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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

Displayed for educational use only; do not reuse.
BA SCORE
95
world-class

1,270 Ratings
THE BROS
100
world-class

(view ratings)
Ratings: 1,270
Reviews: 798
rAvg: 4.25
pDev: 14.12%
Wants: 214
Gots: 183 | FT: 12
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:
No notes at this time.

(Beer added by: Todd on 12-18-2000)
Beer: Ratings & Reviews
Sort by:  Usefulness | Recent | High | Low | Top Raters | Read the Alström Bros Beer Reviews and Beer Ratings of J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale Alström Bros
Ratings: 1,270 | Reviews: 798 | Display Reviews Only:
Photo of phisig137
4.85/5  rDev +14.1%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

1998 Vintage poured vigarously into a tulip, produces a thin 1/2 finger head on top of a murky reddish brown body. Head falls quickly, and doesn't leave any lacing.

Aroma is massive. Burnt sugar, caramel, dark fruit, chocolate, figs, alcohol, and tobacco are present in abundance.

The flavor is simply incredible here. One of the most complex beers that I have ever tasted, hands down. Huge notes of vanilla, cherries, caramel, toasted grain, wood, raw sugar, honey, and others fill your mouth, and change as you drink it. Everything in there is incredibly concentrated, to the point that this tastes like a "beer reduction". I can't even begin to pick out everything in there... the complexity and concentration are making my head spin. Alcohol is present, but not overwhelmingly. Mouthfeel is very thick, heavy, and syrupy. Drinkability is pretty good, but I wish that it were not... this is meant to be savored for a couple of hours.

I paid $7.99 for this bottle, and now that I've tasted it, I would gladly pay double that. I really find it interesting how this changes the more you drink, and are able to pick up on more and more subtle nuances. Despite the fact that this is already 8 years old, I could easily see this going for at least another five years.

Without a doubt, one of the 5 best beers that I have ever had.

phisig137, Aug 22, 2006
Photo of Beerandboards
5/5  rDev +17.6%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

2000 vintage, reviewed 12/29/12

Poured into a snifter

Appearance is dark caramel brown, like the color of dried dates (kind of an obscure reference, but it's honestly the best comparison I can think of). Pours a two finger head, even at 12 years old, but dissipates quickly to some whispy foam on top. Beer looks great, the almost opaque brown shows some golden brown on the edge when tilted against the light.

S - vanilla, caramel and earthy notes dominate when the beer is cold, as it warms up it some dark fruit, ripe apples and pears start to come out. It's crazy complex, smells phenomenal.

T - follows right along the nose. Tons of rich and thick caramel dominates at first, vanilla notes come in on the back end. Again, as it warms up the dark fruit come in, ripe red apple. Brown sugar. Like the smell, just amazingly deep and complex. Finish is silly smooth, some honey notes. It's freaky how tasty this beer is.

M - low low carb. Medium thickness. Perfect vehicle for the flavors going on. Can't find any fault.

O - I'm trying to figure out how not to give 5 across the board here. I cant think of a single improvement that needs to be made. This is a special occasion sipper that I can easily spend an hour enjoying. Just absolutely crazy good.

This is my first venture into JW Lees, I got this as part of a sweet BIF box from nlmartin (thanks again buddy). I will definitely be looking out for other vintages, but I don't know how any other year could be any better. 12 years of age set the bar very high.

Beerandboards, Dec 30, 2012
Photo of heysuz
3.5/5  rDev -17.6%

heysuz, Mar 07, 2014
Photo of bradfordjohnson
3.25/5  rDev -23.5%

bradfordjohnson, Jun 12, 2013
Photo of nhindian
4.22/5  rDev -0.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

275ml bottle poured into a Stone Old Guardian glass.

2000 vintage.

A - Opens with a very quiet hiss, very unassuming but still surprisingly gives promise to some nice carbonation still in this 11 year old bottle. Pours an extremely ruddy brown, like a dark chocolate bar or some kind of mud pit. Still about a finger to a finger and a half of light tan head, with surprising retention given the age. It leaves an island of foam behind when it’s gone.

S - The nose on this vintage of Harvest Ale is exceptionally bold, sweet, and threatening. It’s somewhat syrupy, which combined with the sweetness makes it almost cloying, but it only flirts with this notion rather than it being full-blown. Huge malts and fruits throughout; I’m getting tons of raisins, plums, dates, figs, and when combined with the breadiness from the malts, almost gives a cinnamon raisin bread character. The alcohol does come through in the finish, giving way to its strong ABV.

T - The extravagant nose leads into an equally so taste. It’s decadent, very sweet, and establishes a cornucopia of woody fruit notes. Tons of malt sweetness opens the flavors, somewhat spicy at times and delivering some bark wood notes, in that really dry way. Again, bursting with dark fruits, and once again the raisins are huge here. The raisin bread comparison returns here, probably even more so with all the richness. As in the nose, the alcohol comes through rather strongly here in the finish, giving it an almost grain-like alcohol note.

M - Mouthfeel is moderately heavy-bodied with medium carbonation. I have to say, for an 11-year old bottle, this had more carbonation than I was expecting. The sweetness definitely leaves an effect on the palate, but the carbonation and slickness definitely help to keep it from being syrupy.

D/O - Drinkability is moderate to moderately high. The flavors here are bold, huge, and rich, but it suffers at times from being overly sweet and malty. It's ironic, because most of the reason that this beer has held up so nicely up until now has been because of this. I greatly enjoyed this over a family dinner, and when I first bought it I almost balked at the price for such a small bottle, but after drinking it I found myself thinking that the volume was nearly just the right amount.

nhindian, Sep 14, 2011
Photo of rcjennings
4.5/5  rDev +5.9%

rcjennings, Oct 26, 2014
Photo of Natural510
4.58/5  rDev +7.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

1999 First Batch, 275ml bottle.
Pours a transparent bright-red color with tan overtones; little-to-none carbonation and no lacing.
Smells of sweet malts, honey & molasses, and orange citrus. Alcohol very strong to the nose as well.
A beer very sweet with flavors of honey & brown sugar, backed by a strong fruit presence of orange & cherries. A slight oak note is detected as well. Deeply malty with a subtle but ever-present hop character.
Stays tangy & syrupy in the mouth. Malts, hops & alcohol content vibrate throughout.
This drinks like a liqueur...definitely a sipper. Ideal as an appertief, dessert beer or nightcap before bedtime. Very enjoyable.

Natural510, Apr 29, 2008
Photo of santoslhalper
4.88/5  rDev +14.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Pours a hazy reddish amber with a nice offwhite head. Smells very fruity and malty. Hints at prunes and rasiens. Quite a sniffer. Tastes exceptional. A true delight to the palate. An explosion of taste. Tastes very fruity and datey. Such a complex brew my taste buds are baffled by what they are tasting. This is an interesting, unique brew. A barrage of flavor. This is one of the best out there. Unbeatable complexity, very smooth and creamy in the mouth, and it hides the 11.5% almost too well. This is a world class knock you on your ass beer that can't be matched. Many, many thanks to GClarkage for sending me this one. A+++

santoslhalper, Nov 23, 2004
Photo of Peyton5410
4/5  rDev -5.9%

Peyton5410, Mar 15, 2013
Photo of kayrex
3/5  rDev -29.4%

kayrex, Mar 23, 2012
Photo of BrewMaster
4.38/5  rDev +3.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

1998 bottle pours a dark brown with a little head and slight red hue. a swirly ring of bubbles covers the top. the aroma is strong with notes of caramel, scotch, brown sugar, and a syrupy malt smell. Very sweet to start with a roasty but soft flavor. the sweetness is very reminiscent of sherry or port. There are some woody flavors in the beer that add a creaminess and subtle nutty flavor along with some fruit/berry flavors. There is a light grape flavor and a strong alcohol finish. The aftertaste is lightly roasty. Smooth and very rich. Excellent. This is very nice beer to drink. At 11.5% it's no wonder why it comes in 9.5 ounce bottles.

1999 bottle pours dark brown again. similar flavors to the 1998 but less woody and more malty. rich caramel malts dominate and a burnt sugar flavor comes in. also a banana and brandy sweetness. the roasty aftertaste is much the same as the 1998. this 1999 bottle seems to hide the alcohol better than the 1998.

BrewMaster, Apr 16, 2005
Photo of mickeymac
4.7/5  rDev +10.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

1998 vintage enjoyed at the October 2003 BA gathering at Lucky Baldwin's. The head was almost non-existent. What did appear on pouring disappeared almost immediately. What remains is sort of a swampy brown. Its appearance does not do justice to what follows. The smell is a wonderful mix of ripe fruit: raisins, dates, hints of cherry, and a nice molasses smell. Hops are barely detectable. The taste is reminiscent of a vintage port and provides the same warming experience found in a fine port. Although some alcohol smell and taste is present, it blends very well and doesn't hint at 11.5%. I'm glad I tried this one early in the evening before my taste buds were shot. It's truly a classic.

mickeymac, Oct 12, 2003
Photo of CanuckRover
4.34/5  rDev +2.1%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4.25

Pours a murky brown. It's not pretty, but it's on style, so can't be too hard on it. Thin film, showing some carbonation, which is promising.

Sweet nose. Aroma of apple pie, honey.

As expected from the nose. Calvados flavours, dates, and just a bit of spice, cinnamon-like. Slightly woody. Alcohol is nowhere to be seen, just a tingle in the finish.

A classic for a reason.

CanuckRover, Mar 13, 2014
Photo of rhinos00
4.8/5  rDev +12.9%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

J.W. Lee's Harvest Ale Vintage 1998...poured out of 275 mL into a snifter.

"Nectar of the Gods'"

A- Dark, murky brown. When held in light a nice blood red complexion turns in the glass. Inch of nice cream colored head gathered and dissipated into a nice ring as the beer was consumed.

S- The smell was insane! So complex that I don't even no where to start. Almost smelled like homemade cider. It had a sweet smell along with aromas of caramel, malt, and several fruits (cherries, plums, raisins). Oh yea, I forgot to mention the alcohol.

T- If not better then just as good as the smell. A nice sweet fruit/caramel/malty flavor hits the palate, followed by a nice gush of warm alcohol.

M- Judging by the smell, I figured it would be super thick and syrupy and to my surprise it wasn't. While it was close to being full-bodied, it went do so smoothly.

D- With a taste like this, I only wished it would come in a bottle bigger than 9.6 oz. Every time I took a whiff, I didn't want to put it down.

Overall, one of the best experiences I have ever had with beer...period. If all barlywines taste like this, I think I may have a new favorite style of beer.

Part 1 of rhinos00 vintage night. 1988 vintage. Poured from a 275 mL bottle into a snifter.

A- Poured a gorgeous dark, copper/amber. Very clear with plenty of visible flakes throughout the glass. Imagine a snow globe except with a nice, vintage barleywine.

S- There is just something about JW Lee's that appeals to my senses. Very potent and pervasive. Deep candied malts with lots of rich raisin, plum aromas. Most akin to an aged port. Little bit of alcohol in the finish.

T- Mmmm mmmm good. After 20 years in the cellar, this has held up pretty damn well. A lot of rich dark fruit flavors and heavy malts. Yes, there was quite a bit of oxidation, but it still held its own after all these years.

M- This aspect of the beer seems to have suffered the most after all these years. Virtually no carbonation, which yielded a rather thin mouthfeel for a rich tasting barleywine.

D- The taste was there, but the mouthfeel coupled with the oxidation hampered the overall drinkability of this beer.

Overall, I can't tell you how privileged I felt when I poured this beer into my snifter. I mean this beer was made when I was 3 years old. That being said, this vintage is way past it's prime. It can hold it's own in the taste department, but the oxidation is a rather large detriment to this beer. I would stick to the 1997 or 1998 vintage as of now.

4/5/4/3.5/4 = 4.15

rhinos00, Oct 27, 2008
Photo of lpayette
4.83/5  rDev +13.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

1988 Vintage - Enjoyed at Trias Bar, Philadelphia, June 2006. Yeah baby, 17.5 years old. The oldest beer I've ever had and perhaps the best too. $10 per bottle, and well, well worth it. I wasn't able to write down a complete review at the time, but I was able to jot down some notes and scores.

Sweet and malty flavors... nutty, buttery, fruity, smell of brandy-like alcohol. Grapes, muscot??? Strong malty flavors, musty notes, hidden honey, and strong alcohol.

Simply amazing in the complexity. I'd like to have a a case of this stuff from each year it's been made.

lpayette, Oct 09, 2006
Photo of Hoppy_McMalt
3.75/5  rDev -11.8%

Hoppy_McMalt, Aug 22, 2013
Photo of geuze_gone_wild
4.5/5  rDev +5.9%

geuze_gone_wild, Aug 25, 2013
Photo of Atron67
4.33/5  rDev +1.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

A 2001 bottle thats been aging for awhile

A- poured a dark reddish amber with a thin tan head that lasted a little while and didn't leave much head. Foggy with little bit of particulate visible
S- Very malty, little syrupy notes, dark fruits, some figs not much notes of hops, interesting and complex smelling
T- this is dangerous for its alcohol, smooth malty layers with the dark fruits providing complements to the malty character, low hops. a little syrupy but still exceptional
M- a little syruppy, heavy body, light carbonation
D- its very good, its smoothness and body provide a really nice barelywine which goes down really smoothly

Atron67, Jul 23, 2007
Photo of marcobrau
3.93/5  rDev -7.5%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3.5

This review is for the 1998 limited edition.

This J.W. Lee's Harvest Ale pours with a medium brown color with good amount of carbonation that creates a brief flourish of foam that settles to a nice collar. The aroma of this beer reminds me of what the bowl of mixed nuts my grandmother used to put out during the holidays smelled like, mixed with fruitcakiness and a hint of leather. (Wow.) I swirl the glass and the aroma changes to that of a frosted vanilla bundt cake laced with rum.

This ale starts out with sugary sweetness that mixes with some extremely wonderful caramel notes, some bitter molasses and then finishes alcoholic and rather sweet. A nutty taste lingers on the palate for a really long finish.

The mouthfeel is a bit viscous, but not cloying, and very, very smooth. The bitter molasses flavor towards the finish is just a touch off-putting, but doesn't undermine the overall enjoyment of this fine ale.

This isn't the most drinkable beer, due to its strength, but more than one could be had. A slightly drier finish could make this beer a bit more pleasant for me, but this is a darn good vintage brew.

marcobrau, Sep 07, 2006
Photo of thekanna
4.43/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

9.3 oz. bottle, 2006 vintage.

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

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

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

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

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

thekanna, Mar 21, 2009
Photo of Zaximus
3.75/5  rDev -11.8%

Zaximus, Sep 12, 2014
Photo of saintwarrick
4.33/5  rDev +1.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2007 vintage.
Pour is a light honey brown with a foamy white head that build quickly but gradually disappears as it warms. Aroma is distinctly a British barley wine, somewhat boozy, but very malty with some grapefruit and a touch of bourbon and whiskey giving it a sharp edge. Almost cloying in its sweetness. Taste is surprisingly sweet, honey is very distinct, syrupy; lots of butter rum and brandy with a distinct alcohol warming; a very big brew, but very drinkable for a sipper of this strength. Bitter aftertaste is noticeable at the very end keeping this brew from being too sweet.

A very unique brew not to be missed, though I would like it to be a little less sweet.

2008 vintage
Appearance is same as the 2007 except a billowy white head resembling an IPA is constant throughout. Aroma has a lot more sweetness to it, like bourbon-soaked bread dipped in brown sugar. This version has less bitterness at the end as the sweetness is front, center and all other directions. A sipper to be sure, but the cloying sweetness makes this a little too big. I have a 2001 stashed away and am hoping this brew gets better over time.

saintwarrick, Jun 12, 2009
Photo of mtrog313
4/5  rDev -5.9%

mtrog313, Nov 21, 2013
Photo of ManekiNeko
4.5/5  rDev +5.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Served at the closest I could get to cellar temperature in a Trois Pistoles goblet.

Appearance: Dark ruby brown liquid, clear, with a short-lived khaki head. A small ring of foam remains at the edge of the glass throughout. The appearance of the bottled version is clear and redder than the casked version.

Smell: Sour molasses aroma with cherry, tawny port, and prune overtones. The fruity aromas are much more prominent in bottle than on cask and without the woodiness.

Taste: Tart, sugary-sweet caramel taste that gives way to intense fruit flavors of raisins, prunes, plums, and cherries. Lightly peppery. Again, the fruitiness is more prominent in bottle than on cask.

Mouthfeel: Precious little carbonation makes this oh-so thick in body, almost syrupy... but that's how barleywine be. Besides, it lets the intense flavors have their way with your taste buds. The flavors are ones that need time to process.

Drinkability: Too bad I only have 2 more bottles if this vintage. So glad there's plenty of 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002 at the store. Until Thomas Hardy's hits the market again and is given time to age, I suspect this will be the exemplar barleywine to have.

ManekiNeko, Oct 28, 2003
Photo of azorie
3.75/5  rDev -11.8%

azorie, Oct 31, 2013
J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
95 out of 100 based on 1,270 ratings.