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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.

823 Reviews

(Read More)
Reviews: 823
Hads: 1,395
Avg: 4.25
pDev: 18.12%
Wants: 249
Gots: 198 | FT: 14
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 (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: 823 | Hads: 1,395
Photo of rfgetz
3.9/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2009 vintage. Pours a lightly hazed copper tinted brown, small cap of tan head, gone quickly. Scent leads with sweet malt, underneath one finds prune and dried fig, a splash of booze and earth. Taste leads with rich sweetness, light molasses and brown sugar, strong notes of dark dried fruit, hints of cherry. Not quite full bodied, carbonation at a minimum, some chalkiness to it. Possibly too early in its life to enjoy its subtle complexities, quite sweet still. Will revisit a true vintage.

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Photo of Cyberkedi
3.33/5  rDev -21.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

I had the 2003 vintage.

Pours a nice clear coppery amber with a fairly thick but not too persistent pale tan head. Aroma is crisp and fruity, mainly of sweet apple, more like a cider than a beer. Strong alcohol bite overwhelms the rather sweet, fruity flavor, so it is rather like drinking brandy mixed with fruit juice. Flavor does have a hint of malt and a hint of hops, but is somehow not really beer-like; nevertheless it is acceptable, if not my cup of tea, er, ale. Texture is syrupy, smooth and thick, yet edgy thanks to the strong bite of alcohol. It leaves a rather sweet aftertaste coupled with some alcohol and hop bitterness.

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Photo of ColForbinBC
4.32/5  rDev +1.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Bottle, poured into a snifter

I had the 1998 and 1999 side by side. They were practically identical, with the 1998 being a little bolder.

The body sits a rather clear, mahogany color, with some darker brown in the depths of the glass. No head or lacing, just a thin collar of white foam around the edges.

Broad and deep nose. Sherry, lemon, honey, cabernet, sweet toffee, cocoa powder, and a huge layer of booze. Crazy levels of complexity.

Sweet, and not as boozy as the nose let on. I kept coming back to describing this as similar to a Luden's Golden Honey cough drop dipped in sherry, and then mixed with cocoa and toffee.

The feel was syrupy, lending even more credence to the cough syrup/drop comparison. Full, rich body and flavors. The finish is sweet and boozy, but no real warming getting in the way.

These were two of the most complex beers I have come across. Equally delicious, with the 1998 edging the 1999 by a thin margin. Smooth, complex, rich, sweet....simply incredible. Seek out the older vintages.

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Photo of dar482
3.78/5  rDev -11.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.75

(Review of a 1999 vintage).

The beer comes in a dark copper color.

The aroma has tons of caramel, brown sugar, toffee sweetness. There's a bit of sweet dark raisin there as well.

The flavor follows with just a rush of caramel and brown sugar. I have never had a beer that is so sweet and caramel forward. It literally tastes like drinking watered down caramel.

In the end, the beer lacked a bit of complexity for me. I really enjoyed the sweetness and it would be a great dessert beer. I just wish there was maybe more carbonation, or drying, or something to separate from simply sweetness. It still surely hits its alcohol though.

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Photo of cpetrone84
4.42/5  rDev +4%
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.

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Photo of drpimento
4.56/5  rDev +7.3%
look: 3 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Whoa, serious beer. Poured this at a good temperature with a small, foamy head that promptly disappeard and no lace. Color is a hazy/cloudy amber brown with a lot of sediment. Aroma is a very volatile blend of caramel, yeast, malt, dark ripe fruit, raisins, bread dough, and seemingly many other things. Flavor's like nose, with sweet out front along with, curiously, a little chili pepper, bitter a little behind that and just a smidgen of carbonic tang. Body is full and lush with some little bitter points that just contribute to the beautiful picture. Carbonation is a little tame, but it works. Finish does get a little boozy, but overall is pleasant and on the long side. Outstanding beer.

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Photo of champ103
4.57/5  rDev +7.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

This is a 2000 bottle

A: Pours a dark and slightly hazy ruby/brown color. A large foamy beige head rises to over two fingers. Really good retention, especially considering the age.
S: This is just amazing. Toasted malts of sweet toffee and chocolate. Dark fruits of plums and cherries. Dry wood. Very port like. Really complex.
T: Follows the nose. Toasted toffee that is sweet. Boarders on cloying. Chocolate covered cherries. Dark fruits, wood, and port.
M/D: A full and rich body. Just enough carbonation to hold everything together. Decadent, creamy and smooth. Some warming rum like alcohol. A great sipper.

Something for those long cold nights. This is incredible. Truly one of the best Barleyines, make that beers period, that I have tried. This is a monster, and can be aged for even longer. A must try.

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Photo of twiggamortis420
4.41/5  rDev +3.8%
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.

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Photo of Immortale25
4.55/5  rDev +7.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.5

Poured into a Funky Buddha Brewery snifter. 2011 vintage.

A- Pours a light brown color with a full two finger light tan head that retains well before popping away to a thick ring around the edge of the glass and a mostly full sheet of surface foam. Not-so-resilient lacing leaves small streaks behind.

S- Sweet, biscuity malt with notes of brown sugar, dark bread and toffee.

T- Powerful flavors of burnt sugar, caramel and more toffee. Toasty malt and minimal hop bitterness. The alcohol is hidden quite well but lends a fortified wine characteristic to the overall profile.

M- Somewhat sharp and tangy with medium carbonation and a body leaning toward the fuller side.

O- A fantastic representation of an English Barleywine. The sweetness in particular lends itself to drinkability even with the pronounced alcohol bite. You would expect those two things to clash with one another but this brew shows how the two can co-exist in harmony.

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Photo of ZAP
5/5  rDev +17.6%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

F#@ck Yeah!!! I love drinking a GREAT beer for the first time...OUTSTANDING....High in alcohol...the type you want to sip, but the type you can't keep your hands away from grabbing the minute you put it down..fascinating drinking experience....I get a sweet fruity nose with some hints of brown sugar and molasses....the taste is incredible...huge dark fruits...definitely plum...maybe some prunes...dark cherries...the brown sugar is there...as is the molassis....and dare I say some odd hints of coconut....the nose immediately reminded me of a champagne or wine or something...the flavor though is more like a port...or Brandy with a nice hit of brown sugar...this is one of those beers that transcendes the entire beer drinking experience....there is no Barley Wine finer..

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Photo of Bung
4.42/5  rDev +4%
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.

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Photo of stcules
4.11/5  rDev -3.3%
look: 3.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

Dark brown color, almost no foam.
Malty smell, some nut notes. It warms you, even if the alcohol is not directly noticeable (not to much).
Malty taste, with a lot of dried fruit (nuts), some woody note.
Dry finish.
Some green notes walnut husk. Raisin. Pistachio.
A really good and interesting barley wine.

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Photo of 4DAloveofSTOUT
2.99/5  rDev -29.6%
look: 4 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

poured into tulip glass.

Vintage 2008.

Appearance: reddish light brown bodied beer with large floaties. a cap of white head with large bubbles that drops to a ring.

Smell: Malty and fruity. Rubbing alcohol is strong and it almost burns the nostrils with a deep breath.

Taste: Sweet honey mixes with smokey malts. Fairely fruity also. Finishes with a clovingly sweet taste of more honey almost mead like. As a matter of fact, this beer almost tastes like a smokey mead.

Mouthfeel: medium bodied beer with low carbonation. Booze is farily mellow compared to what the nose leads you to think.

Overall: Not a huge fan of this one. Its just too sweet for me to enjoy and i love malt forward beers just as much as anyone.

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Photo of Dogbrick
4.42/5  rDev +4%
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.

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Photo of mrfrancis
4.42/5  rDev +4%
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.

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Photo of ArrogantB
3.9/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

9oz bottle 1999 vintage $4.99. Dark, red, chestnut, whatever. Smells like syrupy barleywine, nuts, cardboard, oddly good. Taste is syrupy, malty raisins, reminds me of aged Old Stock. Only problem with this beer is the ABV, too high but its a good English barleywine. I ate some Oregonzola and Blue Stilton and preferred the Oregonzola.

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Photo of cbutova
3.88/5  rDev -8.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

1999 vintage, reviewed from notes.

A- Dark ruby red with a pretty big head for an 11 year old beer. A cloud sticks around for a bit but lace doesn't wanna happen.

S- Fumes of alcohol and an almost permanent marker smell come off at first. Some dark fruit and even a bit sour, dusty and old like cardboard almost.

T- Improves with every sip. Hard to get around the insane sweetness at first. Tons of dark fruit and caramel. Like a good old ale but dustier and older, pretty close to what I had imagined this tasting like.

MF- Very oily and syrup textured. Low but good carbonation level for an aged barleywine. Coat of old malt and fruit coat a fairly warm palate.

DB- Expensive but definitely ages pretty well, good qualities remain and I can even see it going a bit longer but personally would probably prefer a 3-5 year one. Would love to do a 5 or 6 bottle vertical some day.

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Photo of tavernjef
4.72/5  rDev +11.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

1999 Vintage - Color sits as a hazy ruddy brownish orange, a finger high dark ivory head foamed up as very loosely formed bubbles and popped down quickly to a whispy haze and a micro thin ring clinging to the edge of the liquid, lace appears from off the thin ringed edge and drips right back in super fast.

Smell is malty sweet, strong amounts of caramel and lots of dullish dark fruit overlays with a mix of banana and raisin, fig and plum. Strong warming alcohol, noting ethanol-like, seeps into the nose and opening up your sinuses like a minty strong tea. A potently strong boozy nose...whew!

Taste is malty thick and sweet with a great melty-like smooth caramel, great thick feel and flavor of super fresh sweet caramel, stupendously yummy with some notes of dulled dark fruityness of raisin, plum, light orange and banana. Toffee notes mix in with a fresh claro-like tobacco leafyness. Hops show through very easy in a calmly light pineyness and bitterness. The alcohol floats in and out finding areas to sneak in and warm you up. The caramel malts are amazingly candyish and chewy thick.

A wondefully full malty mouthful of creamy thick smoothness, oh my...its nice! The finish creeps along with a nice malty sweetness of very dulled orange and caramel hugging your tongue like a big fleece blanket on a chilly evening. Goes down with an incredible ease and soothing creamy smoothness, only the warming alcohol keeps you from bigger swigs, which really wasn't all that hard to do, just that the warming hits you faster. A great sipper which didn't last long in my glass during this years first snow storm, its so damn good!

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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 mynie
3.86/5  rDev -9.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3


Pours dark red and hazy like blood or a Fruit Roll Up.

Smells like very, very intense sweet yeast fruit, molasses, and hops. Good god, this has been aged for five years?

Tastes grainy, very sweet. Candy sweet. Belgian yeast sweet, only sweeter. Brown sugar molasses white can sugar sunshine sweet. Intense, to say the least...a bit too overwhelming to describe.

Too intense to enjoy it as you would a normal beer, but the pure splendor of the whole thing makes this beer more than worthwhile.

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Photo of RoyalT
4.65/5  rDev +9.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

Appearance – Very thick and cloudy orange with a good head that left little pools of foam on top of the body.

Smell – This carries an aroma similar to a strong/old ale. There’s a malt base to it, but also a significant amount of white wine. The fruitiness is light and mellow, but the alcholol undertones indicate otherwise.

Taste – The sweet wine flavor comes out bigtime. This is more like a fine port or apertiff than a Barley Wine. There’s some huge orange and cherry in here. Not the cheap, candy syrup kind that you get with a lot of ales, but refined, high-quality flavors.

The alcohol is strong but mellow, if that makes any sense. A fine 20% port will go down like Courtney Love at a rock concert, and this one does the same.

Beyond that, the malt backbone comes through qutie nicely, reminding the drinker that this is indeed an ale and not a tawny Australian port. The woody character enhances the other sweets such as rich maple, honey, and pure cane sugar (loads of it). This is a fine ale for sure.

Mouthfeel – This full-bodied ale is extremely rich and chewy. It will actually get your jaws working and have you looking for a spoon.

Drinkability – Before or after dinner would be my suggestion. I had this after a nice Claim Jumper meal with leftover Halloween chocolate, and it was the perfect match.

Comments – This was the 2002 vintage, and I happened on it purely by chance. If you like a fine tawny port you’ll love this ale.

Update – 1997 Vintage: Much darker in color, actually a dark brown, with a deeper malt taste. The sweets are especially different. Here we have dark, overripe fruits with big maple and molasses. Less of a port and more like a strong, malty ale is how I’d describe it.

Probably a half a point higher at the nose since it is so much more blended. Definitely a good keeper at six years old (tasted 11/10/03).

Update – I was fortunate enough to participate in a rack of 2002 – 1998 over at weefishhead’s and here are some abrreviated notes.

2002 – Raisin juice w/hvy port flavors. Needs aging.
2001 – Fruits more complex & mellow but still needs aging.
2000 – Fruits & sugars lighten up & ABV pulls back. Can start to drink at this age (4 y/o).
1999 – Flavors are even & ready to drink (5 y/o), although sugars still dominate.
1998 – Malts now dominate; best drinker of the bunch (6 y/o). Same age as the ’97 I had (see above Update) in 2003.

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Photo of Pencible
4.3/5  rDev +1.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

2007 vintage. This poured a nearly opaque light copper with no head. It smelled like dried apricot and honey wheat, with sugary caramel and orange, and a bit of alcohol and cream. It tasted like sugary caramel and honey wheat and orange concentrate at first, then switched to toasted oat and charred oak and alcohol. It was watery (surprisingly thin) with a bit of carbonation, and a very sweet and slightly tart aftertaste. Overall this was a very sweet but delicate beer that was strong but not overpowering (as opposed to 120 Minute or The Beast). It had a great complex flavor that was very enjoyable to sip, but the noticeable alcohol kept this from being more easily drunk. I wish this beer had more body, but otherwise it was great. This could still probably use a few more years before it's hit its peak, and last much longer than that before it declines at all.

I followed this with a bottle of the 2006 vintage, but that had unfortunately been oxidized. It poured a very dark mahogany. The smell wasn't bad, but the taste was dominated by rusty metallic and moldy flavors. Very sad.

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Photo of warnerry
4.43/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

1999 vintage into a tulip

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo of Rutager
4.29/5  rDev +0.9%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

'11 bottle, thanks rodkin!!

Appearance. Pours a very hazy, dark amber-gold with half a finger of (nearly) white head.

Smell. Wow! Caramel, candied cherries and raisins, oaky red wine, bready yeast. Complex for sure.

Taste. Raisins, tobacco, caramel, a drop of sherry, some fresh wood, even a little orange rind. Again, very complex (and quite sweet but it works well). Alcohol is dangerously well hidden.

Mouthfeel. Fairly full body, low+ carbonation.

Overall. I haven't had anything like this before. A really nice and unique barleywine. Thanks again rodkin, I've been wanting to try this one for a while now.

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Photo of gford217
4.7/5  rDev +10.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

275mL bottle, 1997 vintage, poured into a snifter.

Pours an opaque dark brown with a small creamy off-white head that recedes slowly to a healthy collar and leaves some legs on the sides after each sip.

The aroma is huge. It's got the sweet caramel malts with tons of toffee and dark fruits as well. I get a bit of chocolate as well, especially as it warms and there is a pronounced sherry character in the nose overall. Boozy and powerful nose.

The taste is much of the same and maybe bigger. The underlying caramel malt backbone is still dominant with lots of sweet booze-soaked fruits, raisins and plums especially. Molasses, caramel, chocolate, just tons of flavors on the palate. Tough to exaggerate how wonderful this taste is.

The mouthfeel is medium to full-bodied and very smooth with a perfectly soft carbonation. The alcohol does start to burn a bit, but it's not overly distracting.

I've been sitting on this bottle for a while and was worried it might be headed downhill. As far as I can tell, this one has never been better. Complex, rich, smooth...exceptional beer.

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J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
94 out of 100 based on 823 ratings.