: 1,387
Avg: 4.25
pDev: 13.88%
Wants: 251
Gots: 200 | FT: 15
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.
View: Beers (21) | 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: 821 | Hads: 1,387
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.


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

I tried some of the 1980's vintages and was disappointed. This is 2000 and it's wonderful. It smells good from two feet away. It's huge! Al K Hall (we all know him) aroma is attractive. I get raisins and caramel ( again from two feet away) The mouthfeel is velvet. This is the nightcap beer! Stock up.

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

2001 Vintage

Poured dark mahogany into a Chimay glass. There is quite a bit of visible yeast and sediment, along with some visible carbonation. There is nearly no head at all, except for some very fine lacings.

This is simply one of the most aromatic brews that I've had the pleasure of enjoying. In fact, I can make out the delightful fragrance of this beer while the glass is still on the table before me. The heavenly scents include ridiculous amounts of sweet malt, honey, caramel, doughy yeast esters, raisin, grape, plum, clove and a spicy, alcohol bite.

If I have come close to tasting the nectar of the gods, it was while drinking this beer. All of the complexities of the aroma are noted in the smooth, divinely balanced flavor. You could easily lose yourself in the multitude of delicious tastes. Sweet malt, brown sugar, molasses, honey, caramel, vanilla, dark fruit esters, sweet raisin, tart cherry, clove, spices and some wood notes. The alcohol flavor is extremely well masked.

The viscous, light syrup consistency is balanced on the palate by just enough carbonation for a gratifying mouthfeel.

This is simply the most drinkable beer over ten percent alcohol that I've yet to imbibe.

This is by far my favorite barley wine and one of my favorite brews period. I've begun filling my cellar with as many bottles of this wondrous liquid that I can get my greedy hands on.

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Photo of martyl1000
4.97/5  rDev +16.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

On tap (actually a bottle, but I had to review this again) at Amsterdam Cafe, SF. A beautiful pour into a goblet, with a barely discernible white head. The delicate lacing is wiped clean from the glass by the high abv. The aroma is all sweetness, with a shag carpet of roasty malt.

The most feel is what's most immediately remarkable in the mouth. A slippery, syrupy viscosity hugs the tongue like that of an ice wine. Creamy, God! And a light fizzy carbonation.

The full body is a precursor to the port wine sweetness. Mild molasses. Cotton candy. Ripe Fuji apple. Toffee. Surprisingly floral hop flavor keeps the package from sickening territory. Expanded by the baked-bread toastiness.

I haven't enjoyed a sweetness like this since the last Sauterne I had with a Danish blue cheese and white grapes.

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

I had originally rated this when there was sorting for each vintage. I think it was a 1998 that produced this note:
sweet. Tawny port. Dates, figs, cola, caramel, raisins, rum, nutmeg...sweet. swirling, creamy head. port reduction. chewy currants. tangy taffey. scorched honey. custard. graham-cracker crust. bumble-bees. wax. tar. asphalt. rain. bird seed. wild rice. charred, sappy tree bark. charcoal. medium brown in color.

Today I opened a 1988 with the Neil Young Harvest Moon label with reca and Mike. A good hiss was heard upon uncapping the rusted cap. The pour produced a surprising amount of fizz, though no real mass of foam -- rather a spiral streak of tiny bubbles. Lots and lots of chunks.
Aromas of French processed prunes, blond tobacco, Madiera, ...ancient, profound.
The texture is light and transparent. It reaveals bitter sugars, stone fruits and cough medicine. The sweetness seems totally dissolved. No sense of fat, syrupy youth is here at all. Only transparencies of flavors: sweet, fresh and aged. It warms the tummy, as "e" pointed out. And that's a good thing.
I'm bumping up the drinkability 0.5 points.

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

A beautiful beer. At least the 1999 guy I had this year. I might get some more recent guys and save them for a while if I don't get too tempted.
The smell was almost like being in a alcohol candy shop.
The beer had so much toffee, cream, malt, a slight hint of chocolate and the best taste of barley I could imagine and so well blended.
It's sweet, so don't expect anything else. Drink it as a desert to finish a meal or as a night cap. Or a celebration beer at a picnic with kids playing soccer around you.

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

Polled some BA's on what I should review for my 200th review. J.W. Lees won a close race over several other stellar beers. It was suggested I do a vertical, but now is not the time. Instead, I will try one of my oldest vintages, a 1999.

1999 Vintage. Cracked open with a hiss. Good to know that it was sealed properly. After ten years, you never know. Served just above room temperature. Poured a small amount into a tulip, leaving most in the bottle. Pours a deep ruby, mahogany color. It looks mahogany-brown until you hold it into the light, which reveals it's ruby hues. A very small layer of foam is produced, but dissipates quickly to a small ring around the outside of the glass. A small column of carbonation is rising from the middle of the tulip. Another good sign, it's still carbonated. There is some nice lacing, but nothing excellent.

The first whiff I get is intense. I get dried dark fruit, sweet malts and liqueurs, pollen and toffee. This might be the sweetest smelling beer I've ever had the pleasure of smelling. I also get a slight vanilla scent that reminds me of Bourbon, but it's more of a liqueur than a Bourbon smell.

Liquid gold touches lips, dances on tough and opens eyes to entirely different world. I honestly didn't know a beer could taste like this. If this doesn't define complexity, than I don't know what does. The other night I had a GI BCS, and I thought that was the most complex beer I've ever had. J.W. Lees just left BCS in the dust, turned around and flicked it off. I get vanilla, toffee, sweet malts, dark fruits, liqueur and caramel. How could I forget about the caramel. So intense and sweet is the caramel aftertaste that it begs you to drink more. Did I forget to mention the alcohol? Oh, yes. Thats because it is non existent.

Mouthfeel is creamy and smooth. No carbonation bite, no hop bitterness. Just pure malt sweetness. Thick and creamy, it coats your mouth. No sign of the 11.5% ABV anywhere. Drinkability is perfect. I could imagine downing way to many of these. Dangerous drinkability.

I had my doubts. How well could a beer 10 years old hold up? Apparently better than I had ever imagined. I know of the benefits of a cellar, and how brews change, but I had no idea what it could do. I had a fresher bottle (2006 I believe) maybe 7 months ago, and I didn't like it. Granted, my palate has changed quite a bit, but I can definitely see how this has changed for the better.

Needless to say I am infinitely impressed. If this wasn't so damned expensive I would do verticals of this every single night! Couldn't have asked for a better brew to do my 200th review on!

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

2000 vintage poured into my Stone Old Guardian stemmed barleywine glass.

Pours a deep, dark cherry-wood color topped with a biscuit of light tan head; It leaves thin, reaching lines of lacing. Lots and lots of very excited bubbles are visible rising up to keep that thin head fed.

The scent is extremely strong - my first instinct is to credit the strength to alcohol, but further examination reveals that little to no alcohol is to be found. The strength is built on big, complex packages of scents - It smells like a bakery, like rye bread and hot oil cooking up doughnuts, honey-drizzled almonds - big, huge, mouth-watering scents.

Now this is just an unreal beer. It's an experience. I bsolutely couldn't beleive the flavors packed into this one! It's incredibly malty sweet, but balanced and complex to absolute perfection. For the first time ever in a review, I wish the scale went higher than five, because it's honestly like nothing I've ever sipped before. Describing the flavors is almost an excercise in futility, because they defy description. Fruity - fermented - nutty - oily - sugary - buttery - Waffles, banana pancakes with maple syrup and almonds, hazelnuts - Hazelnuts! That's a big one. Unbelievable.

The mouthfeel is many things at once. Crisp, oily - fluffy, zippy - with the tiniest warming of alcohol, the only place it's present in the drinking experience.

The more I drink this, the more I keep bumping up my review points. I think I'd better just shut up before I ramble myself off into space. I'm afraid to try other vintages of this beer now, because they might not live up to the 2000! An absolute must. The best. WOW.

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

1st December 1997
275 ML
11.5% VOL
Best before end Nov 2002

Gentle puff of air at opening; pours to a dazzling array of carbonation in the body that literally vaporizes within moments

Appearance – carbonation quickly backs off to form an early ½ inch cream-colored head; it backs away to expose the opaque and dominant brown/slightly red body below; no lace, but that’s excused

Smell – the smell honestly does make my mouth water; molasses; caramel; toffee; prunes; raisins; I smell it and ponder the taste and smoothness

Taste – sweetness predominates but its certainly not too sweet; prunes and molasses that coat the top lip; a touch of bitterness closes; the alcohol is amazingly cloaked

Mouthfeel – so smooth with a light oily base and moderate body; there’s an elegant early burst of carbonation that clears the way for the army of flavor; the light tinge at the end is reminiscent of the aftertaste much after chewing a piece of Big Red bubble gum – there’s a very light cinnamon-like pop on the tongue; the smoothness has marathon quality

Drinkability – subtly warming; as drinkable as a barley wine gets; 8 years has created an impossibly smooth ale

This is what a beer experience should be.

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

Oh my. This is absolutely incredible. In fact, I have never before tasted its equal. I went into this not knowing what to expect. I will, however, most assuredly be purchasing more of this.
The pour was a slightly cloudy dark red amber colour with a bit of debris floating about. It had a sand coloured head about 15mm thick that remained for several minutes. It was beautiful. The smell was delicious, consisting of sweet grasses such as sugar cane, sorghum syrum, brown sugar, faint spices. Oh my, this just heavenly. The taste is much, much more of the same with sweet malts dominating. The decadent tastes wash gently over your tongue with each sip. Its mouthfeel is smooth and there is nothing about it I can find that needs adjusting. If I were to taste this blindly, I would guess it to be around 7,5% or so. Certainly not 11,5%. I am stunned by the inconceivable greatness of this ale. I will definately buy this again. A far, far cry different than its U.S. counterparts, which don't even come close to this.
*Note: This was the 2002 vintage. For some strange reason, the cap was exceptionally difficult to remove.

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J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
94 out of 100 based on 821 ratings.