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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

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1,309 Ratings

(view ratings)
Ratings: 1,309
Reviews: 811
rAvg: 4.24
pDev: 14.15%
Wants: 229
Gots: 186 | 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.
View: Beers (19) | Events
Beer: Ratings & Reviews
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Ratings: 1,309 | Reviews: 811 | Display Reviews Only:
Photo of Vierenner
4.11/5  rDev -3.1%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

2000 Vintage, poured into a snifter
A: beautiful copper color, foam sustained around edges
S: strong, sweet smell, like golden raiisans
T; quite un-beer like
M: smooth
D: too swet for more than a glass
The bottle says "Ale" but it's significantly different from any other ale I've had.

Photo of mrbeermug
4.23/5  rDev -0.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

2006 Vintage (4-5 yrs old)

A - Characteristic amber hue of a barleywine, while still being see-through. Noticeable sediment particles suspended in the beer. Almost no head pours, just a few air bubbles from my vigorous pour into the bottle.

S - Sweet bright honey, lots of bready yeast, raisin, a touch of vermouth smell from the lingering alcohol.

T - Dates, raisin, light smoky/woody bitterness, still tasting a bit of sweet vermouth as well. Flavors are well integrated thanks to its age, but nothing really stands out too strongly.

M - Soft and delicate, definitely a bit thinner than your usual barleywine, thanks to its age. Nice lingering flavors that don't overwhelm the senses. Really like how it feels.

D - About as quaffable as a barleywine can be, since you never want more than one anyway and this won't weigh you down. The age has made the beer much more drinkable and pleasant than a young, strong, syrupy barleywine that punches you with a brass knuckle-heavy alcohol content.

Overall, I'm still getting over a cold from the previous week so perhaps my smell/taste isn't fully back. This is a great brew, but I've enjoyed prior tasting of the different J.W. Lees Harvest series (specifically the Sherry and Calvados casks) more than this one tonight.

Photo of JC5886
5/5  rDev +17.9%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

One of my favorite beers of all time. Got the 2006 bottle. Looks syrupy, thick, sugary with specks in it. Amber darker brown color. Smell is on point, like dark fruits. Taste is Incredibly. Sugary, dark fruits, light alcohol, oily, malty with nice hop aftertaste. Mouthfeel is thick and warming. Drinkability is very high for the high Alcohol level. In my top 10 beer list.

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

2002 vintage poured into a tulip.

A: Pours a deep, murky, copper brown with almost 1 finger of khaki head. A thin ring of head remains as the beer drinks down.

S: Raisins, figs, and toasted caramel. Really sweet malts with maybe a touch of chocolate. A sweet booziness and a touch of oxidation rounds this one out.

T: Raisins and figs make this one sweet off the bat. Thick caramel malts add to the body. You can feel the heat in your stomach, but 8 years has seemed to treat this one well - sweetness overtakes any bite the heat may have given off.

M: The body is thick and almost syrupy. Moderate to low carbonation.

D: This one is a fine sipper that gets better as it warms.

Photo of thstevens12
3.99/5  rDev -5.9%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

2001 vintage, split with my wife.

Appearance: Murky brown-lots of suspended yeast and sediment in spite of a careful pour. Head recedes to thin wisps almost instantaneously. Not the most impressive.

Smell: Reminds me of angels share. Boost nose-huge amounts of oxidized caramel sweetness. Alcohol soaked raisins and rich loaminess come to mind.

Taste: Candied fruit and caramel up front. Warming booziness and an earthy dryness on the finish.

Mouthfeel: Thin, oily mouthfeel. Coats the tongue and lingers for an impressively long finish.

Drinkability: My 6 oz pour was about as much of this beer that I could handle. However, as this beer drinks more like a port, I wouldn't consider that to be a low level of drinkability.

Photo of ToasterFork
2.35/5  rDev -44.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 1.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 1.5


A: Nice rich brown Amber, no head, sediment

S: Fruit first and foremost, rum raisin, liquory, caramel, very complex nose. Smelled like Grandma's minced meat pie.

T: Strong Sherry taste, rum raisin, sugar, I fear this BW is past it's prime

M: Heavy body, Warming

D: Couldn't finish it.

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

Reviewed from notes 2/16/2011

A: copper-orange with just a nice layer on top for the head, stuck to the edge of the glass, not exactly lacing, just a stickiness

S: tons of brown sugar and caramel and a hint of booze

T: brown sugar, you could definitely taste the alcohol in it , and a noticable nutty aftertaste

M: very mild carbonation, very smooth, syrupy/sticky

D: typical for the style, it went down easy, very warming


Photo of BigTomZ
1.76/5  rDev -58.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 1 | feel: 2 | overall: 1

2006 vintage.

A - Pours a nice copper color with a thin head that leaves a ring around the glass.

S: The aroma is pretty much what I expect from the style. Raisins, caramel, molasses.I detect a bit of an earthy aroma hidden away also.

T: This is where I was totally disappointed. The raisins, caramel, and molasses from the nose were in the taste. There was also a bit of toffee and brown sugar. The problem was this underlying taste of an uncooked potato. It was like biting into a raw potato. I found it unpleasant and it had enough of a presence that I couldn't finish this beer. This was a drain pour after only a few sips.

M: This was thick, sticky, and sweet, more so than I expect even for this style.

D: Obviously the underlying taste of a spud was off-putting for me. The thickness and sweetness definitely didn't help. In order to ensure it wasn't a bad bottle, I later picked up 2007 and 2009 vintages from different locations. It seems that something in this beer isn't sitting well on my palate.

Photo of surlytheduff
3.92/5  rDev -7.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2002 bottle. Drank from a snifter. The barleywine poured a dark tawny brown, with just a thin film of a head. The liquid clung like a viscous oil to the sides of the glass after swishing it around. The smell was focused sweetness. Brown sugar, molasses, little bit of cola, plum, raisen, fig.

The taste was a very slight letdown. It was good, but my points of reference are a 2000 and 2001 that I've had recently. The sweetness just was just a bit much. There was caramel, vanilla, some leather, a little astringency from the alcohol and the dark fruit flavors. The mothfeel was thick and syrupy. The liquid coated my mouth - very much a sipper.

Photo of woosterbill
3.85/5  rDev -9.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

275ml bottle of the 1999 vintage into a Duvel tulip.

A: A slow, steady pour produces a lovely finger of tight off-white head atop a dark, slightly murky reddish-brown body. The head is particularly impressive for such an old, strong beer, displaying great retention and even leaving a decent amount of fine lace. Anyone who claims that decade-old beers are supposed to be flat and ugly obviously hasn't had a 1999 Lees. Excellent.

S: Hugely sweet, with sherry, raisins, brown sugar, treacle, and toffee. Wave after wave of sugary malts wafts out of the tulip, followed by some faint hints of leather, spice, and alcohol. There's a touch of oxidation for sure, but not to the point of being dirty and cardboardy. Excellent, if a bit over the top with sweetness.

T: Not nearly as complex as nose: this is just a straight sugar explosion. Brown sugar and toffee are the only flavors at first, and a sizable dose of oxidation and ethanol finishes things off. It's enjoyable in a decadent, desert-like way, but lacks the depth of the aroma.

M: Syrupy and smooth at first, with some soft carbonation showing up upon agitation. Pretty solid for the style, if almost unbearably sticky.

D: While I fully expected this beer to deliver an unadulterated barrage of malty sweetness, I guess I wasn't quite prepared for just how cloying that could become. The small bottle is more than appropriate.

Notes: This was delicious, and I fully intend to sample a more recent vintage to compare, I really found it to be too one-dimensional in its flavor profile. I've had the 06 Port and Lagavulin versions of this brew, and they were both far superior to this. This was totally worth the steep per-ounce price tag, but it's not something I'll be stockpiling in large amounts.


Photo of Kendo
4.2/5  rDev -0.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

1997 bottle, consumed on 2/5/11, split 3-4 ways. At 13-14 years old, this is the oldest beer I've consumed (surpassing the Millenium Chimay Blue I had on 12/30/10 by about 3 years).

A: Body is coppery-amber with reddish tints. No real head - not surprising after 13+ years in the bottle.

S: Pleasant - dried fruit (raisiny), toffee, molasses and a waft of booze.

T: Like a licquor - booze is a dominant characteristic, providing heat over sweet malt (think toffee, caramel and brown sugar). Faint touch of peat smoke.

M: Thick and oily in feel, close to full-bodied in heft. Carbonation is long gone.

D: A sipper, but a tasty one. Paired amazingly well with an almond-crusted bear claw-type pastry, making it taste like Amaretto.

Notes: Had this one immediately after a bottle of the 2006, which by comparison tasted like an Imperial Rauchbier (it was heavy on the peat smoke and even more boozy). I've got a 1999 in the cellar; looking forward to it after this positive experience. . ..

Photo of GPHarris
4.87/5  rDev +14.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

1997 vintage from The Brick Store.

a - poured a one finger creamy light tan head into a snifter. the body was brown with some reddish hints. the head billowed nicely with each swirl and stayed throughout the beer, very impressive for a 14 year old beer.
s - raisins, figs, caramel, molasses.
t - same as above with some tobacco. incredibly complex and tasty.
m - silky smooth.
d - definitely a sipper but only b/c you want to savor a vintage like this as long as possible. it goes down smooth.

Photo of Elendinn
4.78/5  rDev +12.7%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 5

2002 vintage, poured into a tulip glass, and raised in praise of Don Younger.

Wow, this beer looks beautiful! It pours a dark, leathery, bronze-tinged mahogany; so dark that it's practically opaque, though, when held to the light, becomes a slightly more translucent copper, with bits of yeast floating around, possibly from a novice pour. It's got no head, save for a thin ring of caramel-colored effervescence around the circumference of the glass. It looks like an eleagant, refined liquor -- brandy or cognac.

Smells like it looks: a spicy, refined liqour. Cinnamon, chocolate, and lots of dark fruits (figs, raisins, port-like grapes) are all extremely prominent. There is a very discernable aroma of rubbing alcohol that permeates the nose, which is a bit of a distraction, but, ultimately, it coalesces into something very sweet and pleasing.

The taste is immediately reminiscent of port, primarily featuring the dark fruits present in the nose. There are some very earthy elements in there, as well, like a decades-old red wine. It's a little boozey in the finish, but a very noticeable chocolate flavor interjects itself and lingers long after everything else, rounding the experience out nicely. Not too sweet, not too hot.

Like a port, the body on this is quite thick, practically syrupy. Fortunately, the moderate amount of carbonation makes for a pleasurable stay on the tongue.

J.W. Lee's Harvest Ale is everything I expect from a traditional barleywine and more. Deep, rich, and as complex as a fine port -- eleagant, nuanced, and spectacular. It transcends what one would typically define as beer. Yes, it's drinkable, despite the abv., but should be savored, fully and completely. Buy these, age them for as long as you can, and open them on special occasions when reflection and contemplation are paramount!

For Don Younger. A perfect beer to honor you with.


Photo of dogfishandi
2.41/5  rDev -43.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 2 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 1.5

2001 vintage (a little over 9 years of age)

275ml bottle from the cellar poured into a bulb style glass.

pours out a murky dark brownish red with a layer of bubbly off white head that slowly faded to a thick ring. lots and lots of big chunky sediment visible even after decanting and a careful pour. some spotty lace and some nice legs.

a powerful aroma mostly of almonds and other such nuts. almost a little off putting. behind that theres a lot of toffee, burnt caramel, a bit of chocolate.

again with this overpowering oily almond flavor, overly sweet. lots of caramel, toffee, buttery, a bit of chocolate. hardly any alcohol. my palate just cant get over that burnt nutty taste, a bit disgusting.

pretty decent mouthfeel for such a big beer. hardly any alcohol noticable. slick creamy oily feel.

terrible drinkability, after a few ounces this was sadly a drain pour. id be interested to try other vintages, but this was a turn off.

Photo of beerwolf77
3.05/5  rDev -28.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 3

Thanks to sweemzander fro sharing this one with me. Another top 100 I've been meaning to get to.

2006 Vintage

A: Golden amber, no head no lace. Pretty much where I expected a 5 year old barley wine to be.

S: Tons of caramel, toffee, faded hops, buttery bread, dark fruit, brown sugar. Quite complex and interesting.

T: This is where things start to fall short for me. The flavors are simply not there from the nose. The buttered bread seems to be the biggest flavor I can pick out. Age seems to have been hard on this one. Maybe it's just at an awkward phase.

M: Medium to light body. Seems rather thin and lifeless.

D: I don't have much experience with English barley wines so I hope this isn't what they turn into when aged. Glad I was able to sample this one.

Photo of hoser
3.88/5  rDev -8.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

A 1999 Harvest Ale was sacrificed this evening. It is really hard to rate a beer this old and be fair to the brewers intentions.
Huge vino and port notes and this fucker could have used another ten years in the cellar. One of the few times I wish I had more patience with some older bottles.

Always love the JW Lees stuff.

Photo of glazeman
3.84/5  rDev -9.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

2002 edition, poured into a snifter

A: Dark, dark amber in color with a small ½ finger white head that quickly fades into a crown. There is minimal lacing and modest retention.

S: The smell is definitely the best aspect of this beer for me. Truly a celebration of malts, there is caramel, toffee, syrup, and brown sugar on the nose.

T: This is a very sweet beer. There is root beer, caramel, and brown sugar as the dominant flavors with a tad of alcohol burn. To me though this is overly sweet and lacks balance.

M: Pretty good feel, although for an 11.5% beer this one is a little thin for my liking.

D: For the ABV the drinkability is pretty good, but is limited by the near cloying sweetness of this beer.

Photo of TKEbeerman
3.97/5  rDev -6.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Vintage 2001:

A: Poured into my sniftner this brew pours a murky brown with little to no head.

S: The aroma is heavy in caramel, dark dry fruits with hints of nuts, some candy sugar, and an all around earthiness.

T: 10 years of age have turned this brew into something truly unique. Hints of chocolate, heavy sweet caramel (maybe a little too sweet), and a lack of a dangerous alcohol burn. The sweetness really cuts this brew down a notch.

MF: The mouthfeel is silky, but a little less than medium, and is lacking carbonation.

D: Because of the sweetness, this brew is a little tough to drink.

Overall, it's the sweetness that kills this brew. It is a great ale to age, and is definitely unique. The nose is it's strong point, a shame the rest of the beer doesn't follow.

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

2006 poured into a brandy snifter.

No head, or carbonation for that matter. The color of unfiltered maple syrup. Dark brown, but when shown from like, it is near ruby in the body with yellow edges. I forgot to leave the sediment out, but I do not feel it complimented more than hindered the overall experience.

Wow. Simply gorgeous bouquet. Maple syrup, toffee, port, candied apples, vanilla notes all pair with a pepper/alcohol finish. All well balanced. A charred oak and maple character is the overall character.

A slow coursing beer, open that starts slow but finishes strong. Vanilla notes to begin, then moves into a oak, maple syrup, and touch more vanilla. Finishes with a nice pepper touch and an appreciated warming alcohol. Very port like.

Carbonation is non-existant, but that is to be expected. Creamy, lingering flavors. Makes for a great sipper. Given that the alcohol is rather well masked, and at 5 years, it is near gone from the profile. Yet, it does still give the great warmth you would want in a fine aged Barleywine.

Photo of SammyDavisJrJrJr
4.11/5  rDev -3.1%
look: 3 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4.5

1999 Vintage bottle, poured at cellar temperature, into the GLCB snifter. Sampled while trying not to hear anything from the next room, where my wife is watching The Bachelor...

A - Really dark copper colored body with a surprising amount of tanish head. No head retention or lacing.

S - Lots of dark fruit here, with plenty of alcoholic sweetness. I almost feel warmed up smelling it. I'm getting some butterscotch sweetness which actually works in this beer, complimenting the sweet vanilla and oak-like flavors.

T - Dense is the first word that comes to mind with this beer. Dense cherry & figs, vanilla, butterscotch and almond sweetness, with just enough roast and hop bitterness to keep it palatable. The alcohol adds to the flavor, making it seem more robust, but the burn is not out of control, particularly at 11.5% ABV.

M - Coating, with just a slight amount of carbonation and prickle from the alcohol. The body does not seem quite as viscus as expected, but the residual sugars seem to provide a sticky body that just coats the whole mouth.

D - Everything about this beer seems to be in place. Just a fantastic way to spend a night cap. Not sure there is a whole lot more to say, other than this is a great beer to keep in the cellar for cold nights like tonight (-20F windchill).

Photo of DelMontiac
3.99/5  rDev -5.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Goebel Liquor in Wichita, KS has a wide selection of vintage J.W. Lees Harvest Ale. I selected a 2001 vintage (275 ml bottle). I figure 10 years should be a good measuring stick.

I used a New Belgium globe glass for this as they are great for trapping the aroma. Poured a murky dark brown with orange highlights and no head at all. Not the prettiest thing I've ever seen in a glass.

Aroma is quite nice. Super sweet molasses, sugary prune, raisin bread, cherry pipe tobacco, both wine and boozelike.

Flavor is unlike anything I've ever had before. Uber sweet here - molasses, maple, simmering candied fruits (cherries, plums, rum-raisins). Also a woody, sweet, smokey character appears and then fades. The alcohol is well hidden here. Reminds me a lot of the elderberry wine my father has which he bottled himself in 1969.

The feel is sticky, velvety, and really smooth. No alcohol burn at all. This is like satin sheets for the tongue.

Barley wines aren't something I seek out very often. This has given me a better appreciation for them. I don't feel the need for a second glass here. Besides I just bought the one bottle. I would like to revisit with a new bottle.

Photo of Lakes
4.88/5  rDev +15.1%
look: 3 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Appearance: There is (for obvious reasons) painfully little head on the 2002. I expect none so perhaps I'm being too critical but I've had other beers (not this style) that were aged longer and retained a nice head. Otherwise; the color is deep dark brown to the point of black with lovely ruby hues as it pours

Aroma: Fantastic. Huge rich malt and fruit. Raisin, Date, Figs. Carmel and heady alcohol. Simply wonderful. The depth is amazing.

Taste: As the nose, the taste is huge and complex. Fig and light leather. Dates and caramel. Warm alcohol adds balance more than hops. The tawny hints are spellbinding.

Feel: Spot on. Full, rich and satisfying.

Drink: I wish I has a science fiction refrigerator so I could grab an 8 year old J.W. Lee's at will. I can't find any 2003, 2004 or 2005. I guess I'll have to stock up on the 2006 which seems to be readily available and hope my stock of the 2002 lasts till 2014.

Photo of skivtjerry
4.82/5  rDev +13.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

2001 vintage drank in late 2010:

Looks rather viscous while being poured. Forms a sticky 1" head that persists until the glass is empty (actually, who knows how long it would last - I drank the foam too). Smells wonderful, a humungous malt bomb with luscious sherry notes, toast and alcohol too. Taste is mind-blowing good. Waves of malt attack the tongue and surrender feels great. Figs, rich desserts, chocolate, melons, and a nice grainy note. No hint of hops left, the alcohol provides as much bitter dryness as the IBU's. Mouthfeel is thick and creamy, low carbonation and enough alcohol to balance the immense weight. I could drink this stuff until I collapsed, which probably wouldn't be that long. The ultimate beer for a cold evening.

Photo of dubinsky
4.52/5  rDev +6.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

1999 Vintage poured into my Bruges snifter.

A - Pours a dark, cloudy mahogany with a thin light tan colored head that instantly disappeared.

S - The aroma is super sweet. Tones of prunes, dark cherries, brown sugar and hints of cinnamon. Fruity notes of sweet Medjool dates with figs or dates.

T - Taste is similar to the aroma. Very sweet, with tons of sweet caramel and stone fruits. This is tasting like a fermented Dr. Pepper, and drinks like a sweet fruit liqueur. Although this is one of the sweetest tasting beers i have ever had, its not cloyingly sweet like some liqueurs can be.

M - Mouthfeel is incredibly full-bodied with a smooth, buttery feeling that coats the entire mouth. Light carbonation, but perfect for the style and age of this beer.

D - This is a very complex yet balanced sipper. Not to rushed and not to guzzled. This beer really develops as it warms up a bit. A truly fantastic beer.

Photo of CharlatanSin
4.01/5  rDev -5.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

2009 vintage on cask at Rattle N Hum. $7 (I think) for a 12oz pour. Excited to finally try it.

A: Poured a hazy, murky bronze. A few soapy bubbles around the edge.

S: Sad to say I'm not impressed. It basically smells like a big tub of raisins that's maybe been sitting in brandy for a while. Pretty overwhelming and one-dimensional. Maybe secondary aromas come out with age.

T/M: Way way better than the smell. It's like a delicious liqueur. Instead of the pure raisin in the aroma, it's like candied, boozy dark fruit. There's a slight toasted nuttiness. The brandy-like booze holds it all together. I was very afraid it would be too sweet based on the aroma, but it's not cloying. The mouthfeel is thick, smooth and a little sticky. The natural carbonation from the cask is perfect, any more carbonation would throw it out of whack.

D: A fantastic sipper. Would be an ideal treat after a fancy dinner. Anything more than the 12oz pour would be too much, though.

J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
94 out of 100 based on 1,309 ratings.